• Thilak Iyer

Should Responsibility be a core Value, universally?

In the movie Spiderman (2002), Ben Parker says “With great power comes great responsibility” as an advice to Peter Parker. Ironically, that was his last sentence in the movie. It is still so true. Be it individuals; be it authorities and be it companies.

The statement takes an overly critical narrative with the current crisis with Facebook being accused of inadequate hate speech policies. At different times, other large tech companies have also been accused similarly.

Not just this, there are many global and local factors that require Organizations to be much more Responsible. Such as:

Influence: The influence of many of the large firms on average citizen is only increasing. There are firms such as Facebook (including WhatsApp & Instagram), Google and Twitter that have enormous influence on general public and key outcomes (not just limited to buying decisions). And there are other firms such as Amazon and, possibly, Jio who may have enormous behavioural impact and influence on people.

Technology implications: Specific technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Automation in general are still at infancy, in spite of their being in use for some years now. No one really understands its impact on humankind. Even tech czars such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk deeply differ on its implications. Imagine the understanding of the common human. Only now, there have been some muted calls for forming guidelines for responsible use of some of these technologies.

Ecological Impact: Despite some calling it as a hoax, climate change is a reality. And it is only accelerating. Only a few large firms worldwide have set a target for carbon footprint reduction and becoming carbon neutral. On the other hand, many firms continue with dumping effluents into the rivers and lakes.

Equitable growth: It is very much true that the global poverty has reduced, and per capita income has increased over the last 50 years. And this is possibly the problem with averages. While the average wealth has increased, the ratio of CEO salary to median salary of workers in a company has only widened. In the US, this ratio has increased from 20:1 in 1965 to 58:1 in 1989 to 278:1 in 2018. Is it a wonder then that most steep increase has happened after the fall of communism and capitalism becoming the sole and, arguably, most successful global story. The story in India is no different – In 2019, average annual remuneration of a CEO of a Nifty 50 company stood at 249 times the median remuneration of the company’s employees. General equality: While many firms are making effort and there has been a general improvement in equality in terms of gender and other parameters, we are far from being an equal planet in terms of both opportunity and wages. In India, it took the regulator to crack the whip to include a woman on the boards for all publicly listed companies.

So, should “Responsibility” be a core value of every company. Why is this required? While many firms are taking steps to address part of these issues, it must be addressed holistically. For example, most companies have “Equal opportunity employer” as a footnote and part of their website. Some companies have Sustainability as a core focus and value to address financial sustainability as well as ecological sustainability. For a firm to behave in a Responsible way, it must be holistic and be part of their core Values and part of their org culture.

A look at Facebook’s values (from their IPO documents) reveals that their values are:

· Be Bold,

· Focus on Impact,

· Move Fast,

· Be Open &

· Build Social Value (not to be confused with social responsibility)

In fact, a look at the top internet companies (FANG) shows that Responsibility does not feature as a Value. Even the Fortune 1 company does not have it explicitly.

Closer home there are examples, but they are not very prevalent. One example would be Tata group that has Responsibility as a core value. They have defined Responsibility as:

We will integrate environmental and social principles in our businesses, ensuring that what comes from the people goes back to the people many times over.”

Another example would be Wipro, who has “Be global and responsible” as a core value.

From the 1990s, the CEOs have believed that their job is to maximize shareholder value. While there has been a general shift away shareholder value obsession and towards responsible growth, it is not far from enough.

If the global ecosystem has to sustain for many decades, the companies and nations will have to primarily become responsible for humankind and the planet in general.

And “Responsibility” in its true and holistic sense has to become a core value, a driving force and a common culture. And all pervasive that addresses Influence, Tech advances, Ecological impact, equitable growth, and general equality holistically, and all at once.

Of course, reach out to us to define and drive your company’s Values. You can read a related impact story at https://www.effilor.com/impactstory3.