Social Responsibility & The Corporate Values Statement

Santo Ae

Corporate Values reflect a company’s culture. The values make that the culture is to be communicated which is a difficult task. To understand a suitable value statement for a company, one should understand what culture is and whether the statement really represents the culture of the company.

Simply said: culture is what a group of people have in common, for example facing similar questions and problems because they operate in a similar business. This is the internal element of culture, the other one is external oriented: in what environment does this group of people operate and how does this affect them. How do they interact with the environment?

Social responsibility is obviously a value that is focused on this second element: the interaction of the group (corporation) with its environment.

How it could work: a social responsible company charges more for their products and uses some of the profit margin for social projects…

A first question to ask about corporate values is whether a value should be used as such, like: “entrepreneurial,” “client focused” and also this one “social responsibility” are values that you’d better not use in the corporate values statement. The reason is that they are too vague.

Yet they appear in value statements:

Social Responsibility. We are committed to a culture of being friendly to the environment meeting a high corporate citizenship standard, protecting the health and safety of our employees and impact positively on the communities where we operate… A strong sense of social responsibility… etc.

So what does this mean?

A company like Siemens, a conglomerate of which social responsibility could really be an issue, is investing in Africa in projects to make energy available for the development of small villages. The idea is that energy in Africa is one of the main problems that withholds development and Siemens could play a role there.

Sure.

But does Siemens add the social responsibility to their set of values? No: Siemens’ corporate values are: “responsible, excellence and innovative.” Once you have defined “responsible,” social responsibility is managed automatically, but not as a corporate value, it is not a value that is shared amongst the employees.

Another reason not to use social responsibility is that it is not a value that can be translated to individual behavior. Imagine that two people meet each other on a holiday and they find out to work both for Siemens: would you think they feel related because of Siemens’ Social responsible role in energy projects in Africa? That is too far away and not (emotionally) connecting people and therefore not a cultural element.

Besides this view there is another view on social responsibility and that is the value of long term relations with the (social) environment versus short term business success. Social responsibility is another way of making sure a company does not only focus on the short-term benefits of stakeholders.

Another example is Microsoft and the Gates foundation. This is another view on social responsibility: a clear separation of business (Microsoft) and a responsible role in the global society (Gates Foundation).

One reason to keep these areas separated is that with the concept of social responsibility one enters the arena of politics. On the internet I found this statement: “Responsible business leaders know that business cannot succeed if society fails…” but still, call this a business opportunity and a marketing issue rather than a social responsibility.

Let’s take another example: Google’s social responsibility. For example Google could be held responsible for the increasing junk on the internet. In addition to every time indexing more pages it could operate as a police-officer so that surfers do not litter.

Take Google’s Answers for instance and the following posting:

I am looking for an English translation of Pablo Neruda’s poem “Muere lentamente”. Thanks (1)

Today a newspaper published an article about this poem that was assumed to be of the Chilean Poet. But in fact the real author is the Brazilian Martha Medeiros.

Now who is responsible for this (mistake) and that 10,000 surfers continue to believe in a mistake?

I would argue that Google is. It offers the main gateway to the web and therefore the main party that makes distribution of errors like these possible. It obviously conflicts with Google’s neutral approach of “don’t be evil.” But for how long can thy remain neutral? I think that Google can be compared with the British Petroleum of the internet. BP has reinvented itself by Beyond Petroleum. Google has introduced a new four-colored icon. The step to a more social responsible role is underway I guess.

Regarding corporate values statements … I would leave “social responsibility” out.

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