Commerce Without Morality

Fans of Mohandas K. Gandhi will recognize today’s title as one of the “seven social sins” that Gandhi published in 1925. (The full list appears below.) Gandhi wrote that a friend had given him the list. But after he spent decades speaking and writing about the big themes on this list, people just naturally assumed he was the originator.

The point for us is not who described “commerce without morality” as a social sin. The point is how deep the concept goes.

First, the idea that businesses should be responsible to society is totally not new. We live in an age of constant invention, so it’s become normal for people under 30 to think everything was invented by someone alive today. We make exceptions for stuff like Abraham Lincoln’s having abolished slavery, but only if Stephen Spielberg makes an Oscar-winning movie about it.

The word “sustainability” is new, so people think the whole issue is new. Not, not, not. Having a purpose beyond profit has been top of mind for the world’s top minds for a long time.

Second, the concept is as fresh as today’s news. Sounds like a contradiction with what I just said, but it’s not. Commerce is changing all the time. Morality is constantly evolving. Saying that “commerce without morality” is bad today means 1000 new things compared to saying it 100 years ago.

We need to keep defining the terms for the industries we have today, the global supply chains we have today, the labor practices we have today, and, oh yeah, that climate change thing we’re kinda stuck with.

Third, we know now that everything is connected.

We know that inventing some new chemical fertilizer in one state and putting it into the fields in some other states can bring down essential species of pollinizing insects in still other states, threatening vital agricultural crops that feed us and employ us.

We know that a buyer for a big department store in one country can change a few cells in a spreadsheet and cause textile manufacturers in five other countries to lock workers into fire-trap factories to meet the deadlines in that spreadsheet.

No one plans to wreak havoc, but it gets wreaked anyway because everything is connected.

The way to unwreak the havoc is make all the connections public. Open the curtains, turn on the lights. Connect people with the consequences of their choices. Show them that there is, in fact, some morality in their commerce – and it might not be morality they like.

That’s why we got into sustainability reporting: to help responsible companies lead the way toward more visibility into how things really work. We know that if more people understand what it means to conduct commerce with morality, more people will do just that.

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The “seven social sins” popularized by Mohandas K. Gandhi:

Politics without principles
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice

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The Cart Goes After The Horse. Okay, Which One Is The Horse?

You can usually divide the world into those who think corporate sustainability programs are for real and those who say “window dressing, PR, don’t believe a word of it.” But both camps share the same view about why companies do sustainability reporting, because it shows off how well they’re doing.

In other words, almost everyone thinks sustainability reporting for corporations is like wrapping paper on a gift: a thin veneer, for appearances only. Would it surprise you to learn that almost everyone is wrong?

The reality is that reporting has a huge influence on what companies actually do to become more sustainable. The really committed companies found this out years ago, but they don’t talk about it much because it’s such a competitive advantage. Companies that start in on reporting find it out quickly (if they are doing it right).

If this seems like I’ve put the cart before the horse, think about the nature of most corporations. The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Senior managers are in the dark about most details because there are just too many nuances for such big-picture people to follow. New ideas that bubble up from below need a whole bunch of stars to align before they take over the whole company. New ideas that are assigned from the top down may never reach solid ground where they can take root.

Now look at sustainability reporting, which basically takes in everything beyond profit and loss figures. Most companies have reasonably reliable systems for counting their money, and a dedicated accounting department to run the system. But they never set up systems to count sustainability stuff.

There is no accounting department for greenhouse gases, water quality, waste, and other environmental issues. Human Resources knows some quantitative things about the people in the company, but it’s probably clueless about where people stand on even simple issues, like recycling or philanthropy.

Ask any consultant who takes on a company as a first-time sustainability reporter and they will say the same thing: the hardest thing is just getting the information.

The mere act of asking people throughout a company to divulge information they never gathered or publicized can blow their minds. “Management finally cares about this?” they say. “Well then, here’s what they really ought to know!”

The next minds that get blown are those in senior management. The company’s leaders begin to see their company from a completely new perspective: not just dollars and cents, but also carbon dioxide and employee satisfaction and license to operate from the community.

They realize that sustainability reporting can be the greatest management tool ever because it shows the true health of the business. It focuses on efficiency, engagement, empowerment, better supply chain relationships, and long-term market development – the list goes on an on. If something essential is underperforming, profit numbers can cover it up but sustainability metrics will expose it. Hallelujah!

Let’s not skip mid-level managers, who are responsible for fighting it out in the marketplace with products or services. They hate to lose one inch of ground to a competitor. When they read anything in their company’s sustainability report that creates the merest whiff of a headwind for them, they first want to kill who ever produced the report. The next thing they want is to turn that headwind into a tailwind. Now.

Sustainability reporting can indeed be the horse that pulls the cart of sustainability performance.

Next time, practical advice on how to get the horse in front of the cart at your company.

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Liberate Your Leader

In the movies, we always cheer for the regular Jane or Joe who looks Big Bad Leader in the eye and tells it like it is, rather than how Big Bad Leader likes it. Then, of course, Jane or Joe is exiled to the ends of the earth as punishment .

This is known as “killing the messenger.”

History says that angry rulers sometimes killed messengers who brought bad news because they could not separate the news from the person who brought it. Obviously these rulers were bonkers, but the concept of “killing the messenger” never went away.

The phrase lives on today in organizations with hierarchical structures. People hesitate to tell their boss certain things because they believe the boss will hold them responsible. That’s why you see this story line in books and onscreen; it’s common enough to be believable.

Don’t believe in it. Instead, seize the opportunity.

In real life, Big Bad Leader is hardly ever as angry, dumb, and mean as in the movies. People have to be fairly smart and aware to rise high in corporate structures, and they have to win at least some friends in high places. Nut-jobs who kill the messenger do not fit this description.

