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The world has changed. People have changed. Why shouldn’t businesses change, too?
Fact is, they should, and they should do it wholeheartedly — and soon. Employees and consumers alike expect more. And they’re making their employment and purchasing decisions based on the values that organizations demonstrate rather than just espouse.
Gen Z is leading the pack when it comes to putting corporations’ feet to the fire. Deloitte research indicates that Gen Z is motivated by purpose and a brand’s good global citizenship reputation. This only makes sense. Growing up in an era of rapid information dissemination, Gen Z was hyper-aware of global issues like climate change, social inequality and human rights abuses.
Of course, we shouldn’t assume that only Gen Z workers care about social responsibility. People of all ages and from all generations have become skeptical about companies’ corporate social responsibility efforts. They want to make sure that their employer (or future employer) isn’t just “checking the box” but is following through on promises. For instance, more than 5,000 organizations have earned Certified B Corps designations. In the future, that designation may be not just expected but standard.
But what exactly does it mean for a business to walk the walk, not just talk the talk? For some, it means investing $100 million in the brand’s Racial Equity and Justice initiative, which is focused on addressing systemic racism through educational support. For others, it means sending 7.5% of pre-tax profits back into community organizations throughout the nation, as well as championing human rights, social and economic justice, and environmental protection. For many, it means working toward 100% carbon neutrality.
However, for every positive corporate example, the opposite exists as well. More than one brand has found trouble in the last few years due to greenwashing ventures. Or maybe it’s a viral PR disaster like a failed commercial that made light of ongoing and serious national tensions. Audiences today will hold brands accountable for missteps as much as celebrate their success.
The point is that your company can’t hide behind slogans or statements. To appeal to modern workers and customers, you have to showcase your commitment to social responsibility. If you don’t, you can be sure that your competitors will be the first to call you on the carpet.
To get started, try these methods to initiate the process of folding social change into all the fibers of your corporation’s brand and culture fabric.
1. Engage your stakeholders, not just your shareholders
There’s no doubt that you have to be conscientious about your shareholders when you’re a business leader. Shareholder value has been the primary focus for companies for decades. However, sometimes corporate social responsibility conflicts with a focus on profits. Why? The simple answer is that corporate social responsibility often requires a sizable financial investment. Not always, mind you — consumers are starting to pay more for products and services backed by socially responsible companies. Nevertheless, your job is to look beyond just your shareholders and engage your stakeholders.
When I refer to stakeholders, I refer to everyone with a stake in your organization, including team members. Remember: They have a choice as to where they’re going to work. Nearly seven out of 10 professionals planned to resign in 2023. You can’t afford that kind of attrition, so you need to collaborate with your employees to build a collective vision and commitment around social change. Be aware that your team members will have different visions and different appetites for what social change means. That’s a good thing because it elicits deeper conversations and helps you get closer toward your goals.
2. Listen to what matters to people
Instead of automatically arguing or debating social points, put yourself into a “listen and learn” mode. Find out what’s really important to others. Ask questions. Why do they feel the way they do? What’s important to them? What kind of stand would they like to see you take as their employer or preferred brand? You don’t have to do everything they want, but you’ll be in a better position to make decisions if you “get” them.
After educating yourself through active, open-minded listening, you’ll be prepared to problem-solve and lead your company and team forward. By leading the charge, you can show your authentic desire to make a positive impact based on the needs and wants of your stakeholders. In other words, you’ll have a rare opportunity to demonstrate proactive leadership, innovation and creativity to the biggest societal challenges we face today.
3. Lean into major headlines and movements
When the “don’t say gay” headlines hit the front page of every major media outlet, did you consider saying anything about it as a company? Or did you shy away from the topic? Right now, employees and buyers want to know that their favorite brands care about what’s happening. You don’t have to rush into making a statement, of course. You just shouldn’t avoid creating a space for respectful dialogue and discussion about the subjects of the day.
Can these types of conversations be awkward? Absolutely, which is why I recommend turning to resources and guides to help you navigate these conversations. By enabling everyone to speak their piece, you show that you value transparency within your workplace. And transparency begets trust, credibility, and accountability — all essential for building tighter teams where people feel psychologically safe and can bring their best selves to work.
Initiating social change requires dedication, consistency and a genuine commitment to making a positive impact. Although it takes energy and investment, it’s worth every minute and penny to transform your company into one that’s seen as unfailingly socially responsible.