Alsop’s Law Five: Be a Model Citizen

23 Apr

img_0164Every day before my son goes to school, I tell him, “Be a model citizen today, okay?”

My son especially needs this because he will try to do what we call “the fancy stuff.” This means that, in order to impress his friends, he has the tendency to show off a little bit. This behavior may involve stretching the truth, lies of omission or temporarily ignoring the rules that apply to everyone else.

Just like my son, all of us have days when we are tempted to not be model citizens. Alsop’s point is that for companies, being a model citizen is not something to be done when the mood strikes. The behavior has got to be consistent and ongoing, and supportable with solid evidence.

Here’s a question to consider:

If a company gives money to a community, including support to charity, but decides to leave town and eliminate jobs after receiving significant tax incentives from area government, are they a model citizen?

Depends on whom you ask.

Do companies owe anything to their employees and area citizens? Or is it all about the bottom line?

I have been pondering the issue of corporate social responsibility lately. These are tough questions. Businesses are in business to make a profit. If they can no longer make a profit and must make decisions that negatively impact employees and area citizens, do those left in the wake have a right to complain?

My sense is that there’s a right way to handle tough decisions and a wrong way. Any reasonable person knows that business leaders are in positions of authority because at least once in a while they must make hard decisions. When tough decisions are communicated to stakeholders openly and honestly, people can be disappointed but having had some sense of the decision-making process, typically they will understand the outcome. They will believe that the company has strived to be a model citizen. Despite the outcome, the company made every effort to keep people informed and treat them with respect, retaining the company’s status as a model citizen. The company made no fancy moves and wasted no time in covering up the process behind a difficult choice.

On the other hand, if a company chooses to make every public relations move based upon the need to save face, without clearly explaining the underlying reasons for their decisions and not involving the stakeholders as active and thinking participants in the outcome, then people will have more questions than answers. People will not believe that the company is a model citizen.

This is the essence of Alsop’s Law Five.

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2 Responses to “Alsop’s Law Five: Be a Model Citizen”

  1. Ed Burghard April 25, 2009 at 8:39 am #

    Companies, like people, would be well served to make principle based decisions and be transparent in explaining the principles driving their choices. This approach builds trust and promotes partnership behavior. For a company, being a good citizen doesn’t mean always doing what is best for the community where they operate. It means creating and sustaining a true public – private partnership where decisions are made based on the principle of doing what is best for both the company and community. Too often, companies and communities approach decisions as an either or choice, when in fact the best solution is generally an “and” choice.

    • toknowbetter April 25, 2009 at 9:37 am #

      Thanks for the shout-out, Ed! Appreciate your perspective on this topic.

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