The Values Deficit

Reconciling the need for financial value with social values that drive reputation

Creating value is the foundation stone of all business – to make or grow something, to provide a service, to improve daily life.

This is the drive that results in surplus that can be traded and that has resulted in the interdependent global market in which we live.

But there is more to what is ascribed a value. To paraphrase the Bible, “man does not live by bread alone”. We seek community, family, security and, for some, spiritual certainty and fulfilment. To achieve those ends in a civilised society we develop a set of beliefs, behaviours and ethics; a guide to our actions. We give those actions value, typically based on what we perceive the results to be either good or bad.

Whilst there may be some cultural relativity, the core social values that are supposed to guide most of us are fairly common. Honesty, respect, tolerance and fairness are seen as essential social values. Their importance is attested to by the distress and anger caused when any, or a combination of those values are demonstrably absent in the actions of others. That is why we characterise such behaviour as criminal and seek to punish it and stamp it out.

The modern global village is made up of individuals, states and corporations. In the developed world we expect the same social values to drive ethical and fair behaviour by all. We probably hold the non-individual actors (i.e. governments, corporations et al) to a higher standard, particularly given the disproportionate power they wield. Amongst those who state that with great power comes great responsibility are Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt and Spiderman.

That is where companies can find themselves in major trouble. In the drive to create monetary value, shareholder value and personal value for executives, they may forget the imperative to fit within the prevailing social values. That is, there is a Values Deficit TM. When that happens corporate reputation can, and usually is, destroyed.

The 24-hour news cycle means that corporate misbehaviour will quickly gain broad exposure and, sadly, there is no shortage of examples. The result is that not only are organisations held to a higher standard, but the general disposition of most of the community towards them is inherently cynical.

To gain and maintain trust, companies must align their values to community expectation and not only live those values, but also be seen to live them. When that does not happen we regularly hear complaints about a negative and poisonous corporate culture. Complaints that can justify the business equivalent of a lynching, or, at the very least, a pelting with rotten fruit.

Not aligning with expected social values, yet still seeking to profit from the community that shares them, is the Values Deficit TM that can turn any business into a market pariah.

Any organisation that does not do a regular check of its values, the culture those create and assess if its actions and messages convey the desired values, runs a serious risk of drifting into a Values Deficit TM. The very nature of fast-paced competition can hasten that drift and create damage to reputation before it is even realised.

RMKA are highly experienced in working with organisations to assess expressed and lived values and to communicate values alignment with the communities and stakeholders that support any organisation’s licence to operate.

Donald Trump – Man of the Year?

In 2006 the late, great Robin Williams starred in a Barry Levinson film called Man of the Year. The premise was that a political comedy/talk show host (think Jon Stewart) runs for President, as an outsider, and wins.

Levinson thought the possibility of this actually happening so slim that he wrote in a sub-plot of irregularities in a new electronic voting system that preferences candidates with double letters in their surname (Williams’ character was Tom Dobbs) to explain how the TV star turned a wave of populist appeal into an electoral college win.

Ten years later Levinson must be thinking ‘why did I bother’? The far fetched is becoming reality as Donald Trump rides a tsunami of populist appeal to primary win after primary win in the race for the Republican Party Presidential Nomination.

The real test of Super Tuesday primaries is almost upon us but, win lose or draw on that important day, Trump and to a considerable extent the Democrat “outsider” Senator Bernie Sanders, have redrawn the American political map and perhaps the way all western politicians will frame their future campaigns.

The mythical Tom Dobbs initially struggles to compete with establishment candidates but when he bursts out of the political mould, turning the switch to vaudeville (as they say in showbiz) to make his points his popularity rockets. His messages are simple, simplistic in fact, but they are delivered with naïve sincerity and are undeniably entertaining. As a result, he taps into a deep dissatisfaction with the rigid and harshly partisan two party system.

Trump has shown that he can mine that degree of voter frustration with broad statements of objectives and with often offensive comments that would see career politicians crash and burn. But he just gets stronger. He took on the Pope for heaven’s sake, and the Pope issued a clarification!

Sanders is a 25 year veteran of the Senate who is running as an “outsider” by to positioning himself as a Democratic Socialist. A term that until recently would have seen any American politician laughed off the stage. Yet he is tapping the same frustration, just with a younger audience.

Politics as usual is becoming anything but. Hillary Clinton may still prevail through tight organisation, demographics and getting out the vote, but the political scene has changed, forever.

We have had our brush with shallow populists in Australia. Think Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer. However, our electoral system does not offer the opportunity to catapult to the top job without first earning at least some political stripes. That’s probably a good thing. It allows time for the imposters to unclothe themselves.

In a multi-media, instant gratification, increasingly superficial message driven world it will be a brave politician who ignores the lessons already provided by the USA’s electoral process.