That said, it’s true that powerful people in corporations can have their blind spots. We all do, based on how we think and what we know. We can be smart as a whip and yet still unable to see the whole picture. The more successful a person is in business – meaning the more times they’ve been right – the more likely it is they can forget their own limitations. Certain topics become difficult to raise. Certain ideas get ruled out. No one wants to take a hit for speaking out.

After a while, subordinates take the leader’s blind spots for granted, and they become institutional. Now the whole team, or organization, has the same limitations.

If you see this happening, what can you do?

You can bring in someone who, by definition, has a different perspective. Someone the leader knows is not captive to the organization or its internal dynamics. Leaders especially like talking to people who talk to other leaders, and can provide inside information about their thinking.

At Emotive Brand we often take this role. Our clients usher us into the boardroom for a conversation with their Big Leader, after warning us about all the taboos and fixed ideas we are going to run into. The conversation begins. Soon the taboo topics come up – but in a new context that changes everything. The fixed ideas take on new flexibility. Paths that were supposedly blocked become avenues to explore.

There is a palpable moment where this shift takes hold, and it is one of the coolest things in corporate life. Everyone at the table is liberated into a bigger, more interesting space with refreshed creativity and possibility.

There are some secrets to pulling this off, but the main thing is experience. We have been in a lot of C-suites, with a lot of different personalities. We know how to illuminate a leader’s blind spots without challenging his/her authority or intelligence, and how to win the confidence of a proven winner even as we challenge him/her to play a new game.

Maybe leaders still kill the messenger now and then, but they don’t kill their liberators.

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The Right Brand For A Transformation

We’ve blogged here about something called integrated reporting, which would merge financial reporting (which public corporations are already required to do) with sustainability reporting (which only some companies do).

What we’ve missed – until now – is the need to brand this transformation.

Integrated reporting is a transformation for a whole bunch of interrelated reasons. First, financial reporting is mandatory and highly regulated. All big companies have full-time staffs of people to prepare the reports, and the big accounting firms around the world have armies of people to check them. Governments have whole departments to check them again.

Sustainability reporting is at the other end of the spectrum, organizationally. It’s optional and unregulated, just like, um, PR. Even marketing has to be done with some level of honesty, but sustainability reporting is more like the Wild West: 
there’s no sheriff, and the posse hasn’t formed up yet.

So a lot of people in the corporate world are allergic to merging the two types of reporting. Even if they are already reporting about sustainability with some authenticity, they still want to keep the money and the social or environmental consequences far apart. Lush profits don’t look that good next to pictures of striking employees or mountains of tar coke.

If companies are not comfortable with baring their environmental and social performance, then doing so alongside financial information is a nightmare.

So far, the push for integrated reporting has come largely from academia and NGOs, and (surprise!) many of the arguments are tone-deaf. They’re clunky and slow to develop and full of long words with specialist definitions.

Kind of like the opposite of pheromones.

Pondering this, it suddenly hit me. The founders of integrated reporting forgot to brand the transformation. Does “integrated reporting” have the ring of “Arab Spring?” or “Velvet Revolution”? It does not. It just lays there, lifeless.

We don’t know yet what the right brand should be, but there are some clues out there already. For example, some companies with a purpose beyond profit are now talking about “combined reporting.” It’s only a change of one word, but it’s like magic when you talk to corporate executives.

They’ve been arguing with the academics about how expensive and complicated it will be to do “integrated” reporting. The academics often don’t know how hard it is to do good financial reporting all by itself, so that whole argument is going nowhere.

But when you talk with CFOs and controllers about “combined” reporting, the whole attitude changes. Companies combine things all the time. It’s not threatening, it’s simple. It’s even good, because you get, you know, synergies and leverage and stuff like that.

No need to tear up financial accounting rules or formats in order to “integrate” them with sustainability reporting. No need to spend tons of money on making sustainability reporting as comprehensive as financial reporting. Just start combining the two, as they are, and let the integration happen naturally.

So there must be a better brand for this concept, and those of us who believe corporations are best positioned to save the planet need to figure it out. Nothing would please us more than branding the transformation to help it happen.

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I’m Engaged. You’re Engaged. Not.

It’s official: we don’t care.

According to the latest results from Gallup’s employee engagement index, half of U.S. employees admit they’re disengaged at work. Not all the time, but often enough to know it consciously and be willing to say so in a telephone interview.

That’s bad enough, but here’s what it breeds: 18% of those surveyed are “actively disengaged.” That means they are actually working against their company’s values and culture, while taking a paycheck and benefits from it.

Kind of like a double-dip, only with a dagger instead of a spoon.

A total optimist might point to the other end of the spectrum, where 30% of employees report being engaged at work, or even inspired. Good luck with that. When you can’t get even a third of your people to buy in to the mission, the mission is in deep trouble.

The Gallup index is based on employee responses regarding a dozen different indicators that matter to workers, and that correlate strongly with how people actually perform. They include profit and productivity, but also things like safety, quality, and employee turnover.

In other words, employees are responding emotionally to what they see around them. And what they see is not lighting them up. They’re not getting what they need from their culture and their management, and nearly one in five is acting out in a bad way.

No doubt many employers are saying to themselves – and their boards of directors – “That’s not our company. Our workers are solid!” This approach pretty much ensures that the situation will not change. In fact, it’s likely to get worse as Boomers retire and more skeptical Gen Xers and Millennials take their places.

(I know, it feels like that’s going to take forever, but it will happen.)

Gallup just published a new “State of the American Workplace” report, packed with three years of survey data. We can hope that it’s getting a close look in C-suites across the land. Or we can just go back to surfing the Internet while the boss is out at a meeting …

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Emotive Rigor


Emotions are generally considered to be mushy, impulsive, and unconscious – more or less the opposite of conscious thought. This may be true of “feelings” in general, but it does not apply to the emotional core of branding.

