I attended the Tortoise Purpose Business Summit a few weeks ago and some of the topics have been playing on my mind.
It came at a time when there was a lot of talk about sustainability; still is! But sustainability isn’t the only thing businesses need to focus on. In fact sustainability is just part of a much bigger topic: what do you stand for as a business and what kind of business, and employer, do you want to be?
Over the last few years, and through the pandemic, we’ve seen a seismic shift in the way that people interact with businesses. This has been driven by the emergence of digital technologies that mean people can easily comment and call out businesses if they’re not happy with what they’re seeing… In fact our research shows that 63% believe that firms forget about social issues once they are out of the news headlines. So the public has no confidence that business really means what it says.
- For some big businesses this still holds true. “Keep quiet and it will all go away”, “Phew we’ve swerved that one” are phrases that I’m sure we all still hear. But big business needs to watch their back. There are more and more small start-ups with purpose and sustainability in their DNA. This is their modus operandi, it’s just part of what they do and is baked in from the get-go. While these minnows may not seem a threat at the moment, as stakeholders increasingly hold business accountable for their actions, their opportunity is vast.
Consumers believe it is important for companies to take action on the issues that matter to them, including privacy and internet security (65%), climate change (63%), employee wellbeing (61%) and human rights (57%)
So while big business struggles to keep up and get their house in order, they may just find that the minnows they discounted today are the ones that take over the market lead tomorrow.
So, what do big businesses need to do. Take stock. What do you want your business to stand for? Assess what you need to do to get there. Look at all channels and stakeholders. This needs to permeate throughout the business and not just be nodded to. Bring your employees with you. If they can see your vision and feel tangible change they will be your biggest advocates. They will defend you to the hilt with family, when in the pub with friends, even to people they meet in the street.
Make sure leaders within the business are held accountable for ensuring that your purpose is in the DNA of everything you do. This is the hardest part. It’s easy to fall back on doing things the same way, it’s comfortable, we all do it! but if you truly want to step up and make change this has to be more than presenting a vision to the company. It has to take root and become part of the way everyone in the organisation thinks. It has to be the filter that every decision goes through.
It is hard, but more and more data is showing that being brave, and making these changes has a positive effect on your bottom line. It’s not just doing it so everyone feels good. It’s doing it because it’s good business.