CSR Now Drives Business as Usual
Back in the day, corporate strategy meant defining a business mission and describing how those goals were to be reached through business practices. Today, setting a viable strategy means including many factors once considered outside the scope of traditional business planning. Brands are taking stands on multiple issues, from public, cultural questions (climate change, immigration, gun violence) to internal issues (diversity, ethics, harassment, gender pay gap).
Consider the new rules:
- Brand reputation is now susceptible to social trends, as extra-business entities from activists to consumers form movements to push their ideas into business practices.
- Governance now involves a large measure of risk management of external policy issues, from environmental regulations to discrimination and harassment laws.
- Employees increasingly demand a say in a company’s direction and practices
- Diversity and inclusion rule in today’s workplace and with them come a panoply of more complex management and communication approaches.
- Employee engagement is becoming embedded as part of many companies’ everyday culture, not a bolt-on activity.
- Supply chains have gone global and complex, with many moving parts to be monitored for such issues as workplace conditions, human rights, and sustainable practices.
- Market segmentation can change radically with quickly shifting cultural tastes and social trends. Large corporations struggle to keep up with nimble, innovative start-ups.
- Investors demand more transparency and more data in sustainability reporting, and are increasingly integrating formerly qualitative, ESG factors into materiality via quantification—i.e., they’re in the bottom line.
- And not least, business strategy as it has traditionally been understood and practiced is coming up against opposing the Trump administration's disruptive economic policy, resulting in unprecedented uncertainty in the marketplace.
In the past, “The CEO rule was basically keep your head down, stay out of complicated issues, because there were opinions on both sides of any issue,” Lawrence Parnell, program director at the Strategic Public Relations Program at George Washington University told the Wall Street Journal.“It’s no longer a question of if, but where, when and how to engage on these issues and what type of topics to engage on. These are new challenges and things CEOs and boards never had to deal with before, so they are struggling.”
In sum, corporate responsibility is now becoming a mainstream activity embedded throughout every department of a company, from HR to IR, from corporate affairs to procurement. The bottom line is straightforward: evaluation of a company’s value now depends more than ever on its values being active and visible across all areas.
So here’s the new bottom line: businesses and organizations must adopt the largest perspective possible when planning for future growth.
Continue the important conversations on corporate responsibility long after 3BL Forum with the Brands Taking Stands newsletter. Written by veteran journalist, John Howell, this newsletter is published every Wednesday morning.