To get emotive with your brand, you actually have to be pretty rigorous.

That’s because it’s not enough to go for some miscellaneous “engagement” or “excitement.” Consumers, especially the younger generations, are already saturated with that gush. At Emotive Brand, we go for the specific, strategic emotional responses a brand needs: responses that evoke loyalty and nurture it, and responses that create new associations and strengthen them.

The point is not to make people be emotional or respond emotionally. They’ll do that anyway. The challenge is to inspire them to think and act differently than they do now, in particular ways, based on how they feel. When emotive branding is really successful, people go beyond adopting the desired thoughts and actions. They come to recognize that their new behaviors are natural and authentic to them because of their own values.

Suddenly, that consumer becomes a brand ambassador and there’s wind beneath your wings.

This is not voodoo, or magic. It’s not a result of luck or big ad budgets. (Though both of those help.) It’s the result of precision thinking, careful distinctions, and intelligent layering of meaning.

That’s why the Agency developed a systematic process for determining what emotional responses a brand needs to evoke, how those responses work, and how to work with them effectively. It’s a multi-step process that involves a lot of looking in the mirror for brand owners, because it’s hard to touch the authentic values of others if you’re fuzzy about your own.

Here again, it’s critically important to draw the right conclusions from what appears in the mirror. We’ve seen companies turn vulnerabilities into strengths by being honest about them with employees and customers. If they had concluded that the vulnerabilities they saw in the mirror needed to be disguised instead, they would have pushed themselves further away from the people they wanted to get closer to.

Imagine if more brands generated enough brand equity to take consumers with them into a world of more sustainable products and services. That’s a purpose beyond profit, a big dream, and a big challenge. It will take emotive branding, and that will take more rigor, not less.

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Let’s Talk About What Really Matters

If I asked you what really matters to your brand’s success, you would probably only talk about things that can be explained rationally and measured empirically. Nothing wrong with that, after all that’s the way we think and talk as business people.

However, if I asked you what really matters to you as a human being, I bet you would find yourself talking about things that are hard to explain rationally and virtually impossible to measure. You know, messy things like the need for safety, the desire for connectedness, and the joys of love and beauty.

This contrast actually points out what really, really matters to your brand’s future success. Your prospects, customers and employees, hungry for meaning in their lives in this time of economic and social uncertainty, are reawakening to their core human needs, desires and joys. Successful brands going forward will develop an ability to connect their offerings and ways of being to these “messy” human domains.

Once a brand creates a meaningful dimension for itself, based on empathy, things start to change for the better. That’s because when people care about a brand, they are more likely to do what benefits that brand. Once a strong emotional bond is created around a rational proposition, people positively change the way they think, feel and act on behalf of brands.

Empathy is the path to a more meaningful future state for your brand.

Empathy is the practice of stepping out of the box that your industry and business works to keep you focused on 24/7. When you are empathetic, you start to see your business and brand through the eyes of the people you serve and employ. You suddenly see what really matters about your brand by seeing what your business does, and how it does it, in light of human needs, desires and joys. By then redefining the way your brand reaches out to people, you start to forge more meaningful connection with the people vital to your brand’s success. And when you treat them this way, they gladly pay you back.

Empathy isn’t easy. It forces you to let go of long-held beliefs, familiar language, and well-entrenched ways of behaving.But at the same time, it opens up new paths for brands that face an uncertain future of competition and commoditization. It give brands a new and powerful way to create appeal, differentiate and sell. It builds stronger bonds with customers, giving them more compelling stories to tell others. It helps employees feel they matter and that the work they do matters.

As babies, we were all naturally sensitive and empathetic to others. As our rational minds took over, and our emotional defenses grew – all within a culture that emphasized “me” over “we” – most of us have lost touch with our innate empathetic power.  Outsiders can help inward-focused executives reinvigorate this helpful human trait by promoting the ideas of mindfulness and advocating for the humanity of customers and employees.

Empathy is within you. Let it rise to the surface and help you manage your brand to a brighter future.

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Have any objections about me putting up this on twitter?

Not at all!

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Love Your Critics

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Nobody likes being criticized. This is one of the least productive of human traits, because few things are more effective than good criticism when it comes to changing our results or our ways.

If you went to schools that gave out report cards, you’ll remember how few critical words it took from a teacher to alarm your parents. “Not focused in class” or “Tends to talk out of turn” were enough to get mom and dad engaged in a hurry.

As adults, most of us get criticism from only a small handful of people: family, bosses, and spouses. Friends could be a great source of criticism, but the implicit contract that humans call friendship rules out finding each other at fault. If we do, we’re probably in a state of some stronger emotion.

If our bosses are giving us good evaluations, they include a few grains of criticism along with the praise. We toast the praise with our friends at the bar afterward, but it’s the grains of criticism that stick with us, because it’s now official that another human being finds us wanting in some way.

And if we don’t like criticism, we positively hate being not good enough for someone who matters to us.

Which brings me to one of the few realms of public life where criticism is not just expected, but required: reviewing and revising the work of others. Every successful agency or client relationship I know includes remarkably effective giving and taking of criticism, especially internally.

At Emotive Brand, we’re harder on each other than any client could be, because we know the clients will come and go but tomorrow we’ll still be squaring off with each other about the best way to solve that day’s challenge. We throw our punches precisely and thoughtfully, but we don’t pull them.

This appears to be true also of companies that change their industry or the world. Someone in a leadership role is unafraid to criticize the work of others in a direct yet effective way, and that has two paradoxical results: The work gets better, and the people doing the work respect and follow the critical leader even more passionately.

