Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Corporate Social Responsibility: Are we starting from the right point?

CSR: Are we starting from the right point?
It appears we are getting used to making totally ours slogans that sound nice to everyone’s ears, build a positive, socially accepted image around our businesses, but end up being initiatives which don’t make it to the real life, and aren’t put into practice even within the company itself.

Where should all changes start with? It is clear that for a real change to happen, we must begin to promote that change from the inside out, within ourselves.

If we were talking about your company, it happens the same way: If you want to contribute to build a more just, more equal society to live in, you should begin to develop that same society you wish for within your own company. Shouldn’t you?

One of the concepts that are now being used very often, is that of "corporate social responsibility" or CSR for many. Let's start by defining what CSR is.

What is "Corporate Social Responsibility" anyway?

According to Wikipedia, is:

"Corporate social responsibility (CSR), (...), can be defined as your company’s active and voluntary contribution to improving their social, economic and environmental surroundings, (...) Corporate social responsibility goes beyond compliance of laws and regulations, assuming your company is fully respecting and complying with them (...) It would be difficult to understand a company’s efforts to develop CSR activities without first complying with responsibilities and duties within their own industry."

If you want to clearly understand it: your company has a responsibility with the society, the world, with customers, employees, suppliers, partners and shareholders, for the simple reason of being engaged in a commercial activity.

And that responsibility is not only to develop and deliver a high quality product or service. That is understood, implicit, or at least should be. It goes much further, implying even your responsibility as a company to add value to your customers, drive innovation and change at all levels, and much more.

But my question is: Why corporate social responsibility is associated with outbound activities such as caring for the environment, participating on or even providing funds for charitable foundations, and alternatives of the same nature, forgetting the one area in which the company has quite an important responsibility: their own employees?

Why CSR is associated with outbound actions your company carries out?

Isn’t it your company’s responsibility to create an adequate environment for its employees and provide them with decent working and economic conditions, within the company’s own financial capacities? Isn’t it one way to add greater value to our society?

It shouldn’t be more valuable for your company to financially support a program for the protection of dolphins in a remote country, instead of providing your employees with good, and adequate working conditions, if not to say decent, it sounds a little tougher.

Not that charitable programs are not a good idea, not at all, but your corporate social responsibility starts on a different place.

It seems the economic crisis has created an environment in which many companies forget that their first and most important responsibility is towards their employees, then to their clients and afterwards with society. Keep always in mind that, at the end of the day, your business’ performance is on the hands of employees who work for you.

In many cases, the economic crisis has become an excuse to reduce salaries, increase working hours without increasing wages, open "work for free in exchange of experience" opportunities, and even go as far as charging people for giving them an opportunity to work, completely failing to fulfill companies’ key responsibility.

Do not forget that your business strongly depends on your own employees.

And if you get it clear, then it is easy to understand how you can begin to offer great value to society. The first way is to provide value to the people who make your team, your employees, and that you can do by creating a working environment that not only meets current legislation, respect human rights, but also give each person the economic value their work is actually worth.

Even take into consideration that by doing this, you are offering your contribution to recovering from this economic crisis that afflicts so many, because you're allowing your employees to have more money to buy things and enjoy a better lifestyle.

Corporate Social Responsibility is not just a phrase that sounds good, but a real and concrete commitment of your company with the whole environment in which it operates.

Do not allow the economic downfall to transform your business in a place where nice things are said, but only said, because when it comes to what is done, awful things that we can not even mention happen.

That way, you're actually helping to create a better society, don’t you think?

Related article: Working for free, when, why and for how long?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Olympic Games: An important marketing lesson for your company.

Not only the gold medal counts.
The Olympics are finished and with them two weeks of excitement, competition, records, tension and expectations.

Fifteen days during which the whole world centers its attention on one city (in this case, London) to enjoy a memorable sportive experience.

Many people refer to winners and losers. I do believe it goes a bit beyond and, above all, it's about competitors. It's about young athletes(and some veterans in between) who came to this meeting to give their best, and even though some go back home without medals in their hands, surely they have in their minds the memories of an extraordinary experience.

Backstage these Olympics, which showed those who still have doubts about social marketing and the use of new media technology being here to stay, there are many lessons that can be applied to the marketing strategies of your company or personal brand.

Of these lessons, I want to stay with one: not only the gold medal counts.

Not only is the gold medal the one that counts.

The general trend is to consider "winners" all those who win medals by finishing among the top three positions, especially the one who gets the first spot and wins a gold medal. This time, there were also the "Olympic diplomas", some sort of a tribute to those competitors who, even being non-winners, had an outstanding performance.

The same holds true for business: the trend is to consider "winners" only those business who are in first place, the industry leaders, those with the highest turnover, but then: What happens to business, perhaps like yours, that don't make it to the "Top 10" list? Are they losers? Why?