In 1976 the Sidney Lumet film, Network, written by Paddy Chayefske, had Australian actor Peter Finch, as top rating news anchor Howard Beale, deliver rants against the comfortable coalescence of media, business and politics, always ending with a trade mark cry of :

” We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore.”

Hollywood may have proven to be more prophetic than even it could imagine.

Is your data crisis management plan in the clouds?

Australia’s ‘catch-up’ with the digital age highlights the power of information security to make or break your business plans today. China’s recent cyber attack on the Bureau of Meteorology’s computers – although denied by China – is a timely reminder to all Australian businesses and governments that such actions can compromise sensitive systems across the whole public and private sectors.

The much welcomed recent moves by academia, business and government for Australia to ‘catch-up’ with other nations in the development of our technology innovation sector brings this to the fore even more.

It is reinforced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement of a push to protect the nation’s commercial and strategic secrets from cyber attack.

Digital crisis management now should be high on the agendas of all risk committees.

As we move towards the magical 2020, issues and crisis management plans can mark the difference between business success and failure in effective responses to digital attacks.

The Melbourne-based information security firm Trusted Impact highlighted in a recent survey that key business objectives, such as revenue growth, product quality, time-to-market, customer loyalty, company reputation and shareholders value are all at risk if information security is not interwoven into the fabric of the digital organisation.

The pace of change is such that in the past decade, we have lost iconic brands, such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, Kodak and Yellow Pages to the digital age. Their demise highlights the adage that a ‘stitch in time, saves nine’ is just as relevant today as it was in the 18th Century when it was used as an incentive to the ‘lazy’ to fix a small hole before it became a larger one.

The ‘lazy’ organisations today will quickly have large reputational problems tomorrow because of global news services if their IT, communication and management people are not aligned in their mitigation responses.

The very nature of organisations moving more and more data to Cloud is a perfect example of the need to ‘be aligned and prepared’. Losing visibility as to who has access to your data in Cloud poses the question: “How do you do ‘incident management’ in a cloud environment?”

This question illustrates the large gap between those who will respond WELL to an incident to those that respond POORLY. A clear strategy as to how to develop and implement the issues and crisis management plan for 2020 is today’s ‘stitch in time’.

Febrile and Vituperative, The New Media Normal

In his parting words as Prime Minster Tony Abbott bemoaned the febrile nature of the modern media and the culture of character assassination that he believed contributed to his downfall.

Whilst he may be correct in that assessment he failed to acknowledge that he benefitted and exploited that media environment during his rise to the top. He can hardly have expected an immediate return to a more benign media climate once he attained the Prime Ministership.

Much has been written and said about Abbott’s tactical and strategic mistakes but his parting comment perhaps points to the most basic of miscalculations. That it would be possible to put the Genie of old, new and social media back in the bottle.

In the fractured modern news media all players are engaged in a constant battle for existence. If they don’t lead with stories, have a particular spin for a target audience, or find some other way to garner a sustainable following, be they on-line, print, onscreen or on-air, they will perish. The barrier to entry is no longer the need to buy a printing press or a gain a broadcast licence. A laptop with WiFi will do the job.

Therefore it is hardly surprising that there’s a feverish rush to get ‘news’, whatever the definition, out there.

Then add unfiltered social media commentary into the mix, remembering that it requires no rules of attribution, accuracy, balance or even logic. The result is a boiling soup of sensational headlines, thirst for conflict, rush to publish and blurred lines between reporting and commentary mixed with personal abuse, ill-formed and often offensive views, instant experts and transient superficiality.

That is the new normal of modern media. For politicians and business alike failing to recognise it and find a way to deal with it is a guarantee of trouble.

Commenting on the Turnbull ascendancy Victoria Liberal Party President Michael Kroger claimed it was essentially about modern politicians needing to be good communicators. True enough but, in the media firmament outlined above, message delivery alone won’t do the job. The performance needs to be believable and engaging.

Any marketer knows that if you can get the audience emotionally invested, so long as you then provide the basic framework of believable information, they will do the post-purchase rationalisation for you. When it comes to judging other people (which is essentially what modern politics has become) we all make the emotional part of that decision in seconds. So if the personality and performance do not connect we probably won’t even get to the message.

Unlikeable politicians, no matter how logical and well meaning, just won’t cut it anymore. Sad but true, because there have been some great leaders in the past who were not really the kind of folk you would want to spend time with.

American political commentator and former Clinton advisor Paul Begala famously said “Politics is showbiz for ugly people.” Well, not too ugly either.

The media environment will not suddenly become kinder, gentler and more principled. Consequently if you are a modern politician who can’t put on a believable performance to deliver an acceptable message, you had better stay on the backbenches until your pension is due.