Last week, 181 of the world’s most highly compensated CEOs decided that profit is no longer enough. Why? Because they’re scared.
They also see an opportunity.
In case you didn’t see any of the 89 million Google references: Apple, Amazon, Walmart, J.P. Morgan and the 177 other CEO members of the Business Roundtable said companies need to focus on employees, delivering value to customers, dealing ethically with suppliers and supporting outside communities. Shareholder value (aka profit) is simply not enough.
What does it mean for the rest of us?
It’s a competitive wake-up call for any company. Of any size. In any industry.
It could be the single-best way to solve the problems of sales lag, revenue per customer, and the constant threat of employee and customer attrition.
Call it truth, call it transparency, call it brand: Consumers – including B2B buyers – see beneath the covers. Whether we want them to, doesn’t matter.
This creates new room for playing it straight: with clear language, genuine honesty, and a day-to-day approach that lives up to the mission statement on the wall, even when it’s easier not to.
It’s refreshing. It’s hard. It’s risky.
It will shorten the path from lukewarm prospect to loyalist. It will also be table-stakes within 10 years, if not a whole lot sooner.
Companies that get it right early will have an enormous advantage.
Let’s believe that some CEOs want to do what’s right.
Maybe they see the trends – millennials represent the buying force in the coming years and are visceral about making a connection between behavior and who they’ll support. Social media adds to the fire, with near-constant advocacy to boycott objectionable activities.
Did these CEOs learn something from the fights – and fines – for their own bad behavior in the last few years? Could they repatriate some of their foreign-earned profits? Turn contractors into employees? Not lock the doors on overnight cleaning crews in your stores? Take shortcuts that impact engine safety? Perhaps.
How Soon till This Dies Out?
Of course, this new initiative may not last beyond the next stock seizure. Quarterly numbers and the markets that drive them aren’t very forgiving. The ability to invest in the distant future, instead of the demanding present, may not leave wriggle room for major change, and its inevitable mistakes.
And yes, they will make mistakes: big ones, and small ones. Seen, and not as visible. We will too, even as we move to help create the kind of information, tone, and access that speaks to this new market. It’s early days right now, which means learning on the job. Still, this shift will be required for almost every company that wants to be considered trustworthy.
The roadmap is reasonably clear. Start with what you say, and how you say it. To leaders, to teams, to customers, in sales, in support, on social and product development.
Being honest is implicit, with simple, direct language the speaks to people, not companies. It helps with hiring and attracting customers. Site visitors may stay longer on your site, and perhaps hand over their contact information, which will, increasingly, become more valuable as more data control shifts to users.
When you’re dancing around the truth, don’t. When people need more time to do the right job, provide it. When there are risks exposed with the pressure to drive down pricing, consider the long-term.
Hiring: Consider the entry-and mid-levels, how much attention is being paid to managing, and grooming, people who don’t look and act like today’s leaders.
Take risks on the website, with honest, direct language that speaks to how people really think, and what they want to know.
Consider whether getting the lowest-possible cost from suppliers is really in everyone’s best interest. And think about who is expendable, and if anyone should be.
Then talk about it. Share it. Be honest about what you’re trying to do, what’s hard, what’s working, and what’s not yet as good as it should be.
It’s like a living case study. The kind every B2B company always wants customers to offer, but they don’t, because there are too many secrets, and it might affect profitability.
This will, too – the right way.