There is nothing that can damage a business as much as losing the trust of customers.

Trust is a very precious commodity which takes years to build up, but can be lost in an instant when people find out that a company has done anything illegal, unethical or conspiring to put profit above the interests of customers.

The best way to counteract this is to promote a culture throughout the business of “Doing the right thing”. This involves ensuring that your people think, rather than just comply with procedures.

There are three questions to ask:

  1. Am I breaking any rules or regulations?
  2. Am I breaking the spirit of any rules or regulations?
  3. Is the action I am about to take against the interests of our customers and would I be happy if they were to find out?

Although most companies (particularly large ones) make reference to corporate social responsibility, fewer than 40% of them take any verifiable action to make sure that they do act responsibly. (Famously, the finance industry was widely exposed in 2007/2008, despite having policies in place).

If you want to set the right tone in your business, you need look no further than ISO 26000. This sets out 7 simple principles which are easy to understand and impossible to disagree with:

  1. Accountability – If each person is responsible for their actions, it is easier to influence their behaviour with regards to social responsibility.
  2. Transparency – There can be no trust or accountability unless there is transparency. Information must be available to stakeholders.
  3. Ethical behaviour – It is important to ensure that organisations learn to think about ethics rather than merely list a number of activities that “comes under the heading of ethics”. This means that the organisation and its people can respond to a variety of contexts.
  4. Respect for stakeholders’ interests – This includes customers, shareholders, the community, suppliers and the public.
  5. Respect for the rule of law – This is important at all levels, whether it be local, national or international.
  6. Respect for international norms of behaviour – This is particularly valid if an organisation works in a number of regions of the world.
  7. Respect for human rights – Every organisation should be able to make progress without exploiting people.

One of the best ways of embedding social responsibility in your business is to act in accordance with these principles and to “live by them” in the day to day work of the business.

Above all, make sure that your people understand and comply with the need to “do the right thing” by making sure that it is embedded in your processes and communications with them.