As I speak with executive teams and boards I find many feel like they’re being backed into a corner to “do good” – even when they are focused on doing what’s right. I’m lucky to have met very few business leaders who wake up and choose to cause harm. Yet, at the same time, leaders I support sometimes struggle to see activities associated with doing good as an opportunity for value creation. As brands are confronted with an increasingly long list of social and environmental challenges and being called out more quickly for greenwashing, I believe exploring whether doing good is an obligation – a cost of doing business – or an investment opportunity is important.
As I wrote in Do Good, for decades, corporate efforts to fund social and environmental programs were considered, at best, public relations campaigns designed to boost brand reputation and, at worst, a way to right wrongs. They were part of a zero-sum game in which companies’ positive efforts simply offset their negative behavior. As people’s expectations for business are changing, the old model of the zero sum game must be transformed: business and society are a two-way compact.
Today, leaders across the globe recognize that business has a duty of care to provide for all stakeholders, not only return a profit to shareholders. And more and more are coming to terms with the notion that our definition of stakeholders must expand to include society and the environment. Yet what this means in practical terms is still being played out. Many companies I speak with have been bolting new teams on to existing departments rather than conceiving of new models that unite silos.
The following questions are a useful guide for boards and management teams as they reflect on the opportunities for value creation from doing good:
- Do you have a broader, strategic definition of “doing good”/sustainability/purpose?
- Does your leadership team – and your brand – embody the characteristics of trust?
- Do your customer and employee value propositions represent your purpose in action?
- Do your values translate into operating principles or are they simply words on a page?
- Is your purpose cultivating cross-functional engagement?
- Have you taken a wider systems perspective when identifying stakeholders and their concerns?
- Are you cultivating a sustainability mindset and ethos of citizenship or do you limit responsible culture to legal compliance?
- Are you fostering an inclusive purpose journey that integrates NGOs and civil society?
- Do you position ESG reporting as a measurement of risk for investors or an assessment of broader impact?
- How do you define success? Are your sustainability/doing good targets on par with financial measurements and market share?
Please reach out or watch my conversation with Red to learn more and place these questions for reflection in context….