Whole Milk or Skim: Are Your Employees Diluting Your Core Values?

On one of the hottest days of this summer, my colleague Josh and I were desperate for a cold drink between client appointments. Our oasis came in the form of a popular retail chain, known for promoting social consciousness and selling delicious frozen lattes.

Our relief soon turned to disgust as we placed our orders – mine with whole milk and Josh’s with skim – and the less-than-enthused barista told us it would be much easier for her to make them both the same. Knowing that her employer’s advertised core values were built on customer service, community and social sustainability, I was speechless.

But the experience made me think back to our recent Fist to Five Live event in Albany, where Philip Morris, CEO of Proctors Theatre, defined social consciousness as respect – starting internally with your employees. To quote him: “If your employees hate working for you, how could you even describe yourself as socially conscious?”

So how can you call yourself a socially sustainable business? BusinessDictionary.com defines social sustainability as “the ability of a community to develop processes and structures which not only meet the needs of its current members but also support the ability of future generations to maintain a healthy community.”

Social sustainability starts at the heart of your business – with your employees and the values they display to every single customer who walks through your door. It is not enough to donate to charities and commit to sponsorships on a corporate level. Social consciousness is a way of life that is exemplified through company leadership and passed down to your employees on a continuous basis.

Employees are at the front lines of the communities you serve and the gatekeepers of the values you uphold. Their behavior is often the first and only public reflection of those core values. So when considering, developing and promoting the message of your business’s commitment to social consciousness, pay heed to how your employees are going to play it out in the real world.

After all, actions speak louder than words.

Todd Polyniak, CPA is a Partner at SaxBST and the leader of the firm's Not-for-Profit Industry Services Group. He also leads the firm's signature Fist to Five Live event series, which brings not-for-profits and for-profits together to discover how to improve their bottom lines through the power of positive social impact.