For many athletes, only the gold medal and the Olympic record count, because only then can they become famous, grab the world's attention and get the best sponsorships. There was even the case of russian athlete, Viktoria Komova, who cried because her team failed to win the gold medal and had to settle for silver. Just imagine: the silver medal! Second place in the world and she cried!

However, for businesses, the story is quite different. Of course it'd be great to be among the top 10 in the world. Of course it'd be great. But you don't need to be number one, to have a successful business.

In fact, there is a huge list of names of companies that fail to be among the 500 largest companies in the world, but they are doing an outstanding job with their customers, feed the families of many employees and bring in important benefits. Are they losers for not being number one?

The victory is not in the competition but the continuous preparation.

Do you think Usain Bolt's victory came just is those 9.63 seconds it took him to run the 100 meters flat? What do you think of the South African runner Oscar Pistorius, the handicapped competitor, and those who managed to improve their personal bests, even if non-winning?

All of them gather around a common point: They have for a long time continuously trained to give the best of themselves not only in the Olympics, but in each of the competitions they have participated previously. Think about those 8 runners who smashed the 100 meters race in less than 10 seconds! Not one but eight!

They say that wealth is in the journey, not the destination.

The Olympics should be an inspiration to you.

Absolutely they are an extraordinary inspiration, that's granted but you should not concentrate your efforts only in taking home the gold medal, and be among the top 10 in your industry, because in business it's not all that counts.

The Olympics should inspire you to prepare for and consciously manage your business for success, to have a long term action plan, to grow better every day, for continuous improvement of your products and your team, for keeping strong relationships with your customers and, above all, to make of every day, every challenge, every moment a growth experience and memorable learning.

If you have the chance to win the gold medal and be among the first, great! but remember that you don't need that to have a successful business and a good portfolio of happy customers.

Inspired on: What the Olympics Has to Do With Your Business (Not Much) written by Margaret Heffernan.

Related article: Do you want a successful product? Become your most demanding customer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Strategic Planning: The difference between desires and goals.

I'm a rookie biker. Rather, I should say I have been biking for about three months now to lose some of that weight that is always there to spare.

I don’t run much: one hour twice a week and, on weekends, since I have a little more time, I do five hours between Saturday and Sunday.

A few days ago, being at the end of one of my rides, already tired and willing to get back home, I had a very interesting experience which I want to share with you.

Two riders passed me by the left side, calmly and without apparent effort. Not only they did pass me, but moved away from me at a good speed. Of course my competitive spirit was hurt and I immediately began to feel the need to not leave the situation just like that.

For a moment I was torn between whether to push myself to try and reach them both or just leave the situation alone. The reflection that followed caught my attention.

We have to clearly understand the difference between desires and goals.

On one side there was the option to push myself a little more, press the accelerator down and try to heal my wounded pride, reaching the two cyclists who had passed me. That meant using energies that I did no longer have, exposing myself to an unnecessary injury and, at the end, not finally finishing my biking session that day if I had got hurt.

On the other hand, there was the option to leave it alone. Why? Because after all, I went out biking not to compete with anyone but to get some exercise, burn extra calories, get some workout for my legs and increase my endurance. Little more. My goal was not to compete with anyone, even though at that moment it was the desire of my heart.

Then I remembered that many businesses do the same thing too: They mix up what they want with the goals they wish to achieve.

Be careful with what you wish for, because you can get it all.

Although it seems an implausible story, there are many cases of companies that have gone bankrupt just after having had their strongest growth periods. I remember a UPS commercial I saw many years ago in which they were showcasing a group of young entrepreneurs who were very happy to finally have their own e-commerce platform up and running.

While congratulating each other on how nice the platform they just launched looked and felt, they suddenly stopped, staring at each other, speechless, because something was happening: Orders were coming in continuously through their e-commerce site!

The first orders were received with satisfaction but, as orders piled up, they came to realize they weren’t ready to fulfill such a strong demand and didn’t have any alternative plan of action designed to cope with such a situation.

A goal is not necessarily what you want, but what you can achieve and deliver.

In the case of the UPS commercial (I'm trying to find the link in youtube to drop it here), the desire of the young entrepreneurs was obviously to increase their sales. That’s the reason why they launched their e-commerce platform to begin with

Maybe a little planning in advance would have kept them from running into this situation or, at least, allow them to have options to choose from, but they didn’t think of it. And although this one is about an advertisement and it doesn’t provide any further detail on the story, we could probably assume that the company, not having the ability to fulfill so many orders, perhaps began to fail on delivery dates, ran out of inventory, and some other things. Maybe they didn’t. Who knows?

Your wishes can become a nightmare.