In other words, criticism can make us better at what we do, and bring out passion for our work that we didn’t know we had. We just need to approach criticism with the right understanding: The basis is that we matter to each other, and the point is to improve each other.

So next time you’ve giving or getting criticism in business, stop for a second and remember what’s really going on. It’s only partly about the work itself. The rest is about us. If we make each other better, the work will inevitably reflect it.

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All Together Now: “It’s A Channel, Not A Strategy”

Once again we share the brilliant insights of Tom Fishbourne.

Tom illustrates the problem of being more focused on the channels of communication than on what your brand is trying to achieve in this world.

Hearing that everyone is posting to Facebook, sending tweets and “pinning” things on Pinterest naturally perks our attention, and suggests we will be missing out if our brand isn’t “there”.

But, honestly, there is no “there” there (sorry Oakland).

It is not enough to simply “be” in a space, be it digital, social or the latest hot app or site.

So, don’t think of how “going digital” will help your brand…think of how your brand can make the digital space more useful, beneficial and meaningful to your customers, prospects, employees, partners, investors and communities.

Consider what’s emotionally important about your brand and bring that to life in new ways in the digital wonderland.

Make your brand more personally relevant by helping all the people important to your brand be more productive, efficient, healthy, wiser, fitter, smarter… or whatever it is that works to make your brand feel more necessary, desired and treasured.

And finally, don’t think about “campaigns” as much as establishing, nourishing and fostering a meaningful presence that works powerfully whenever people choose to access your brand digitally.

Of course, all this starts with having a clear idea of your brand’s reason for being and by defining the ways your brand can be truly emotionally meaningful to people.

That’s strategy.

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Why Are We So Afraid Of Expressing Our Goodness?

Emotive branding is built upon the idea that by identifying the good that an enterprise does, and building upon it, we can propel our clients along a more meaningful and successful path going forward.

We believe this is important right now because business is challenged in new ways. It’s far harder these days to cut through the clutter, and to appeal to people in ways that not only command their attention, but also truly matter to them.

This is important because unless you bring people to the point of caring about your product or workplace, you will be constantly frustrated in your efforts to build your business.

The issue is that to reach out to people in meaningful ways is antithetical to “normal” business practices. That’s because our system, on a purely operational level, shies away from the needs, desires, values, and aspirations of people. It is presumed to be easier to avoid “messy” individual and societal needs as we pursue profits.

There are many reasons for this, and actually, many of us find this imposed distance comforting because it keeps us from dealing with difficult and uncomfortable “emotional” encounters with angry or distraught people.

But there is a wide range of positive, inspiring, motivating and gratifying emotional states that we humans need to experience and which help us grow, that get neglected along the way.

These are many useful and beneficial feelings that can be intentionally used to positively influence the way people think, feel and act. These are feelings that people respond to on a deeply human level. That’s because they touch upon their unmet needs to feel secure, connected, and able to grow as human beings.

Increasingly, people are grasping onto ideas that show them a better future for themselves and for society. And we’ve found that most brands actually already have within them emotionally significant factors that, once revealed, can be shown to have a ripple effect well outside the enterprise’s spreadsheets or quarterly results. This extended impact doesn’t appear on the radar screens of most business executives who are operating in a “business-as-usual” mode. Yet these meaningful insights have the power to transform how people feel about the things they buy and the companies for which they work.

Many people in sales, marketing and customer service are in-tune to these feelings because they know that striking the right emotional chord can make the difference between a win or a loss.

But outside these departments, an emotional desert has been created that actively works against the best interests of most enterprises.

Being brave enough to irrigate that desert will be the character trait of those brands that will thrive going forward versus those who fall by the wayside, with no one caring about their demise.

Don’t shy away from acknowledging, embracing, and celebrating the good things that your company does through its products, marketplace impact, workplace culture, and social responsibility practices.

Find the truths behind what you do and how you do it. See the emotional impact all that has. Turn these insights into a platform upon which you carry your business forward by making truly emotionally meaningful connections with your customers and employees.

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The Value of Values

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Why don’t companies value their values?

This question comes up for us often because we’re engaged with brands at an emotional level, not just intellectually or strategically. We’re working hard to connect brands to humans who make lasting emotional decisions a lot faster than they can come to logical ones.

One of the strongest emotional binders for human beings is shared values – they’re the basis of religion, among other things – so it’s logical to conclude that companies with strong brands put a lot of value into their values.

But often, they don’t.

More likely, they neglect them for long stretches of time, and then “dust them off” or “update them” when there’s a major management transition or a new ad agency takes over the account. And this is where values suddenly become fungible, something malleable that can take any shape the new boss or new creatives need.

Instead of being a mirror that shows you what your company culture really looks like, values become one of those “you could look like this” simulations that cosmetic surgeons use to sell nips and tucks.

There are excellent return-on-investment reasons to understand values, state them clearly, and socialize them thoroughly. These reasons have nothing to do with nips and tucks, appearances or impressions. The main reason to invest in values is to turn people on emotionally about a company and its work. This goes both for employees inside and everyone else outside.

People joke about value #1 at Google – “Don’t be evil” – but ask yourself honestly whether you subscribe to it or not in your own life. I’m guessing you do. I’m also guessing that this particular value never crossed paths with your current employment on a conscious level.

Once we think of our jobs as doing the opposite of evil, we’re not just going to work anymore. We’re trying to make the world a better place. On purpose. As a matter of business success. Because everyone else at the company is rowing the same boat, in the same direction.

Now take a look outside Google. The criticism of “Don’t be evil” is never about the value. It’s always about whether people believe Google is living up to it or not. So even Google’s customers, critics, and investors are emotionally engaged with the company’s values. You think that can help a stock price go stratospheric?

