Latest research shows that customers are demanding that brands demonstrate their values. Long-overdue reckonings with social, economic, and ecological ills have come to the fore, and society is calling on businesses to do their part in righting wrongs. A failure to heed responsibilities to more than shareholders threatens bottom lines. Eighty-six percent of customers say the societal role of companies is changing.
Corporate values impact customer acquisition and retention. Fifty-six percent of customers have reevaluated the societal role of companies during the pandemic. Companies are being held to a higher standard, and in areas that boardrooms have largely not considered. Fifty-five percent of customers believe they have the power to influence change in companies. Seventy-five percent of business buyers say vendors’ ethics increasingly factor into their purchasing decisions. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they are paying more attention to companies’ values than they did a year ago. Business can be the greatest platform for change, and values do create value. In 2020, in addition to the health, economic, climate, and racial and inequality justice crises, there were specific moments that shook us to our core — moments that left us angry, confused, ashamed, and, frankly, at a loss for words.
Craig Cuffie knows how you feel. As the Executive Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer at Salesforce, Craig Cuffie provides directional leadership and strategic management for the purchase, procurement, and acquisition of all contractual services. Craig and his team serve as lead negotiators for enterprise-wide capital and associated operating expenses, including all hardware, technology, software licenses, professional services, and service-level agreements. Craig also oversees the Company’s supplier diversity initiatives. As a senior executive, Cuffie is accustomed to answering difficult questions, and to enacting crisis communications plans. No amount of tenure, training, or talk tracks prepared him to respond to questions arising from the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent, sustained social unrest, because the experience was deeply personal.
How do you lead an organization forward when you feel as much uncertainty, hopelessness, and despair as those you’re leading? And how do you put programs in place to move your organization from intention to impact that results in social change? How do you inspire your team to move away from counting spending to counting impact? Karen Mangia, VP of Customer & Market Insights, sat down with Cuffie virtually for a candid conversation to get down to the heart of the matter.
Karen Mangia: We turn to people we trust during times of crisis. As a senior executive, how do you find the words to offer to others when you are suffering yourself?
Craig Cuffie: As a leader, I know that words matter. What I say has a deep effect on those I lead and influence, and I consider my communication carefully as a result. When George Floyd was killed — now the justice system pronounced murdered — I had no words. It took me a full week to find the words to say to my team. As a Black man, people expected explanations as well as answers. And I had neither to offer. So I chose a pause. A full pause. I needed that time to understand how I was feeling. Responding too quickly is a risk every leader faces. Because you want to appear to have all the answers or have some kind of higher wisdom to offer. I knew a pause was more powerful. More human.
Karen Mangia: A CEO I deeply respect repeats over and over, “Being human is enough.” And yet, you are in a highly visible role that requires more than mantras. You are tasked with programs and portfolios designed to help us treat each other in more human — and humane — ways.
Craig Cuffie: As Chief Procurement Officer at Salesforce, one of the programs in our portfolio is Supplier Diversity. A diverse portfolio of suppliers that includes minority owned and operated businesses across every category is an opportunity to invest with intention. We believe business is the greatest platform for change, and so a balanced budget means something entirely different to us. We balance our budget across the suppliers that represent the society we serve. Every dollar represents and recognizes our urgent responsibility — our opportunity — to invest in equity. To invest in access. To invest in building an ecosystem where people and businesses of all kinds can thrive. The Billion Dollar Roundtable was established to recognize and to celebrate organizations that spend at least a billion dollars with diverse owned and operated businesses. Imagine how that kind of commitment could change communities.
Karen Mangia: And yet you caution that writing a check is not enough to check the box on social justice.
Craig Cuffie: There’s a term for the phenomenon you just described. Greenwashing. Writing a check without taking associated action is a public relations move and marketing spin. Cash without commitment will not move the needle on equity and social justice in the long term. It’s a temporary salve for the soul — a momentary myth — that you’re doing your part. Intention is not impact.
Karen Mangia: How do you coach organizations to move from intention to investment to impact in their equity and corporate social responsibility portfolios?
Craig Cuffie: Leadership that results in impact is an active sport that’s a lot like teaching a teenager to drive a car. The goal is to move, repeat, and respond. Moving forward in either case results from responding to a series of questions, then taking action. Where are you going? What direction will you take? How fast will you move? Which indicators will you watch? What will you do once you arrive? Where are you going next?
Karen Mangia: Translate that to practical terms for us. What indicators do you watch, and where are you going next?
Craig Cuffie: We formed a Racial Equality & Justice Taskforce. That helped us create internal and external accountability for the impact we aspired to create. Our gauges are four pillars — the four P’s as we call them. Philanthropy. People. Policy. Purchasing.
- People. We are intentional about building an equitable workplace that looks like society and where everyone can succeed. Goal: Double US representation of Black leaders and increase US representation of Underrepresented Minority (URM includes Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Multi-racial) employees and leaders by 50% by 2023.
- Philanthropy. We support organizations driving real, long-term change for communities of color. Goal: $200 million and 1 million volunteer hours committed to organizations driving racial equality and justice over the next five years.
- Purchasing. We empower minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs of color to close the racial wealth gap. Goal: $100 million committed to Black-owned businesses and $100 million committed to underrepresented minority founders through Salesforce Ventures over the next three years.
- Policy. We use our platforms to help drive systemic change at every level of society. Goal: Advocate for the protection of voting rights, police reform, and criminal justice reform.
I chair the Purchasing pillar. Each pillar has a subcommittee. And we publish our results — our measurable impact — internally and externally. In our most recent Quarterly Equality Update, I felt particularly proud of our progress on payment terms. We reduced the term from 60 days to 30 days for 425 small businesses, positively impacting their cash flow and ability to pay expenses and develop new business.
Karen Mangia: Thank you for sharing your deeply personal message with all of us. What one call to action would you leave us with today?
Craig Cuffie: Your say and do ratio must match. Say what you will do. Do what you say.
This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce. Her work focuses on strategies for personal and professional success, and she regularly works with executives, managers, and future leaders at companies of all sizes globally. She launched two new books in 2020: Listen Up! How to Tune In To Customers, And Turn Down the Noise and Working From Home: Making the New Normal Work For You — both from Wiley. She has been featured in Forbes and regularly writes for Thrive Global and ZDNet. Committed to diversity and inclusion, she serves on her company’s Racial Equality and Justice Task Force. She is a TEDx speaker and the author of Success With Less, a book that chronicles her own personal journey through a life-threatening health crisis. Her high-impact keynotes help organizations to access the future of work via innovative insights around the voice of the customer.