Ethics, Ethos…and the Business of Global Citizenship

 

There was a time when one could do business in pretty much any part of the world and just… “do business.”

Paying virtually no attention to the politics or culture of the contextual nation or region, a company could build a Thing, offer a Service, Consult and Advise, all with little to no attention being given to what might be going on outside the walls (or berm) of whatever Project was being undertaken.

Business was Business.

It ain’t just business, anymore.

Business, anymore, is Geopolitical, and rapidly becomes Personal to anyone who may take issue with where virtually any Company chooses to do Business.

The world is smaller than ever and growing even smaller: while the power of the web seems to continue to be vastly under-appreciated by a significant majority of Executives-over-50; who may embrace the power of marketing and advertising via social media while not seeming to fully grasp the two-way dynamic that is now at play and growing ever stronger.

As powerful as social media can be in promoting a project; that same dynamic can just as quickly and effectively blow fatal holes in it.

No amount of enthusiastic, positive advance publicity from a Marketing Department can prevent the entire world from knowing the actual realities of a project or installation once the doors open and the smartphone brigade sees and experiences the truth. If the experience is fantastic; the world will know that. If, on the other hand, what is presented is sub-par, incomplete or oversold…the world is going to know that, too, in a matter of hours.

If it isn’t well-realized, fully articulated, complete; they simply will not come.

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It is critical that we be educated; aware of every context into which we delve. For anymore, our customers, audiences, target demographics and even ambivalent bystanders can rapidly and exponentially mobilize either in support of or rally against an issue or operation that catches attention.

The culture of the world is evolving; more and more people have become aware and embrace the interconnectedness of all global cultures. National and international borders begin to become socially irrelevant as our eyes and ears are everywhere. Issues that businesses and corporations used to be able to ignore – seen only in back pages of newspapers in brief notes accompanied by grainy photographs of tiny bands of activists going up against a Goliath; these can and do become international causes célèbre in a matter of days…or even hours.

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As the world becomes smaller, too, and more inured to the presence of Westerners; less and less leeway is granted to the myopia of the WEC (Western Executive Consultant). Irrespective of the decades of knowledge such a person might carry when parachuting into another culture to advise or manage a project; awareness of the nuances of the culture into which one is parachuting is imperative to that person’s effectiveness.

A massive body of subjective experience can be as much an obstacle to success as it might otherwise be of value…simply due to a concomitant failure to study, listen, observe and ask long before exercising authority or issuing edicts and orders. We all must become trusted members of the teams we join or lead before we can be effective. The way it’s done in Orlando/NYC/Paris/London may well simply not work in Dubai/Shanghai/Mombasa/Delhi.

Frustration with this is irrelevant. This is fact. Embrace it or fail…publicly. Countless accomplished professionals are handicapped or simply fail from not having taken the time (and by that, we mean something measured in weeks and even months in situ) to learn the lay of the proverbial land; falling victim to aforementioned subjective experience.

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Almost every place in the world that has allure for business development and tourism also has its dark secrets. Factors that association therewith can undermine the support a company might otherwise assume; suddenly finding itself the target of negative press simply for doing business in a country that at some level violates global, public trust.

SeaWorld learned a profound lesson in the mishandling of the “Blackfish” / Shamu debacle. Ultimately, it would seem that the global iVoice was heard; sparking an evolution in the mission and programs of this iconic destination and company. It’s certainly ironic that a company that was founded in no small part on the basis of conservation and protection came, decades later, under fire for some of these same, related things.

The world has evolved. In this case, so has SeaWorld.

SeaWorld, however, is not an anomaly. Rather, it is a harbinger of what is coming. Candidly, IMHO, Zoos are of the next institutions in line for global scrutiny. Anecdotally, we’re aware of growing numbers of people who don’t go to zoos anymore, because, “…they depress me.”

Many zoos and rescue organizations are ahead of this curve and are undertaking evolutionary courses; many more are not. We might offer that it is not out of the question for international movements to grow, calling for the return to native habitat for any animal larger than a meerkat.

