I still hear the term “soft stuff” in reference to organizational effectiveness work. Naturally I do not think so. And just as naturally, a large percentage of the business community still feels that they can lead solely based on the balance sheet. Every once in a while however, we get a very clear lesson in why things like integrity, clear and meaningful values and straight shooting are anything but soft. Today, there are two in the press.
Does anyone think that either Facebook or Burson-Marsteller will survive the current brouhaha over an anonymous smear campaign aimed at Google without any impact? First they undertake what is a project so underhanded that the client remains secret (a violation of professional standards in the PR world). Then when it becomes public, the finger pointing begins- each throwing the other to the ravenous crowd. Oh, they will both provide some sacrificial lamb and go quiet after a formal announcement about how shocked they were to see dearly held values trampled on so heinously. And Facebook will not see a mass exodus of people who do not want their personal information associated with a firm so underhanded.
But at the best, there will be companies who will not want to do business with Facebook based on this kind of back-door dealing. And although many will anyway simply because of the amount of money to be made, they will do so more cautiously, making the dealings more challenging and expensive for Facebook. The attention of investors and the press is short term- but the payback is long term.
And while The Donald may or may not be wealthy enough to not care at all about the impact on his brand, this kind of behavior will not encourage either his presidential aspirations or future business dealings.
I do not think that history will view either Facebook or Trump as paragons of values based leadership. And these actions are appallingly extreme. They are likely to end up as the kind of exercise that consultants love to do using Enron’s values from 2001. But if you think that having clear values and a culture of forthright communications is soft, well- we all get to write our own history in some ways.