The other big reason to get values right – nailing them authentically and getting people lit up about them – is figuring out what matters for the long haul, not the next few years or quarters.

We’ve seen companies mount values exercises that didn’t produce hardly any actual values, yet the companies still thought they were effective because they identified some success factors. Of course success factors are good to know, but they’re like figuring out which kind of vehicle is best for a long road trip. You want to get that success factor right as a practical matter, but it doesn’t tell you where you want to go, or fuel the desire (and the vehicle) to get you there.

Values do that.

Values keep companies healthy and happy through recessions, keep them from over-doing it during booms and bubbles, and keep them recruiting the kind of people they need to execute the strategy.

If you want a real ROI on values, consider how they help corporations decide which businesses to stay in and which ones to exit.

We saw one client sell a profitable $10 billion automotive business in order to go into alternative energy, because of its deeply embedded values for bringing the world game-changing innovation. The choice was clear: keep making $100 million a year on auto parts, or build a new business meeting an urgent need for humanity. It was no contest.

Investors could hardly complain, because the company wasn’t going rogue. It wasn’t going green for the sake of appearances or its brand. It was doing what had built value for the company and its stakeholders for decades.

And in the end, that’s the reason for getting values right. We think of them as abstract ideas, but they create physical and monetary value when they’re fully alive in employee hearts and management minds.

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For turbulent times: three drivers for a meaningful workplace conversation

In our published paper, “How to Talk to Employees in Turbulent Times“, we encourage CEOs to establish a new dialog with their employees.

The recent economic climate has been enough to unsettle any employee.

Even if they are working for an apparently stable and growing company, employees are nonetheless influenced by the world around them.

They are naturally concerned about what effect the turbulent environment will eventually have on their lives.

In the past, it has been normal for CEOs to issue high-level reports about the state of the business.

But many times, these reports have been prepared for other audiences, not expressly for employees.

And, we suspect, those that have been developed for employees have been “corporate” in their style.

As such, the real concerns, needs, and questions of employees probably haven’t been answered in a sensitive, empathetic, and helpful way.

So what can a CEO do to improve the conversation he or she has with people in the company’s workplace?

In our paper, we provide three guiding concepts to shape meaningful workplace conversations:

Intent: “What we do matters because…”; your conversation needs to go beyond your obvious business goals and establish an emotionally meaningful purpose beyond profit. Born from what is true about what your business does and how it does it, this purpose is crafted to engage and motivate your employees on a profound and heartfelt level.

Attitude: “empathetic, considerate, caring”; the conversation needs to be crafted to prove you are caring, open, honest, and transparent with your employees; that your are empathetic to their situation and sympathetic to their emotional needs; that you are humble in your approach and strong in your convictions. Leaders who have up to now been known as “hearers”, but not real “listeners”, must take the extra time and effort to engage on a deeper level.

Manner: “constant, reliable, evolving”; the conversation needs to be continuous in nature and consistent in both intent and attitude; it needs to become the company’s modus operandi and drive the way people make decisions, work together, and deal with the outside world; it needs to move with the world, keep current, and reflect the immediate reality.

We would urge CEOs, HR executives, and other business leaders to evaluate their company’s recent employee communications in light of these criteria.

A balance of all three will lead to fresh conversations that reassure, engage, and gratify your company’s employees.

Don’t let “business as usual” get in the way of a productive, collaborative, and innovate workplace.

Energize, focus, and propel your employees into the future as confident, optimistic, and willing partners in your business goals.

Curious? Read our paper, “How to Talk with Employees in Turbulent Times“, now.

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Capitalizing on the human dimension of professional services

I find it ironic that many of the most people-driven enterprises in our economy – law, architecture, consulting, and engineering firms – are often the most superficial with branding.

For most professional service firms, “branding” is only about logos and color palettes. It seems branding’s only goal is to project a serious, professional, and trustworthy identity.

Unfortunately, this limited view of branding leads most professional service firms to the same bland destination.

Indeed, the Internet is littered with the drab, me-too, institutional websites of professional service firms. Flipping from site to site, one has a hard time distinguishing one firm from another. Across an industry, you’ll find the same, tired and predictable rational presentations of facts about each firm. In almost all cases, there are strikingly similar, and weirdly unnatural, photos of executives posed in front of wood paneling.

Does this sound like your professional service brand? If so, it’s really time to shift your view of what branding is capable of doing, and what a more humanly meaningful brand can do for your partners and your firm.

Challenged firms need a new approach

If your firm is struggling to attract new business, finding it hard to retain clients, losing the best recruits to other firms and languishing in the me-too land of professional services branding, its time a for a dose of human emotion in your workplace and in the marketplace.

Human emotion? Well, this is not about presenting happy, smiling faces or tear-jerking situations. Rather, it is about connecting in a more meaningful way with emotional human beings. The emotions and feelings I am talking about – which have the potential to  propel your firm forward in a distinct way – are not frivolous or mercenary. They are relevant, engaging and accessible feelings that are totally natural to what your firm does, and what it does for people.

Creating a presence that resonates emotionally

For decades, branding has skirted around the fact that all rational decisions – from which mayonnaise jar to pick up off the shelf, to which firm to appoint – occur within a swirl of emotions. Apart from the emotions which an individual naturally brings to the moment (feeling in love, or feeling mad about being passed up for a promotion), there are also emotions in play that are introduced when an individual thinks about a particular brand.

These emotions – and the feelings they trigger – are either neutral, negative, or positive. Naturally, no brand intentionally strives for a neutral or negative emotional aura. But, what is strange is that few professional service brands strive for a uniquely positive emotional aura. This is particularly strange because of the human nature of the work professional service firms perform.

