Guest Article: Simon Robinson – Values Need To Be Lived

For the Volkswagen Group, sustainability means that we conduct our business activities on a responsible and long-term basis and do not seek short-term success at the expense of others.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

These two VWs you see in the photo are the creation of Brazilian artist Jarbas Lopes, who wanted to create a provocative installing exploring the good and the dark side of consumption. With the breaking of the Volkswagen scandal over these last few days, it does seem for VW there has been a little more dark and very little light.

Whether or not there is light at the end of the tunnel for VW remains to be seen. But what is certain beyond doubt is the immediate damage to all twelve of Volkswagen Group’s global brands. The group utterly failed in its promise to conduct their business on a responsible and long-term basis.

While clearly the VW shows just how spectacularly shocking the illegal activities of a well-respected global brand and group can be, the failure to adhere to one’s explicit values also occurs regularly at the individual level to. I am now seeing presentations at business conferences regularly citing “ethics”, “values” and “authenticity” as core attributes a business of any description needs, but, you know, it’s one thing to state a series of abstract concepts, and it is an absolute other reality to really live the values day in, day out, with no differentiation between public and private life, or how a person presents themselves on stage versus back stage. Let me explain.

If you really wish to know someone’s values, have lunch with them.

One phenomenon related to business conferences is the networking break and the business lunch. As I mentioned, the discussion of values, ethics and authenticity is a growing trend, indeed perhaps these are becoming buzz words.

But if you really wish to know someone’s values, have lunch with them. See if when they sit down, they engage with you in conversation, and are willing to ask you about your work in sustainability. See if when off-stage they exhibit the much heralded ‘humility’ they spoke about with such emotion on-stage, around the lunch table, or if they they clock that you are not a potential client of very high value to them, and therefore ignore you.

When you get it, you live it.

So while the world looks on aghast at VW, the more difficult location to shine a light upon is what is inside of ourselves. It is not so easy to really know if we are stuck in our egos, threatened by others who may have something more interesting to say, or who may be saying the same thing but with a deep authenticity.

You are your customer experience.

As I have said in a previous article, we are our own customer experiences, and given that our customer experience fully comes to presence in the experience of those who are not our customers, we have to be vigilant and mindful and always thinking about the quality of our interactions with others.

Maria and I define sustainability as the quality of our interactions – with other people, with nature, and within ourselves. Once we have this mastered, then we will speak with authenticity and our businesses will be truly sustainable.


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