Company character

Stick with me this post might be a bit longer than usual.

I’ve been hearing lot’s of people talk about how companies can be good or evil. A lot of this goes back to Google’s whole “Don’t be evil” line that was the unofficial motto around the company a while back. Part of it is due to Umair Haque’s manifesto’s and blog posts. Don’t get me wrong, I respect a lot of what Umair writes and I like a lot of what Google does, but I just don’t think it’s that black and white.

Companies are made up of people, and people are at the heart of the organisation’s direction and choices around strategy, marketing, procurement, M&A and everything else. Calling companies good and evil misses out on the spectrum between these extremes.

Google for example has made lot’s of “Good” decisions, for the good of costumers, for the good of partners, for the good of the developer community, but they’ve also made a lot of bad decisions, Buzz integration with Gmail without opt-in, what they did to Dodgeball and whole lot of other stuff could be classified as “Evil” by some people.

Apple, Twitter, Microsoft, Sony almost any media, technology company I can think of has done some things that I would consider good and some things that I wouldn’t. So classifying an entire company as good or evil just leaves me feeling a bit uneasy.

Here’s my suggestion, let’s ditch the whole good and evil and start talking about the character of an organisation. Let’s make it a spectrum and a scale. Are they transparent, sustainable, honest and consistent in their policies and actions? Do they value the community, employees, costumers, partners and the developers who may power their community? Are they closed or open – is that consistent across products and services?

This is separate to the quality and performance of the company’s goods or services. Nestle would probably score really lowly on the character scale but damn if I could resist their KitKats. Apple may also score lowly but I’ll still probably buy an iPad and add this to our suite of Apple products in the house. But at least I know it’s not a company with character, just a company with good products.

A company that is transparent and clear in it’s financial management and strategy, that has a sustainable policy and tries to operate in a energy efficient manner, which shows obvious care and concern for all their stakeholders and that works in an open manner with open protocols across it’s product suite would be the holy grail of character and would score a 10. Not sure if any company meets this but that should be the aim.
A company that isn’t transparent, doesn’t value stakeholders, is not green in any way shape or form, doesn’t prescribe to open protocols or integration with other services would score really poorly.

This is separate to the quality and performance of the company’s goods or services. Nestle would probably score really lowly on the character scale but damn if I could resist their KitKats. Apple may also score lowly but I’ll still probably buy an iPad and add this to our suite of Apple products in the house. But at least I know it’s not a company with character, just a company with good products. This is what separates discussing awesomeness versus character. Awesomeness can mean great execution, great products, but that doesn’t mean a company is “good”, what talking about character does is it gives us a clear scale and overview of a companies principles.

I originally wanted to call this blog post “Calling Bullsh*t on Good and Evil in Business” but heck who am I to suggest it’s bullsh*t maybe there is a place for it. I just don’t think it gives us as a community enough tools to discuss the principles of an organisation. So let’s try and stop all the good and evil clear cut analysis of decisions and talk about companies with colour, I think this would be more beneficial to the conversations and analysis that is happening about companies today. Just how much character does your company have?