CEOs and organ donors

A recent study showed that when Facebook launched a new option for users to post their organ donor status to their Timeline (are you an […]

A recent study showed that when Facebook launched a new option for users to post their organ donor status to their Timeline (are you an #OrganDonor?), donor registrations went up 21 times the average rate in a single day.

Fareshare, the food supply charity, secured record donations to its cause by running a Million Meal Appeal in-store at Sainsbury’s branches, asking shoppers to add one extra item to their basket and donate it at the checkout to help feed those in need.

In both cases moving from private to public caused an increase in participation.  More people registered as organ donors when doing so was visible on their timeline rather than invisible in their wallet, and more people donated food when in the company of fellow shoppers rather than the privacy of their sitting room.

Despite appearances, people choosing a public setting to become organ donors or donate food may have less to do with self-promotion and wanting people to know that they ‘do a lodda good work for charidee’ and more to the social norms that psychologists describe as the behaviours we exhibit and the extent to which social groups approve of them.  In work places, clubs, peer groups and social networks, we instinctively notice and adapt our behaviour to norms.

Could the same effect be at play among CEOs today?  Once upon a time, the few business leaders who talked openly about social purpose faced critical questioning of what they were about.  When Franck Riboud at Danone announced the opening of Grameen Danone Foods in Bangladesh in 2006, and the subsequent development of a social business tool to facilitate further ‘sustainable micro-enterprises devoted to social objectives’ he was asked whether he thought he was running a business or an NGO.

Things change.   In the UN Global Compact-Accenture Study in 2010, CEOs cited ‘brand, trust and reputation’ as the most common factor driving them to take action on sustainability issues.  Now every Tom, Dick and Harry – every Muhtar, Mike and Lakshmi – talks sustainability (Muhtar Kent says that he considers himself Coca Cola’s ‘chief sustainability officer’ as well as CEO; Mike Duke has said that “Sustainability continues to make Walmart a better company”; and Lakshmi Mittal describes his ambition for Arcelor Mittal by saying, “This is not about creating a giant. It’s about creating the sustainability of the steel industry.”)

Sustainability has become socially acceptable with the CEO crowd, to the extent that it has become the norm.

People, even CEOs, want to be liked and accepted and, just like the organ donors on Facebook and shoppers in Sainsbury’s, they are taking every opportunity to show their adherence to this new social norm.