Emotive branding elevates professional service firms

We’ve found a way to bring professional service brands new meaning and relevance. We start by thinking of the best way for your clients, prospects and recruits to feel about your firm. We then guide you on how to update your processes, policies and practices so they better evoke these feelings. We create tools that get your partners and support staff to understand the value of emotional differentiation (both for the firm and individually). We help you revamp your firm’s communications, marrying your new emotional aura to your current rational presentation (the look and feel, the story you tell, and the voice you use).

Use emotions to differentiate in profoundly meaningful ways

Strive to make each experience people have with your firm more emotionally involving. Do it in specific, own-able ways that positively predispose them to act in your firm’s best interests. Create a distinctively appealing presence for your firm that stands apart from the crowd. Reach out using human emotion to make your rational story more compelling.

After all, people will decide based on how they feel about your firm’s brand. Why not do all you can to influence how they feel?

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Visualizing the root of your most pressing business problems

Your business’s performance suffers when people don’t do what your business needs them to do. So why aren’t they doing what you need them to do?

To help you understand why you are enduring increasing customer dissatisfaction and employee lethargy, we have prepared a paper, “The Meaning Gap: What it Means to Your Business.

The meaning gap represents the distance that’s growing between your business and the people vital to it’s success.

As your business becomes more sophisticated, measured, and managed – in other words, less human – it moves one way.

As people, acting as customers, employees, social media users, and citizens, become more mindful, concerned, and discerning – in other words, more human – they move in a different way.

Unless you act, this gap will keep growing wider and wider.

- Your business will become more and more distant from people.

- People will stop seeing why your business matters to them, and therefore, change their behavior in ways that work against your interests.

- Your customers will become more and more dissatisfied and start searching for more meaningful alternatives.

- Your employees will work with less vigor and unconsciously thwart your efforts to innovate and provide superior customer service.

Going deeper into your business, the people who are you partners, suppliers, distributors, and investors are also looking to align with businesses that matter beyond profit. As the meaning gap becomes more evident to them, they will be less likely to support you, work with you, or invest in your business.

This is all because we have moved on from the days of mindless consumerism and working-for-a-paycheck, to a time when people seek to create meaning in their lives and in everything they do.

They no longer just buy or work or stay silent or think only of themselves.

They want to do more with their lives, do things that matter, and feel they are making a positive difference through their decisions and actions.

Most important, they want to associate with businesses that help them do all of this in ways they admire, respect, and value.

The goal is to bridge the meaning gap by reaching out to people in new ways that engage them on an emotionally meaningful level.

Curious? Read our paper, “The Meaning Gap: What it Means to Your Business.” You may also find our paper, “The Age of Meaning” helpful in understanding the drivers behind the emerging values, attitudes, and behaviors of the people vital to your business’s success.

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Mentor a Millennial


There’s a joke email making the rounds that shows how search engines take the beginning of a query and auto-complete it based on the questions millions of people have asked before.

For example, the beginning of the query might be “Why Can’t Men…” The search engine auto-completes with things like “…Understand Women?” or “Get a Job?” or “Stop Thinking About Sex?” These must be the questions other people are asking, because the search engines only know what has been asked before.

I decided to try this myself, with an eye toward answering a branding question that bedevils many companies. I first typed in “Why are millennials so…” and before I could type another word, here’s what the search engine offered:

  • Liberal
  • Stupid
  • Lazy
  • Optimistic
  • Nostalgic


Wow. What a great reputation, and for a whole generation!

You can do your own version of the question. If you focus it even a little bit in the direction of branding, you will hear the howls of pain from Madison Avenue about how hard it is to reach millennials (roughly, those under 30) with brands and advertising.

That must be because millennials are so stupid, lazy, optimistic, and nostalgic, right?

Oh, wait. Research shows that it’s easier to sell things to people who are too lazy to research purchases, uninformed about value, and optimistically think that a hipper brand will make them a hipper person … just like it did back in the day. Right.

So millennials are either the hardest generation to sell to, or the easiest. Or something.

The only thing clear to me is that millennials are the generation society loves to misunderstand.’s Kate Dries had some fun with this topic last month, but it’s not much fun for anyone aiming to engage and inspire millennials or turn them toward sustainability.

My secret method for understanding millennials is to mentor them.

This is not the kind of mentoring I got from Baby Boomers, with regularly scheduled sit-downs to Discuss Life Goals and Assess Recent Progress. The kind of mentoring that works for millennials is altogether different.

In my experience, that means ad hoc meetings when there’s something brewing: a master thesis, a job interview, an internship, a big relationship moment. We might meet in person if the stars align, but more often it’s a flurry of texts or emails, a Skype session, or a phone call.

The conversation moves along multiple routes toward moving targets, rather than sticking to one path toward a fixed goal. My role is not to dish out advice or answers. It’s to tell them a story about where the various forks in the road are most likely to lead.

The reality is that millennials were raised to research things and compare options. They’ve had the Internet from birth. They’ve had every major retail brand lined up side-by-side at the mall, not to mention online. They’ve seen every TV show or movie that matters, because they’re not limited to watching it when it’s aired. They’ve got hook-ups, friends with benefits, and a bunch of other social options that previous generations were too straitlaced or unimaginative to call normal.

So they don’t need more options. They have those in abundance (until it comes to jobs, internships, and paying off the student loans). What they want most is to understand the potential consequences of their choices. The only thing they lack, in their view, is enough years to know how certain decisions might play out.

Listening to them reason their way through life issues teaches us what they care about, how they think, and what they’re going to do about it – for years to come. From there, it’s much easier to craft appeals that actually do appeal.

Mentor a millennial, and get an education you can actually use.

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Bridging The Gap Between Technology Ideas And Funding

You’ve got the most amazing idea ever.

You’ve brought together your top team to develop the app, service or product that’s going to take over the world.

Now there’s just that small matter of getting funding.

