We’re all on thin ice. At work and in our personal lives, reputations are fragile. Attitudes are measured against numerous, sometimes unknown, yardsticks. What we say is dissected, while we’re also held to account for what we don’t say. A word out of place, and the abyss beckons.
Actions, as we know, speak louder than words. They are tangible, they are durable, they are less vulnerable to misinterpretation. Close the gap between your ambitions – what you say – and your achievements – what you do, and you’re making progress towards solid ground.
It’s one thing to talk the talk, but quite another to walk the walk under the burning spotlight of public scrutiny. If there is a gap between what you promise and what you deliver, the results can be worse than if you’d never raised your head above the parapet in the first place.
Take diversity, equity and inclusion in the corporate arena. No amount of “We believe in this…” and “We’re committed to that…” will impress your multifarious stakeholders if there is no visible, measurable change in recruitment and opportunity at all levels.
Ditto environmental and social governance. The word ‘greenwashing’ was coined precisely to shame companies that trumpet their green aspirations without laying foundations to give them credibility, and which do not commit to sustained action to bring them to fruition.
But this ‘say-do’ mismatch is not restricted to these weighty global themes that press heavily on those in the C-suite. Every interaction with every stakeholder – customers, suppliers, regulators, employees, investors – is an opportunity to succeed or fail.
Is the media a stakeholder? Is social media? Probably not, in the strictest sense. But it is in such forums that failures are exposed, so every brand must tread with care to ensure their
public interactions are measured, reasonable, honest and consistent.
If you’re looking for bread-and-butter issues with potential for a promise-delivery gap, take frontline customer service. Who reading this has heard the mantra “Your call is very important to us…” and not thought, well, if that’s so, why not employ more staff to pick up the d*mn phone? Same deal with chat-bots, which promise much and deliver so little. Any specific query or nuanced request is met with the cyber equivalent of shrug and a recommendation that you seek help elsewhere. Why put us through the charade?
Perhaps this is part of the problem. Closing the say-do gap, more than likely, costs money. And it’s often a company’s attitude to its bottom line that will determine whether its preferred persona flows through and manifests itself in its practical activities, day to day and year to year.
You can’t be cavalier with profitability and certainly not with short-term viability. But if doing the right thing turns out to be commercially unsound, there must be deeper issues at play regarding the structure and performance of the company.
Expectations on brands have never been higher, and those expectations are legion. They also evolve in real time on a daily basis. Navigating this scenario calls for bravery, skill and
perseverance. A brand seeking long-term success needs to put its money where its mouth is.
Kevin Pratt is UK editor at Forbes Advisor.