Can you afford not to be responsible?

21 settembre 2010

seth godinI came across this nice post by Seth Godin.

It is a very plain reflection (maybe even manichaean) about the firm’s responsibilities.
I really enjoyed it, and that’s the reason why I want to write my take on it, from “this blog’s point of view” (read as: IMHO).

The post starts with: “Let’s assert that marketing works”, that marketing is powerful and able to change other’s mind.
That is, I, as a firm, can sell my products to death, exploiting all the marketing solutions, but, at least, am I responsible for what I market?
In Seth’s opinion, just two options are feasible.
You can in fact choose either to be responsible or not about those products.

If you’re NOT responsible, you let your customers for instance (or in general your stakeholders if you like) take responsibility of the consequences eventually caused by your goods.

On the contrary if you are (or decide to be) responsible “[y]our insight and effort cause people to change, and without you, that change would never happen“.

The Godin’s take is: if you’re not proud of it, don’t sell it.

Although he couldn’t be more right, I want to put this issue another way.

Actually you are responsible with regard to business performance both if you are responsible for what you market and not.
So the question, at this point, could be not only, and maybe not anymore, “Are you responsible for what you market?“, but, also considering the effects: could it be worth to transfer responsibilities to stakeholders when you sell your products?

In other words, are you sure you can afford the risk of  relying on other’s choice just grossly knowing  about the parameters they will apply?
It likely could affect your business as a whole, and you will never be able to avoid negative outcomes because you are refusing to build a basis on which negotiating your stances.
And “[a]voiding negative outcomes reduces expenses as well as reducing the risks associated with variations in returns” (here p. 96).
Choosing not to be responsible you’ll be targeted by your stakeholders.
Briefly, in the Porter and Kramer’s words:

Governments, activists, and the media have become adept at holding companies to account for the social consequences of their activities. Myriad organizations rank companies on the performance of their corporate social responsibility (CSR), and […] these rankings attract considerable publicity.
(Porter M. E., Kramer M. R., “Strategy and Society. The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility”, Harvard Business Review, December 2006)

Thus, would you prefer to be accountable for the business performance relying on something you cannot control at all, or would you rather prefer to use your responsibilities (those you understand are the ones you have to take) as a policy through which you can roughly manage the consequences of your activities?

Be proud of it, here, is another way to say think about it.

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