The days when CEOs only had to focus on running their businesses are over. Today’s leaders need to be “woke” as they stand for something greater than their own products or services. Those who don’t must be prepared to suffer the wrath of the hashtag. Our business climate is calling for companies to proactively take on issues important to their key stakeholders – regardless of how that may impact their bottom line in the short term.

The single biggest mistake a business can make is not knowing its core values. The core values are the set of principles, morals and policies on which the company is based. These values drive how the business operates and treats people. People want to invest in and buy from companies and leaders they trust and respect. Conversely, many consumers will go out of their way to avoid doing business with companies tainted by negative news about how they treat employees, women, customer complaints, environmental issues and illegal practices.

Here are five common mistakes that tarnish a brand:

  1. Delayed Action. One of the outcomes we see as a result of #MeToo, #TimesUp and even #deleteFacebook movements is that big businesses are now acting fast to correct issues. Executives are fired first and investigated later. There is no time to hide behind legal delays and “no comment” statements. The public is playing judge, jury and executioner, and companies with core values can better distance themselves from controversies or even take an active role in championing movements they support.
  2. Lack of Transparency. Now more than ever, leadership is held accountable for its actions, so it’s crucial that there is transparency from the top down. One of our CEO clients holds regular all-employee town hall meetings where he answers ANY question posed, even about his own compensation. Core values help because well-managed companies do not fear scrutiny.
  3. Not Planning Ahead. When a crisis hits, you need to act fast – but this can only be done when you are prepared. Just look at the “unfriendly skies” and the crises airlines have faced with passengers being forcibly removed from planes and dogs dying. In contrast, look at a company that is committed to its core values and communicates them. You may be surprised to find Delta Airlines on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, especially since no other airline has made the cut in over a decade. Delta is also found on Forbes‘ Best Workplaces list and has a 4.3-star rating on Glassdoor. Delta’s mission statement is to “form a force for positive local and global change, dedicated to bettering standards of living and the environment where we and our customers live and work.” Its value is actualized, its employees are happy, and thus they provide a better customer experience.
  4. Lack of Alignment. Each company needs to come to a point where all the stakeholders agree on core values. This will direct operations, budget allocations and prioritization of time and resources. Think of Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan that empowers everyone to accomplish more and overcome obstacles to succeed. This one core value has impacted all business decisions for the company for the last three decades. The cohesion in mission and messaging are central to its success.
  5. No Focus. Businesses can’t address every issue in the world, but they can support causes and issues that directly impact their customers, employees and communities. A perfect example of how focus can drive initiatives that further build the brand can be seen in CVS’s decision to stop selling cigarettes. Another example can be seen in Dick’s Sporting Goods’ proactive decision to raise the age for firearm purchase following the shootings in Parkland, Fla. Both of these brands are authentic to their core values of health and family, while seeking the social good above bottom line.

At OWC, we work with companies to help identify and amplify their core values. It supports our own mission to build and sustain business reputations. Let us know your business core values @OWCPR.