I live in a suburb west of Boston where people regularly tear down perfectly good four-thousand–square-foot homes. They toss all the waste—wood paneling, flooring, windows, carpets, nails, and the kitchen sink—into the dumpster to be hauled off to the landfill. They build a brand new eight-thousand-square-foot house in its place. Then, of course, they ostentatiously separate their plastic bottles from the glass and paper on their weekly dump runs. This superficial commitment to environmentally responsible and sustainable practices fairly reeks of irony.
I see something similar in the corporate world. Companies seize on ideals like stewardship and sustainability to burnish their reputation and image through public relations campaigns. Meanwhile their core businesses continue to pollute their surroundings by flushing precious assets and resources down the sewer.
But there’s a deeper issue here as well. With all due respect to the environment, it seems to me that the most precious assets over which a corporation should exhibit good stewardship are the lives of its employees and its customers.
Maybe it’s time to rethink corporate responsibility and return to the fundamental idea that the primary duty of a company is to the lives of the investors, employees, and customers that it touches. Do the company’s actions enrich those lives or diminish them? The Net Promoter system makes it possible to measure this core responsibility. People whose lives have been enriched tend to become promoters. Those whose lives have been diminished typically become detractors.
The overall picture painted by this Net Promoter diagnostic image is not very pretty; promoters barely outnumber detractors in most companies today. Most leaders have learned to interpret their horribly unimpressive Net Promoter scores as a barrier to profitable growth, which is completely true. But there is an even darker interpretation. Let’s put aside the corporate carbon footprint for a moment and consider what the scores imply about the human footprint created by the average company today. It seems to me that companies cannot feel good about any kind of stewardship until they start to demonstrate serious progress on creating more promoters and fewer detractors among their customers and employees—until, that is, they demonstrate a serious commitment to enriching the lives they touch directly.