How can corporate Australia and New Zealand 'keep it real?'

Written by Simon Robinson

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One of the key challenges facing corporate Australia and New Zealand (and corporate organisations world-wide) is an increased sense of scepticism and cynicism from the general public.  It is fair to say that many believe corporates are simply in business to make money and any investment in corporate community investment is simply a ploy to improve their bottom line.

Co-founder of LBG and Corporate Citizenship UK, Mr Mike Tuffrey presented a series of talks during his recent visit to Australia tackling the challenge for corporates: ‘Keeping it real – maintaining authenticity in a fast moving world’, and posed an interesting challenge to the audience.

Mike agreed that the issue of cynicism from the public is real. Referencing the Edelman Trust Barometer, he noted that trust with big business is particularly low, and only 40 per cent of Australians trust big business.  A statistic that I believe should be of grave concern to big business.

And this is despite the positive contributions that corporates are making – there is good news to tell - we just need to find a better way of doing it.

Maintaining a positive image is not an issue that can simply be overcome with a good PR strategy.  The attempt to cover up or gloss over mistakes made by large corporates has been consistently proven to be largely ineffective and in fact it has damaged the public perception of certain corporate organisations, and corporates in general.

Instead, as Mike suggested, it starts with a genuine behavioural change from business in how they present themselves to the general public.

This involves companies developing a sense of who they are and what is important to them, and then defining who is really benefiting from this. One of the key drivers of trust is values. People need to know what a company stands for and be able to articulate why they exist, or take it one step further and imagine if you did not exist, what would the consequences be?

Let’s use LBG as an example. We exist to help companies with a robust and credible approach to measuring the real value and impact of corporate community investment to business and society. But more than that, our aim is to retain our current members as well as grow our member base and we unashamedly advocate that any business that is investing in corporate community investment should be a member or it is potentially a wasted investment. We want to increase our revenue so that we can add to our team with more resources and spread the word further.

If we did not exist, what would the consequence be? Well I would think that we would not be reporting a result of a community contribution of over $236 million by Australian and New Zealand corporates. Without a robust approach to help measure the inputs (and outputs) why would corporate Australia and New Zealand invest in the community? How would this be sold up the line to management? Where would the evidence exist that it was a worthwhile activity? Would many of you reading this article still be in jobs?

Mike’s advice is a much more honest approach to communicating with the public, even if it means telling the world that your business is set-up for profit. Tell us that but also how you make that profit and difference this product or service makes to the day-to-day lives of people in our region. With your story around your corporate community investment tell us how it aligns to your business strategy and why you choose to partner with the charities/causes that you do.

Talk honestly about bad news too. If you get it right from the start and are honest with your values, it makes difficult conversations much easier. My challenge is for everyone to reflect on your business and ask the questions that Mike put to us in his presentation. He might just be onto something…!

- Simon J Robinson, LBG Director Australia & New Zealand