I was reminded of Simon Mainwaring’scompelling Let Go & Lead interview on the changing paradigm of companies interacting with stakeholders when I heard him speak on a panel this week on How Social Media Has Changed Our Relationships With Customers, Policymakers – And Everyone Else at the Arthur Page Society’s“Future Leaders” session in Washington, D.C. He impressed upon the audience of corporate leaders the core idea of what today’s consumers think, want and will do if companies really listen and embrace the signals customers are sending, which Simon sums up in three simple constructs:
- 1. The success of your business will be in direct proportion to the emotional impact you have on your customers.
- 2. The emotional impact on your customers will be in direct proportion to the social impact of your purpose.
- 3. The social impact of your purpose will be in direct proportion to the success of your business. Or as he says, “A little humanity goes a long way with your customers.”
I must confess, I have not personally always believed this might be true. I grew up in the era of “creating shareholder value” is the central corporate mission—and succeeding would take care of all the rest. It was a very “masters of the universe” notion, but many companies proved that there was a “there there.”
Today, I think many companies in the Fortune 500 aren’t willing to sign on to Simon’s passionate beliefs…yet. But, undeniably most of them do understand the power of social media, networked communities, thought leadership forums, consumer activism and the growing need of employees to co-create the company’s story and be part of the telling – not to mention how many top talents can be recruited and retained by social media friendly companies.
We, as business leaders, no longer believe we can control the message. We appreciate that to deny we live in a virtual, viral world is to face peril. We know we must be authentic, and we know that our best hope is to be a “part of the conversation” about our mutual interests with stakeholders. We recognize there are new priorities and we need to be involved. We’re just not sure how best to cross the delicate bridge to embracing “the social impact of our purpose,” to take the risk … and, frankly, to convince ourselves that making the journey will generate ROI, which continues to be our corporate governance. Simon would encourage taking the journey “not because it is well-intended, but because it will be well-received.” I am increasingly persuaded that he is on to something rich and powerful!