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the four necessary “evils” of your business

there is a handful of teams in organizations that most people prefer to avoid. I like to believe that the reason lies in the fact that they usually are the “stop-the-nonsense” or “stop-the-crap” teams. and I work in one of them and love working with the others.

please give a warm welcome to the four pillars of the business police:

legal and privacy: the written rules
each region of the world has its own set of laws. they evolve over time, usually get voted by the government, and represent the overall consensus of the society to make official what is good or what is bad, what is allowed or what is not, in order to live together as a society. privacy and regulation of how customer data may or may not be used is often part of the law. but organizations are always welcome to add to it in order to protect their customers and their personal or business information. nowadays, digital data protection is top of mind for most of us. and knowing who to trust with our data and the data of our close ones and network weighs heavily in the scale of who we invest our money in.

geopol and inclusiveness: the unwritten rules
similarly, there is usually a set of geopolitical and sociocultural codes and agreements that might not be illegal per se, but could create tensions between communities or generate strong emotional reactions. being exclusive or offensive to a specific group of people can have a much deeper impact on a population than something like evading your taxes. the first one impacts emotions while the other is of a rational and monetary concern – thus more easily forgotten. and this also applies to taking into consideration people with disabilities when you design your product and marketing assets.

so in order to build an authentic and inclusive relationship with people, ensure that your content is accessible. things like the contrast ratio between the color of your font and the background you place it on, localizing your content for people in different markets, adding subtitles and audio description to your videos, etc. will make a world of difference.

finance: the number rules
for most businesses, one of the main objectives is to make money. even if your mission is to make the world a better place, earning money to do so is pretty relevant. so the financial viability of your endeavors does matter.

brand: the relationship rules
ideally, you want to mean more to your customers and partners than just the product you have to sell. the part of the relationship you have with them besides the monetary transaction is where your brand lives. but if you change your identity in every interaction – based for example on your vice president’s latest idea, a new fad, or a pressure to focus more on sales at all cost – people won’t be able to understand who you are, what you stand for, and how they can relate to you. consistency is key to building trust. trust is key to creating a deep and long-term relationship. at least for as long as you intend on connecting with human beings more than with just their wallets.

and I get it. people don’t like it when you tell them that their great idea could get them fired, sued, pass for a jerk to an entire country, culture or community, make the company lose money or hurt your reputation, customer satisfaction, and long-term relationship. it’s very human to seek confirmation and reinforcement. on the other hand, many don’t actually care enough about their job, customers or company to really mind. and it is true that being creative and thoughtful gets more difficult when you add constraints. but true creativity cannot exist without challenges. and the easy way out always seems more seducing. even though we all know that the satisfaction of solving a complex problem will always be greater and it is by covering all dimensions and checking all the necessary boxes that you can grow on the long run, delight your customers consistently, and earn their trust and respect. which, trust me, will make you feel good about yourself.

people prefer proximity and short-termism
unfortunately, many people prefer to ignore these four critical parts of the business. it’s definitely easier to work with no consideration for any of them. but it’s usually not the right long-term strategy.

the main team that is being less ignored is legal. on the other side of the spectrum, brand is willingly overlooked. this can actually be explained very easily by observing human nature. introducing the proximity rule and the preference for short-termism versus long-term strategic thinking. usually, the consequences of ignoring the law hit you instantly and impact you directly. thus, the outcome from messing with legal is so very short term and very close to the individual.

if you work for a global organization and have to deploy something in a far-away land with a culture and language foreign to yours, even if the impact can be felt instantly in that region, the proximity rule shows that its relative importance in your eyes will decrease as distance and differences increase. it’s similar to when you watch the news. if there was a natural disaster on the other side of the planet, it doesn’t impact you as much as if it had happened in your own country, where even your family and friends could have been impacted. one way of combatting the impact of the proximity rule is to make sure your employees get to travel, learn languages, and truly experience foreign cultures. not on an all-inclusive vacation or seminar, locked into a comfortable bubble. the point is to create true bonds with people – and real customers – from those cultures in order to understand them more deeply. as they deploy those global strategies, they will evaluate their potential geopolitical and sociocultural impact more closely, and could get exposed to some of their unconscious biases.

and the proximity rule applies geographically as well as psychologically. for example, the financial implications of your actions tend to feel different if it impacts your personal finances (like the risk of loosing your job), or if it’s about spending or losing the company’s money. somehow, playing with thousands of dollars when it’s not yours doesn’t make you care about it as much. and the finance team is there to remind you that it’s still money. not just Monopoly money.

now, when it comes to organizational brand, since it’s by definition a long-term strategy and investment, and doesn’t have any real direct impact on you as an individual, most people feel very comfortable ignoring it. but that approach is wrong. For example, adidas is a company that faces very powerful competition. and their biggest “enemy” relies heavily on the strength of their own brand: Nike*. that’s why they decided to reduce focus on their short-term metrics as it looks to protect brand health and thereby compete more fiercely. If a giant like adidas joined the long-term thinking team, it’s time for all of us to have a change of heart in the same direction.

test your ideas and make them 4-evil-proof
so whenever you work on a project, ask yourself…
– is it legally compliant?
– could it shock, destabilize, or discredit any social or cultural community?
– is it financially viable?
– is it true to who we are and what we stand for?

if you ask me – and I’m obviously bias – employees should face direct and proportionate consequences when they do anything that would go against any of those four dimensions. of course, before reeling in the consequences cannons, you need to take care of your employees’ education and awareness around the importance and customer relevance of working with these four teams.

and, remember, it is not about prioritizing one over the other. it is about making sure all of them are met. yes, you need profit, but not to the expense of your legal, geopolitical, sociocultural or brand status. It’s about making sense of it all. making sense of each of them, and of all of it as a whole. yes, it requires you to do some more thinking and planning. but it’s for the best, for the long-run, and in everyone’s best interest. especially… your customer’s.

*note the difference of capitalization between “Nike” (capitalized) – which very often is actually written “NIKE” – and “adidas” (lowercased). as you might have read previously, capitalization – and especially lowercasing your name – can mean something important about you, and have an impact on how a brand is perceived.

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