Just sayin’.

These are things to which it might be worth paying attention. Publicly. The world is watching us all, seeking transparency; whether we think that is appropriate or not, this iWatchdogging is a fact, a phenomenon that stands only to grow in power and acuity of scrutiny.

Best be aware and prepared.

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On Preparation.

Businesses now must be aware of myriad cultural practices and legalities that may not otherwise be on the radar. This may or may not affect the business decisions a company might be facing; it can, though, have positive impact on policies and procedures and prepare marketing and public relations departments for dealing with such things as they eventually fall under public scrutiny.

It is not up to any of us to dictate to others how and where to do business. These are situations to be evaluated and decisions to be made, case by case, business by business. The point is that it behooves each and every one who does business abroad to simply be aware of the context; then make one’s own decisions.

There was a time when Business could be willfully ignorant of social and cultural contexts. That time is now past.

Of powerfully encouraging note is what just took place in our own country.

After North Carolina passed one of the most hateful pieces of legislation in history, removing protection against discrimination – indeed, codifying such discrimination – from LGBT people in their state; several high-profile companies took profound and swift business action.

Disney, Paramount, The Weinstein Company, PayPal, Fox, Miramax, Lionsgate…and by the time this is printed, probably many more will have pulled their projects and products from North Carolina.

Even “Wicked” can no longer be staged in that state. Nope; not even on a University Campus.

Business have taken political action in support of What’s Right.

Too, this is for us an issue entirely within our nation’s borders; thus these are stands that have been taken “in-house.” International is, while another issue, not entirely unrelated.

Best, then, not to be blindsided. A blind eye will not serve one.

Global warming; Sustainability; Women’s Rights; Minority Rights; Worker’s Rights; LGBT Rights; Basic Human Rights; Animal Rights; Capital Punishments; Beheadings; Inhumane Punishments; Stonings; Crucifixions; Throwing people off buildings; forced female circumcision… Some of these subjects are extremely difficult to accept as even happening; but they are happening.

For instance:

  • Saudi Arabia continues to behead and even crucify adolescents, non-violent protesters who are rounded up, tortured and killed by the government without a word to their families. It is not unheard-of for the families to learn the fate of their children after the bodies have been dumped into a mass grave. Salon.com
  • Women adulterers can be and are sentenced to death by stoning in Abu Dhabi, while the men are subject to lashing. Khaleej Times
  • After the contracts had been signed and work was well underway for the infrastructure and site of the Olympic Games in Sochi, President Putin’s government-sanctioned thugs began kidnapping LGBT kids, torturing them on video and posting those videos online.
  • The UAE has a policy of deporting HIV-positive expatriates. This can put any number of employees at risk; likely sending them into that closet in order to keep their job and maintain the confidentiality of that personal information.
  • China asks arriving passengers to attest to HIV status before the flight even lands. What might this portend for your HIV-positive CFO if s/he has answered that question candidly?
  • Honor Killings: Women in India who decline a proposal of marriage can risk death or disfigurement through acid attack.
  • …and then, there’s Guantanamo.

Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse. Be aware. Be aware of the audience you have. Protect your teams and their welfare.

Being aware is our responsibility.

Business is Personal.

IMHO.

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“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

6 thoughts on “Ethics, Ethos…and the Business of Global Citizenship

  1. Killing daughters who fall in love with the wrong man, forced teenage marriage, female genital mutilation, treating women as worth half a man under Sharia law, all this and more is happening in the UK.

  2. Thank you for this great post. How keenly aware of this I have become of late. In 2010 my business began expanding into other countries. We were not prepared. I used to think New York and Utah were diverse territories to have to navigate. Now we’re in 46 countries as diverse as Bahrain, Norway and Uzbekistan. Because of the internet, what happens in one country is immediately commented upon and copied by another. Rather than make the mistake of saying something online that could be misconstrued in another territory where we may have different parameters and contracts, I’ve largely gone silent — which isn’t working either. You say, “It is critical that we be educated; aware of every context into which we delve.” I can only say “Amen — bring on the team of experts.” Wait, they’re all Millennials?! Haha. well then, as an exec over 50, I’m taking notes.

