Increasingly, companies and brands are finding that in the minds of their customers, employees, communities and investors, simply “doing good” is no longer good enough. Stakeholders want and expect the organizations they work for and do business with to take a stand on what matters, and to flex their corporate muscles to drive change.
But how does change – true social impact – happen?
It’s certainly not by chance. In fact, it’s a convergence of sorts. When altruistic and pragmatic interests align, movements gain momentum. Take, for example, the journey many organizations are on to evolve from a Corporate Responsibility model to more of an Environmental Social Governance (ESG) model. From the altruistic point of view, we all want to leave the world a better place for our children. Pragmatically speaking, however, the reality is we all need clean water to survive, and there are millions of businesses that rely on clean water to make their products.
A similar dynamic exists in many of the current issues we’ve seen pick up momentum in the past few years. Everyone should have the chance to have a successful career; but the reality is businesses can’t find the talent to grow, and lack of diversity is inhibiting innovation. Health care is a basic human right; but high costs are a drain on the economy and on profitability. There are many people who are one rent check away from living on the streets; but we can’t attract people to live in areas without affordable housing.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg in a nearly endless stream of issues we’re facing today. There’s no shortage of opportunities for organizations to step up and make a difference, but before you jump in, consider the following best practices:
- Make sure your corporate purpose and values are clearly defined, understood and appreciated. Leadership and employees need to know them and live them, and they should serve as the North Star for your social impact strategy.
- Understand what’s important to your stakeholders. Know what matters to your employees, customers and other key influencers. Identify where you can make an impact in an issue/area that is important to them – one that is also aligned with your purpose, values and business strategy, and relevant to society.
- Define your focus and articulate your goals. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Focus on issues that you have the greatest opportunity to impact, and clearly state your goals.
- Start from the inside out. Make sure your employees know what you stand for – and what you don’t.
A thorough internal communications strategy and plan are critical to your overall success.
- Clearly articulate the “why” behind what you’re doing. Make sure stakeholders understand not just the what but the why behind your strategy and actions.
- Communicate progress openly and regularly. Make sure you’re measuring and communicating impact, not just activities. If you’ve missed the mark, don’t hide it. Stakeholders value transparency.
- Explore partnerships with other like-minded organizations. There’s strength in numbers. Identify opportunities to work with others to expand reach and effort, but ensure partners have similar values and goals.
- Be patient. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Social impact is a marathon, not a sprint, and requires long-term commitment and solid strategy.
Now, more than ever, employees and consumers alike are standing up to demand change. With the right strategy in place, your organization can make a difference for the greater good, while also driving employee engagement and your company reputation.
Julie McCracken, senior director, Padilla, is a member of the agency's Corporate Advisory Group, and focuses on social impact, employee engagement, corporate culture and change communications.