On your side of the table are people who understand technology – the masters of bits and bytes.

On the other side of the table are financial people – the masters of spreadsheets, ROI and datapoints.

In the middle sits your business case.

But it’s dry, technical and, quite frankly, barren of meaning.

It may ably turn technology into finance, but does it truly capture the power, allure and meaning of your solution?

Does it open eyes to new possibilities, make brains cells soar in wonder and prompt hearts to beat faster by showing just how personally relevant and emotionally important your solution is?

Is it helping to multiply the projected numbers by showing how your solution will help people live richer, easier, more gratifying, more stimulating or more worthwhile lives?

It could.

It should.

Meaning is the new currency.

We urge you to make your technology business case far more compelling, intriguing and valuable by seeking out the hidden meaning in what you do, and by bringing that power to the foreground as you seek funding.

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Good leadership character leads to good brand character

An excellent post at speaks to two attributes that the writers, Professors Stewart Black and Allen Morrison, believe are necessary for leaders of global organizations today: emotional connections and integrity.

I think this advice is great for any business leader, not only those operating at the “global” level. Here’s the section on emotional connections that talks about being sincerely interested in others, genuinely listening to others, and understanding different viewpoints.

Emotional connections
Global leaders need to establish personal, empathetic relationships with people from all backgrounds inside their company, and in the broader community. Doing this requires three distinct abilities: sincere interest in other people, a heightened ability to listen, and a strong capacity for understanding different viewpoints.

Sincere interest in others
Our research found that effective global leaders actually like people – all kinds of people. They enjoy talking with people and being around them. They care about people and want in some way to make their lives better. All of these attributes help them to form better business relationships, which are a critical part of doing business in many countries. “International customers buy a relationship, not equipment,” David Janke, Vice President of Business Development at Evans & Sutherland, told us. “We’re not selling equipment: we’re selling somebody’s career, because she’s got her neck on the line. She is buying something and making a large investment,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, everybody points the finger at her, so she wants to deal with a company and people…that she trusts.”

Genuinely listening to people
Being interested in people is not the same as genuinely listening to them. As one executive recently told us, “It can be too easy when you are in a leadership position to do all the talking.” Yet, for others to feel understood, leaders must excel at picking up verbal and non-verbal communications. They must also overcome the “everyone thinks the same” assumption, which suggests a superficial understanding of the aspirations, interests, and feelings of other people.

Understanding different viewpoints
Understanding people requires leaders to relate personally to the lives of their employees, customers, and others who are relevant to the business. It means understanding context and, more specifically, how to provide appropriate leadership within it. For example, how a 40-year-old American expatriate manager delegates to a 35-year-old Japanese subordinate with a U.S. MBA should differ significantly from her delegation to a 55-year-old Japanese subordinate with no U.S. experience. To succeed, the American manager should pay much greater deference to the 55-year-old Japanese subordinate.

Establishing emotional connections is an essential part of effective global leadership, but this is not the same as “going native.” Leaders who are interested in people, who are excellent listeners, and who are familiar with local conditions and traditions do not have to become like the people they are with. While they need to keep an open mind, they should never forget who they are or what they represent.

When leaders have character, their behavior influences people throughout the organization. This impacts on every aspect of the business, including the way its brand behaves. When the organizational culture is built around character, a new way of being emerges that is far more appealing to people, both inside and outside the business.

To sum up: When you bring empathy to your leadership style, you win. When your leadership style makes your brand more empathetic, everyone wins.

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CEOs – If you had to write an employee letter explaining your vision, what would it say?

As a CEO, you have a challenging job.

You carry an awesome level of responsibility.

You have to balance vision and reality across a diverse spectrum of activities and people.

You have to make sure everything your business does leads to a profitable outcome.

Most important, you have to lead your products, processes and people toward that outcome.

Translating leadership vision into organizational action isn’t easy.

You know where you want your business to be, but it isn’t easy getting other people to see what you envision, to feel your passion, or to be as deliberate and focused in their pursuit as your are.

But remember, given who they are, what they know and what concerns them, your personal vision – as you would articulate it – is distant, hard to understand and not something that truly matters to them.

Its current intent, language and meaning isn’t enough to get people to change what they do, what they believe and why they will help you reach your vision.

You need to step back, think about what matters to employees today, and translate your vision into ideas, attitudes, actions and gestures that touch people in emotionally meaningful ways.

That is, you need to translate your vision into an idea (purpose), and a way of being (culture), that resonates with the people who will make it all happen: your employees.

The ideal idea is a Purpose Beyond Profit. Think of this as a way that your business helps make the world a better place. It embraces a universal truth that everyone involved can understand, appreciate and internalize. It is an idea which employees can use to validate to themselves, and others, that their work truly matters. It’s an idea which inspires them to become more focused, more collaborative, more innovative and more productive, because they feel like helping you realize this ambition.

The ideal way of being is a culture based on meaningful behavior, that deepens the way people feel about the company. This is a more meaningful way of being which makes every interaction between the company and people more emotionally gratifying. This is a way of being – a behavior – that creates harmony, shared purpose, common values and workplace pride. It’s a way of making people outside your business  (customers, partners, suppliers, investors, etc.), see your company with greater respect and admiration. This way of being creates powerful feelings that spur people to help your business reach its vision.

Now you’re ready to write a letter that matters

Simply telling people your vision isn’t enough these days.

You need to put your vision in the context of your employee’s needs, desires and aspirations, all of which are evolving radically in this, The Age of Meaning.

A letter which recasts your personal vision as a meaningful ambition for the company and its employees, together with a set of actions that make clear what each individual employee can do to help, will take your business closer and closer to your vision.

Suddenly, your vision will truly matter to people.

Suddenly, people will actively work to help achieve your vision.

