Is looking good enough today? What about doing good or being good – which box are you in?

By Andrea Hartley, Founder, Skating Panda

You know that feeling when you look at your LinkedIn profile pic and you think, that’s me, that is. Or maybe that’s not me. Or that’s one version of me. What did you choose? The serious or the smiley or maybe the inbetweeny pic? The smart or the smart casual? The current photo or the one from five years ago? Did you even think about it? Did you have a choice of pictures to choose from or have to take one there and then?

Then there’s that thing at a party or in the pub where someone asks you what you do. Do you dread the question and skirt quickly around it, naming the organisation where you work and swallowing your words, or desperately try to find a way of making the work sound as interesting as it can on a good day? Perhaps you focus on the tasks you perform more than the outcomes they achieve.

Or do you enjoy your work a lot, it not only pays the bills, stimulates the mind and you’re actually deeply committed to your organisation’s mission beyond the day to day tasks, the normal ups and downs? 

If you work in business do you still define success in terms of quarterly and annual results or do you think about more than money? Do you focus on the purpose of the work or your job title and benefits? 

There are no right answers to all these questions. I’m asking them to get your mind in a place where you’re considering the difference between what’s most important to you personally about your work – how you’re perceived, what you do, how you do it, how it makes you feel and ultimately its impact on the wider world beyond.

Surrounded by something that might resemble a modern day version of political anarchy, it’s meaningful that the questions business asks of Skating Panda have moved on significantly from a decade ago. Then, we turned away all work for businesses despite the not insignificant potential commercial gain. And yet now we work proudly with many businesses as well as continuing our heritage issue-based campaigning work with non-profits. So why the change?

Skating Panda’s purpose is about making good stuff happen in the world*, and by good stuff we mean things that benefit society, the planet and beyond, alongside and importantly not to the detriment of more traditional ( and Keynesian )measures of ‘success’. Ten years ago every business that called us wanted us to make them look good for short term gain…an opportunistic PR stunt with a charity so the shot would hit the front page of a newspaper. A short term brand enhancer with no ongoing relationship with said charity or cause. So, we said no. And we focused on creating cut-through on the biggest issues of our time, working with foundations, NGOs and individuals to effect world change. 

The reality was that these particular businesses were not necessarily doing good or even being good behind the scenes.  LOOKING GOOD turns out to be somewhere on a spectrum between vanity and half-decent but detached and temporary Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  And we weren’t interested in that.

By about 2013 we saw companies going a little beyond this, asking us to help align mission and business activity with DOING GOOD. More often than not those DOING GOOD also look good and may even start to feel good. That’s because – again, not to the detriment of financial objectives – you are acting beyond profitable objectives in a concrete way that may even pave the way to a safe and certain future. Questions asked of us include – we’ve got a great idea about doing good in the world and we want to now make it happen but how? How can this division or this geographic unit or our new product launch have longevity? We want to act differently and we know we need to align on purpose but how do we do that? How can we create something that becomes a case study and catalyst to prove the case for being profitable through purpose throughout the company? Might this lead to the new normal of our future – understanding purpose and acting in a purposeful way without it being integrated, let’s call it.

These same businesses and many more are now going beyond this. Enter BEING GOOD. Which isn’t easy. It’s really hard. But it’s possible. It’s proper grown-up stuff. It’s possible in two main ways. If you’re a new business formed in the last three years, you won’t not have purpose baked in or if you don’t, you’re probably toast. Your main challenge is likely how to break even and scale. If you’ve been around longer (think big FTSE, Eurostoxx or DJ) , it’s harder to even conceive of how you’re going to get there. You’re afraid of getting caught out and the reputational and other fall out that would ensue. You’re finding it impossible to reconcile the short term vs the long term. Quarterly reporting has always ruled but you have an inkling there is something better and more fruitful than this. And there’s evidence of employee and consumer drain. How do you stop that and at what cost? If you’ve got 6-36 months patience and grit, most things are possible, provided your business is well-governed. BEING GOOD is the nirvana if you can get there. You can be who you are at work (isn’t that some kind of weird oxymoron?), you can come up with new and strategic solutions (not just make the best of your lot), you can typically demonstrate new processes, behaviours and ways of thinking rather than being bound by them and you can focus on competitive advantage in industry and impact terms rather than risk mitigation. If you want to reinvent the acronym we’d call it Complete Strategy Response – CSR.

So who are you really at work and who do you want to be? When you speak to your colleagues about it, try out the LOOKING GOOD, DOING GOOD, BEING GOOD test on them and ask which of these makes them feel good and why? Is it just about the same dopamine kick that an Instagram like might generate today or something much more than that? Answers on a postcard please.

*our grown-up purpose statement is on our website

P.S. I obviously changed my Linkedin photo today just as I pushed publish on this…we’re all human