If we were to be talking about your company, do not mix up what your best desires are for  it with what the company can actually accomplish. Wishing to double your sales is always a laudable goal to consider, as it is with opening new offices and expand. Who does not want to accomplish things like that?

However, it is not only about what you want to achieve but about being certainly ready for what it means to achieve such goals and stay at the same or higher level thereafter.

Going back to my biking case, perhaps I could have increased my riding pace and reach the bikers that had passed me, but if I had hurt myself, what then? Would you let your company go bankrupt, only for wanting to achieve something for which your company is not ready yet?

For now, I’ll continue biking with the same goal: to do some exercise, lose weight, and increase my endurance. Every time I run, there are some cyclists that I pass, and others that pass me. However, I have my goal clear on my mind and no longer suffer for my own desires.

Can you do the same for your company?

Related post: It’s time to grow: When it’s not good to wear too many hats.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Personal Brand Strategy: A Case Study.

More than an image, a feeling.
One of the biggest challenges facing small business owners today is figuring out how to put into practice what they learn in theory, especially in a demanding environment such as the one we’re living on today.

Transforming into strategies and actions what authors recommend on books, lectures, courses and workshops can sometimes become a very difficult task to perform, and even more for those who don’t have the professional preparation or don’t follow proper advice.

One such issue is the development of a personal brand.

It's not a secret the many high-caliber professionals who are now sitting at their homes without a job, or doing work for which they are definitely over-qualified as professionals (the so-called underemployment).

Many of these people have spent several years of their lives working for the same company under the illusion of a permanent contract and then they face the urgent need to develop a personal brand strategy to turn all these years in something valuable as to be hired for, when they get to be laid off.

What is the purpose of a personal brand strategy?

You know I like to use a simple language to talk about these things, so that we can all understand them easily and, above all, that you be able to apply in real life what we share here.

The purpose of a personal brand strategy is to identify within yourself what makes you different (or whatever uniqueness you want to be identified with), make a value proposition that helps you stand out from other professionals in your industry and ultimately become the option of choice when it comes to being hired or get new customers if you decided to open up your own business.

As always, a concept that sounds great in theory (who wouldn’t want to stand out from the crowd and get that job in which he’s going to get paid what he really deserves?) but it becomes difficult to turn it into a plan of action.

A case study: My dear friend Monica Perez.

Which is the best way to learn something? By putting it into practice. Today I want to share with you a case of personal brand strategy successfully implemented. This is about my friend Monica Perez, whom I met while taking a "Community Management" course.

Define your personal brand: Monica is a photographer.

Simple, straightforward and to-the-point. Your brand mustn’t be somewhere along the way, between one thing and another. No. Your brand is very simple. Monica is a photographer. Not a plumber, architect or a doctor. She is a photographer.

A personal brand must be clearly defined from the very beginning. There can’t be any ambiguity, or be open to second interpretations. In Monica’s case, any of the persons who have had the pleasure of meeting and sharing with her, we all know that she’s a photographer.

Make it a valuable proposition: it’s about passion, personality and other things.

And not only a photographer but a photographer who, at least for me, is different from others. In each of her photos, Monica conveys the passion she feels for what she does. And that is a fundamental element in building a personal brand: The passion we feel for what we do! When you do things in a passionate way, it’s very difficult to do the wrong thing.

Monica’s case isn’t like some photographers who simply take pictures for a living. Not at all. I really think that for her is impossible to one day take a picture without giving her very best to make it a great shot.

The hardest part of any branding strategy is to achieve this kind of differentiation. Generating the value proposition that makes you different. Many professionals simply become one more on the bunch just because they can’t cross that line, which separates them from others.

And isn’t only about your professional value, but also about who you are as a person. About the core values ​​that motivate you, the things with which you identify. In a word, your integrity as a person, as an individual.

The aim of your brand strategy: Becoming the option of choice.

If you have a strategy that doesn’t allow you to achieve its specific goal either the strategy is not adequate, or such goal isn’t right for the strategy you’re using. Nothing more to it.

In the case study we are talking about today, I'm sure I will tell Monica whenever I have a photographic project to shoot. She has become my option of choice on top of others who have failed to build a solid brand proposition and distinguish themselves as Monica did.

Notice how, on a very simple way, Monica has managed to develop a brand proposition that has allowed her, at least for me, become a preferred option.

Many professionals believe the goal of their personal brand strategy should be something like "hire me instead of that other guy" or "do business with me in lieu of someone else."

Personally I think a brand proposition must go a little further and propose something like: "You’re the one who loses if you don’t choose me".

Don’t you think?

Related post: Advertising: The Power of a Testimonial.

¿Would you like to meet my friend Mónica Perez?
To be her friend in Facebook, click here.
Or if you'd rather follow her on Twitter, then click here.