Suddenly, people will embrace and love you, for your inspired leadership.

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Why Brands Should Invest In The “Messy” World Of Feelings

Business management thrives through almost obsessive measurement, quantification and control.

Algorithms drive decisions. Data informs conversations. Dashboards display results.

But where does human emotion – the driver of all decision making – factor into these business practices?

How do algorithms know how people feel, and how that impacts on how they act?

How do metrics – however precise – give you insight into the deep-felt needs, wants and aspirations of your employees and customers?

How does your dashboard – however glitzy – convey the fluid world of brand decisions that sway one way or another based on how people feel?

Human connections start with you, not data.

We can all feel empowered by information – that is until it doesn’t explain when things start going wrong.

It doesn’t detect or sense the emotions of all the people your business depends upon.

That’s what you need to do.

You need to bring out your natural empathy, and put yourself in the shoes of others.

You need to embrace a bold purpose to make life better, and make that part of your brand’s mystique.

You need to inject positive feelings at every opportunity, and create a positive emotional aura around your brand.

Only then will people who aren’t doing what you need them to do (because they literally don’t feel like doing it) change the way they think, feel and act on your brand’s behalf.

The good news is that once you take this intangible step into feelings, you will already have all the systems in place to measure the positive impact emotionally meaningful brand behavior has on your bottom-line.

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Comments (3) #Emotive Branding #feelings

Right on Jerry! Data is like the special effects in movies. A wonderful tool, but impotent without an engaging and well-crafted story that moves people.

Thanks for your continued support Tom! We appreciate it!

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The Iceberg, Not the Sailboat


Sustainability reporting is harder than it looks. Companies new to reporting often pick up the reports of competitors, suppliers, or customers and think, “Well, that’s not rocket science. We already have a corporate brochure and a website. We’ll just add some ‘sustainability facts’ to that stuff and we’re good to go.”

Then they produce a report that looks like a corporate brochure mashed up with a website and a data dump, and they wonder why no one is impressed.

The reality is that good sustainability reports are icebergs: you can’t see three-fourths of what goes into them until you get up close and dive beneath the surface. Corporate brochures and websites are more like sailboats: big profile above the waterline and not much below it.

That’s why we tend to skim websites and corporate brochures: we know from experience not to expect depth. A sustainability report with a shallow approach is not likely to win converts to the company that produced it.

So how do you produce the iceberg instead of the sailboat? Here are five fundamentals that can give you the depth and impact you want.

1. Take a multi-year approach.
Sustainability reporting is too hard to learn in one or two years. Even super-efficient companies need a years to build in the data-gathering and fact-checking processes that good reporting requires. Each report you do teaches you a ton about how to do the next one. Even if you’ve been reporting for a while and want to jump to a new level, that will take time.

So plot out at least three years of development, starting with the disclosures and stakeholders you think you can include now and ending with a target list that really pushes the envelope. Experienced agencies can give you a huge assist with this planning, particularly about which fruit is hanging low and which fruit only looks that way.

2. Prepare for resistance.
Corporate cultures tend to be conservative in the original sense, meaning they hold on to what they have. People who own data resist disclosing it – even when they’re already required to file it with the government and henceforth the people of the nation. It just feels wrong to people, like giving something away for nothing. This is especially true when you ask your company to voluntarily disclose in areas that don’t have budget behind them to push performance, such as addressing climate change.

When reports are shallow, this if often the reason: no one wants to own weak results, so those get edited out and the report itself is weak – or it verges on greenwashing. Prepare for resistance by marshaling support from key influencers, and getting explicit agreement to drop their names with people who block you. Savvy reporting agencies have seen resistance and have overcome it before, so ask for tips and tactics.

3. Focus on process as much as product.
The 75% of a sustainability report you don’t see is all the processes that created it. Good reporters have built robust processes for setting strategy, gathering information, building consensus, reviewing content, and more. These are essential, and not easy to crank up out of nothing.

The good news is that all companies have processes that work well. It doesn’t matter if they are democratic or autocratic; great sustainability reports come out of both. Figure out which type of process works at your company and copy it. If nothing happens without a management champion, get one. If skunkworks are where cool new things happen, start one.

4. Cherish transparency.
The whole point of sustainability reporting is for society to see and understand the social and environmental costs of corporate profit-making. Then we can reduce them intelligently. This process is the only way we’re going to save the planet without holding back standards of living for billions of people. Getting there is pretty much impossible without the transparent reporting of what is really going on.

So cherish transparency in your processes and your product. Commit to GRI or some other third-party disclosure program if you can. (You don’t have to fulfill the whole program to participate; build it into your multi-year strategy.) Don’t be afraid to disclose dirty laundry, even if it makes you cringe. Next year you’re going to do better, and then even better the year after that. Reporting has this effect on companies. They hate to look bad in public. So the story is about improving, not being bad. Before too long, you won’t look bad at all. The story will be how you’ve transformed the company and have become a model for others to follow.

5. Tell stories.
It’s funny how often even A+ reporters forget about this. Probably they are so determined to be transparent and responsible that they forget about human nature. Still, nothing beats a compelling story for making a point that people remember. And don’t assume engineers and other geeks are immune. Often it’s the opposite: they are dying for someone to tell a killer story about their carbon dioxide equivalencies or DART injury statistics.

Make your report human, inspiring, even amusing if you can. The reason we report is to make sustainability mainstream, not fringe. So it has to appeal to us like other vital aspects of mainstream culture, like books and movies.

There are plenty of other principles like these for launching or stepping up a sustainability reporting program. The best way to learn about them is from people with extensive reporting experience. They’ll be transparent about their successes and failures, they’ll laugh about the resistance they’ve faced, and they’ll tell you some great stories. But don’t wait multiple years to start: your planet needs you to get rockin’ now.

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