A timid person is frightened before a danger, a coward during the time, and a courageous person afterward.
-Johann Paul Friedrich Richter
There is no room for timidity or passivity in approaching People aspects of sustainability. You can't purchase "negative PR offset credits" or "worker happiness credits" like you can with carbon emissions, you can't expect a consultant to come in and "fix" things as you might with a facility energy audit. The fact that you are dealing with human beings, from customers to NGOs, to employees domestically and abroad, makes this element of the 3Ps very different from Planet or Profit.
Furthermore, addressing People aspects and indicators is an exercise in fluidity, and you may find that, because we are dealing with people, perceptions from completely unrelated issues can influence behavior. Have a product recall? You may see increased media scrutiny of your organization and its treatment of workers. Have a multi-year run of prosperity in the organization and experience associated stock value increases? You may find stakeholder groups which were previously friendly beginning to question executive compensation. Conversely, if you are known as a good partner in the community, you may find NGO discussions having a far more positive tone.
People aspects of sustainability are also an interesting microcosm of society, and tap into what can be some fairly polarizing topics. And, by "fairly polarizing," this does not equate to "makes for lively dinner conversation." This equates to the fact that you may be one of the people in the mix of stakeholder engagement, or talking with NGOs not at all happy with your organization or the fact that you personally make a living from an organization with which they fundamentally disagree. You could, in fact, be the lightning rod in those polarizing discussions.
From the hands-on, physically (and frankly, emotionally) exhausting effort needed for robust stakeholder engagement, to initiating community engagement, to establishing grant programs and worker training programs, these efforts are all as ambitious as they are difficult. As we will explore in later Lessons, this difficulty is many times rewarded with your organization gleaning insights which can act as a significant platform for innovation. Where competitors may be performing focus groups with placid participants paid to attend and kept happy with snack food, robust stakeholder efforts will allow us the the ability to not only "get out front" of potential issues, but also to understand rich opportunities for innovation.
Recapping, our goals through the end of this Lesson are to:
- discern People-centric aspects and initiatives within a Corporate Sustainability Report;
- evaluate an organization's approach to People issues through the lens of their stated Vision, Mission, and Values;
- discern strategies and tactics used in organizations with proactive approaches to People aspects;
- express how organizations engaging their workforces and communities benefit in tangible ways;
- articulate the value of the stakeholder engagement process.
To these ends, this week's case will focus on two of the world's most recognizable brands, both of which have suffered significant reputational damage from People issues. In Nike's case, most of the damage was suffered in the 1990s, while, it could be argued Apple continues to bear reputational damage from People issues as of the time of writing. We will discuss not only the strategies each company used to approach their respective People issues and how it relates to their stated Vision, Mission, and Values, but also the tactics which they use to execute those strategies.