    • Hold your horses, Pally; let’s not be abdicating to the millennials (or, to be sure, the post-millennials…who are my new, favorite, compassionate demographic); this is a Team Thing. The young digitals know the metrics, platforms and most effective ways to operate…and the seasoned veterans have the experience and context to know what needs to be accomplished. It’s about collaboration and cross-mentoring for the best results. Neither group can do the best job without unhesitating and open support from t’other…imho…

  3. This is very true. The location-based entertainment world is an uneasy blend of real estate speculators, starry-eyed dreamers, and executive committees. Each category has blind spots. It’s in the blind spots that things build up and go awry — whether it’s the delusional market projections of the moneymen in the UAE, the old-fashioned sentimentalists that kept Sea World’s tank shows going for so long, or the designers who naively assume everyone in the world wants their culture reinterpreted by a bunch of illustrators from Glendale, California.

    Meanwhile the world has become a meaner, more uneasy place. The neoconservative project of the last three decades has not made for a gentler international scene. The cultural exports folks were gobbling up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s are outrageous these days in the many ultra-conservative cultures that have sprung up where tolerance used to reign.

    The Iran regime that was secular and tolerant? We caused the overthrow of that in 1953. The year Disney released Peter Pan. Disney has no market in Iran now. Once you get aware of how the world works and what has happened in it, you see there are two forces at work all the time — sorrow and joy. Where people profit off the former, you cannot impose the latter. Something to consider the next time someone decides to build… oh, for example, a World Cup soccer stadium in Qatar using slave labor…

  4. As ever, insightful writing.

    A clarification and a couple more “For Instances”, if you will allow me?

    If you’re HIV positive or have TB you’d be picked up in the visa process for the UAE, which is at least every three years and so you’d be deported as a result of that. There is no ability for employees to withhold that information at visa application process. The only way to withhold that information is to work illegally.

    If I’m not mistaken, in the UK you’re not allowed to give blood if you’re openly gay because of HIV also, despite screening of blood upon donation.

    And please don’t forget the ongoing human rights injustices that Israel perpetuates in Palestine with the continued occupation, settlements, ignorance of human rights, arbitrary killings without judicial process by IDF soldiers which is ignored by and condoned by silence by much of the world. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is the iWatchdog of Israel and is taking effect, slowly but surely, with the latest “victory” claimed being an academic boycott by SOAS. And, as you know, I could go on with this particular subject, so if any of your readers want resources in order to “Be Aware”, as you suggest, do hit me up!

    In an ever shrinking world I try to stay up to date with local/national/regional goings ons through an ever growing network of friends. The last time though, I failed miserably. I got your opinion on the weather in NY & Washington. An error, I now realise, since you’re based in SF. You said “quite mild”, the weather said -5, -20 with windchill…..so you’re right – do your research and ignorance is not an excuse!!

    • As to HIV in the UAE – the blood test is required for a Resident Visa, yes; though not for a 30-day Tourist Visa. While technically “illegal,” I would offer that no small number of Western Companies send employees to that part of the world to work for extended periods of time under regularly-renewed tourist visas…indeed, there is a rather massive part of the expat community actually living and paying rent Dubai that have been working the tourist visa angle for several years. Easy to do when moving among nations. Even so, falling ill or being involved in a traffic accident and taken to hospital can derail such an arrangement, immediately.

      Best would be for western companies to adhere to the actual laws in the UAE…and address the discrimination head-on with the gov’t. In the short term, that would require US companies to ask illegal questions of their own employees in order to vet them for work in the UAE.

      I do, of course, deeply apologize for offering errant information on projected weather patterns during your visit to NYC. I blame Global Warming and Obama.

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