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Friday, 31 May 2013

The Company Commitment Statement – Is Yours Enforced?

At first glance, a posted statement that reads: “Honesty is the Best Policy” may be seem like a simple cliché or it may appear profound depending on your viewpoint. If you were Mark Twain, you would say: “Honesty is the best policy - when there is money in it.” I am not sure if you agree with Mark Twain. Nevertheless, you may agree that policy or commitment statements, although they merit some consideration, have lost their significance. This may be due to their frivolous use. Some commitment statements – whether they are about product quality, product safety, regulatory compliance or delivery of excellence – are mere words without the desired impact.

You could easily find out if a company actually lives up to its posted commitment statement. You only need to interview the authors and the company personnel. You could ask them to rank the importance of the commitment statement on a scale of 1 to 10. A ranking lower than 8 shows they have little respect for the statement. You could ask them about the function of the statement. You could also ask them to describe the specific actions taken to ensure that the posted statement accomplishes its purpose. It is quite likely that the authors may not even know the actual purpose. They may mention all sorts of wonderful purposes that cannot be substantiated by the way the statement is treated once it is written and posted.

If a business wishes to earn consumer trust, it should not use patronizing language that insults the intelligence of consumers in their advertising, on labels, in recall notices, etc. The business should not display certification flags or post company commitment statements that mean nothing in terms of the actual commitment and transparency. In any business or organization, an inverse correlation exists between its profit-making frenzy and its commitment to consumer needs for transparency, satisfaction and safety (with safety being of primary concern).

With so many, if not all, companies posting commitment statements, you may have read or heard some very high sounding ones. Shakespeare would have said of these: ". . . full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". Some commitment statements may sound lofty but lack practical significance. Others may be so general that anyone on the street can state them as well as, if not better than, some of the company employees. A great number of stated commitments only serve as marketing slogans while being miles away from the actual operating philosophies. How many establishments compose their commitment statements with any consideration of how they will ensure that the entire workforce is consistently committed as stated? Do you know of any?

I am not advocating the taking down of all posted commitment statements. Rather, I am proposing the opposite. A practical and genuine commitment statement has very significant role to play in the survival of a company. The statement needs to be decisively and regularly communicated to the entire workforce. Posting it is one way, though not enough. Other ways of making employees take ownership and internalize the stated commitment are mandatory.

Alignment of Policies, Commitment Statements and the Operating Philosophies
In order for a company to actually benefit from its commitment statement, certain factors must be aligned. Most notably, the commitment statement and the actual operating philosophy must align with the company’s good intentions. One might say that every worthy commitment statement has a governing philosophy. Both the commitment and the governing philosophy are in turn connected to the company’s true success on many fronts. Incidentally, the actual operating philosophy determines if a company’s stated commitment represents its true commitment.

Having a commitment statement is commendable but merely having it is not enough. A number of the highly formalized audit schemes recognize the place of the company policy or commitment statement. These audit schemes actually require such statements to be documented and communicated. Regrettably, many companies with posted commitment statements do not give sufficient attention, if any, to the operating philosophies. An equally regrettable reality is that many companies with posted commitment statements operate with complete disregard for what the statements pretend to promote.

The frivolity of posted commitment statements may not be intentional. A number of factors contribute to the disparity between the actual and the posted company commitment and/or philosophy.

The Window Dressing Factor

One of the unfortunate digressions of management in some companies is to post commitment statements simply and only to promote the company’s image. A company should not need to promote its image if customers are already seeing the real thing (not the image) in the products and services delivered. A case is not being made here against truthful advertising. The case is against frivolous statements without supporting actions and products or services that are trustworthy. There may be noble intentions behind some superficial (or window dressing) statements. However, where the companies making these statements neither cultivate nor consistently live by them, they are as useless as having a paper diploma without the education.

Commitment Statements, Third Party Certification and Customer Confidence
A company does not have confidence in its products if is afraid of customer defection because it does not have commitment statement and a third party certificate to prove that commitment. Only true confidence in the products overcomes this fear. This confidence comes from a true commitment that makes third party certification redundant. If a company does not have confidence in its products, how can it expect customers to have confidence in the same products? Without this confidence that only the products can substantially demonstrate, customers will defect anyway whether or not the company has a flowery commitment statement . Even where the commitment is said to be proven with a third party certificate, customers will still defect where products demonstrate a contrary reality. Passing snap-shot audits and obtaining the associated certificates do not sufficiently substantiate the trust-worthiness of products. 

The Contending Philosophies Factor

A company’s philosophy is more like a mosaic of individual philosophies. Individual employees and managers often live by different philosophies. In many instances, the stated company commitment and the actual operating philosophies do not match. They, in fact, contend against each other. For example, some workers in a food handling operation may have the personal internalized philosophy that “a little dirt does not hurt anyone”. They may even believe that “a little dirt is good because it helps to build immunity”. Have you ever seen any food or pharmaceutical companies with these types of statements posted? Yet there are people who strongly believe them. Hence the true company’s philosophy at play, the mosaic of individual philosophies held to by the individual employees, is often not the same as what is posted. Unless the desired operating philosophy and the commitment of employees to that philosophy have been deliberately cultivated, the counter personal philosophies undermine the good intentions. For any company anywhere, and for any group of people, the best and most effective policies, philosophies or commitment statements are cultivated; not enforced.

The Forgetfulness Factor

In deeply reflective moments, people are able to state some presumed philosophies by which they operate or live. Likewise, companies, through a reflective process, are able to carefully articulate their presumed operating philosophies or commitment statements on paper. Soon after the reflective moments, the stated or written philosophies are quickly forgotten as they become displaced by the internalized philosophies held to by the personnel. As we have noted, such internalized philosophies may or may not be desirable. Where the internalized philosophies align with the articulated commitment statements, all remains well. In many cases, however, the internalized philosophies do not align with the presumed and articulated philosophies. As for policies, philosophies or commitment statements that are merely posted but not cultivated, they are forgotten as soon as the employees turn their faces away from the posted statements.  . . .and the commitment battle is lost!

While it is true that “honesty is the best policy, it is also true that every commitment statement that is worth anything is an honest one and it is cultivated before and after it is written and posted. Deliberate actions must be taken to bring the commitment statement alive. Continuing communication, coaching and encouragement are also necessary to sustain the desired commitment of everyone in the company. The commitment needs to be owned and internalized by all employees. That way, the contention between the individual operating philosophies and the company’s commitment is at least minimized if not eliminated. Thus the battle against frivolity is won.

Under the SSQA Concept, the commitment expected of a company, its employees and its partners covers a broader scope than just the commitment to programs. It also involves a commitment to people, the society at large, the environment and the personal commitment of every participant to being socially responsible with a good sense of moral obligation.

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Referenced Quotes:

Memorable Quotes and quotations from Mark Twain“Honesty is the best policy - when there is money in it. 

William Shakespeare Quotes, Macbeth". . . full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" 

Felix Amiri is currently the chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection

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