April 29, 2016, by Academic contributor

Why should we be responsible in business? Lessons from the Playground

Sid from Toy StoryWhy be a responsible business? Isn’t “doing good” down to not-for-profit organisations, community interest companies or social enterprises? Not if you want to have a sustainable future.

We are a peculiar species. We have achieved the incredible and continue to confound ourselves with new, improved and advanced developments. Proportionally, I don’t know if there are a growing number of people who show selflessness, generosity of spirit and love, or if we are just more aware of it through the media. At the same time, we see evil and tyranny in the world as well as terrible poverty and suffering – often in the same place.

We teach our children to “be good”. Children in the playground who are kind to others are generally liked and this reinforces good behaviour. I believe most people are good. And good companies allow good people to do good things.

Responsible business goes slightly further than simply allowing good people to do good things. Responsible businesses work hard at really understanding their place in the world and the impact they have on the environment, society and the economy. Responsible thinking is embedded into their purpose and is part of their culture. They measure their impacts, set targets and report against them.

It is really easy to be cynical. Despite my best intentions, from time to time I find myself thinking “what’s in it for them?”. And this is understandable, given the proliferation of stories where businesses have been caught committing fraud, bribery, corruption, environmental pollution, abuse of workers — the list could go on. Scandals make great news, but they also cast shadows of suspicion and raise questions about other businesses; a real shame when you consider the phenomenal efforts made by businesses to ‘do good’.

Cynicism isn’t a terribly attractive quality. Synonyms for ‘cynic’ include words such as ‘jaded’, ‘distrustful’ and ‘pessimistic’. I prefer curiosity to cynicism. I think we all have a right to enquire, to seek out the truth, to get behind the spin and gloss. Whether you’re a cynic or just curious, responsible businesses assist this process through openness and transparency and take the time to plan, implement, review and report on their activities.

Getting back to the question of “Why be a responsible business?”, there are almost too many possible answers, but high on the list would be to ensure a positive brand image. In some ways, this is as basic as the child in the playground wanting to be liked. In business, this is paramount. We need a positive brand if we are to attract and recruit the best people. We need a positive brand for our customers and suppliers to want to work with us.

But you can’t just want a positive brand to have one. It has to be authentic. Employees of companies know if the company walks the talk or just gives it lip service.

At Simons making a positive contribution to the communities in which we work is one of our core values and pervades our vision of being a property solutions business people want to be part of. We believe that, whether you’re a customer, a supplier or an employee, you’re more likely to want to be part of a responsible business. Our relentless mission to improve includes our initiatives to build safer, build greener and build healthier. These alongside many other commitments such as our employee volunteering and fundraising activities, responsible supply chain payment, education and skills initiatives all make a fundamental and positive impact on our business.

Having employees with shared values who are proud of the work we do, having customers and suppliers who have trust and confidence in us and our brand and help secure repeat business – are these not core business issues at the heart of what will give us a sustainable and profitable future? I certainly believe so.

So getting back to the playground and when it comes to being responsible in business, my advice would be in the words of Woody from Toy Story when he says to the nasty boy Sid, “Play nice” — there is no downside to that approach.

Tom Robinson is CEO of Simons Group.  He completed an MBA (graduating with distinction) at Nottingham University Business School in 1996.

Notes: This blog was created for the Great Business Debate, a CBI led campaign to help build public confidence in businesses. More about the Great Business Debate

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