The subject of whether doing good can also be good business is not a new one but it has certainly been at the top of the news agenda this week.
It started on Wednesday with Goldman Sachs' executive Greg Smith's op-ed in The New York Times denouncing what he called an environment “as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.”
Smith claimed the interests of the finance company's clients came a distant second to the drive to make profit at all costs. It has likely cost him his career as it's difficult to see anyone else in the industry employing him.
He will be consoled by his years of earning multi-million dollar salaries and the bronze medal he gained for table tennis at the Jewish Olympics (elements of the op-ed struck some as odd, but that's a different issue.) It mirrored a similar open resignation letter sent by AIG EVP Jake DeSantis back in 2009.
For Goldman Sachs, Smith's diatribe resulted in $2 billion of value disappearing from the embattled banking firm's share price and did nothing to resurrect confidence in a sector that has been under a big cloud since the financial crisis of 2008-9.
Elsewhere, Google's engineering director James Whittaker quit the search behemoth because “the Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.” (Some also saw it as strange that Whittaker's “escape route” was Microsoft but, again, that's another issue.)
Also on Wednesday, and across town from The New York Times' HQ, Unilever marketing SVP Marc Mathieu told a conference that marketers should stop thinking of people as consumers, shoppers, and targets, and instead view them as human beings.
Mathieu wants to make marketing “noble” again. He says: “We need to reinvent marketing for life, for today, and for the generations to come,” and identified three pillars to drive this change: putting people first, building brand love, and unlocking brand magic.
There's a strong thread running through these stories that is right at the heart of communications and corporate reputation. As regular readers of PRWeek already know, companies and other organizations have to pay close attention to the way they do business and the way they treat their employees.
Employees are the most powerful advocates an organization can have – but they can also be a destructive force. A company's mission and the way it behaves go a long way to engaging those employees, as well as consumers, customers, or clients.
Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz brought the issue firmly top of mind last year in a speech to executives in Chicago. He noted the way the debt crisis and the economy were getting progressively worse and how politicians seemed more interested in getting re-elected than solving these problems. Reflecting Mathieu, he said: "We're better than this."
He pledged to empower Starbucks' staff to have more of a voice and to invest in local communities where the coffee company does business, especially communities that are struggling. His philosophy was that thriving communities are linked intrinsically to business values and that Starbucks would make a more concerted effort to be clear about its values: more engagement means more profit, which in turn means more can be given back.
If Greg Smith's version of events is to be believed, those are lessons Goldman Sachs could certainly take on board – but they are good guiding principles for everyone.