Great leaders are always sensitive to the context in which they do business. Which is why the best have put corporate sustainability high up on their business agendas. It’s the new digital transformation. As the CEO or CFO, you are the lead executive responsible for executing this strategy. The key question is – how can you keep your business resilient considering the disruptions we are all facing? First the pandemic, then the war in Ukraine, now a looming recession, as well as mass layoffs in the tech world. What’s next?
Remember how hard digital transformation was? How long it took? And how rewarding the results have been? Sustainability is the next big rock for businesses that want to transform how they operate, who they work with, and their reputation in the world. Being financially sustainable is not a fad or short-term trend. It’s a fundamental change in how businesses operate. You may have to address topics as diverse as climate crisis, purpose vs. profit, the gender pay gap, modern slavery or LGBTQ representation.
If you haven’t looked into rethinking your company’s sustainability operations, now is the time to start.
Here are five signs that you need to review and upgrade your approach to corporate sustainability.
- Economists are forecasting a recession – Restaurants in Canada have stopped serving salad. The reason? The price of lettuce is too high. I’m not an economist but I stay on top of the news and so I know, not just from my own shrinking pocketbook, that inflation is at a 40-year high. As a business leader you’re faced with the dilemma of wanting to future-proof your business by thinking long-term while cutting spending in non-essential areas. Decisions and actions taken now around sustainability will set you up for growth and success in the long-term. For example, reassessing your supply chain will make you more resilient in the face of global disruption scenarios.
- The job of business leaders is evolving – Your first-line managers and company leaders may have MBAs but are they advocates for employee wellbeing? Do they know your company messaging and the process in the event of layoffs or restructuring? Are you conducting regular pulse checks and following up on the feedback? Typically, managers are the first port of call for employees who have questions. Are they prepared? You may think this is an HR activity but that would be underestimating the power of the leader’s voice. It should be driven by the COO or CEO. 3
- Investors are asking – A carefully considered corporate sustainability strategy can actually impact your bottom line and when investors ask about the long-term vision for your corporate sustainability, you need a plan. You want key messages they understand. In addition, they will welcome close collaboration with your investor relations and governance teams to understand and discuss disclosures.
- Millennials are asking – When young talent apply for jobs today, they almost inevitably ask about the company’s approach to sustainability. The hiring team and recruiters may waffle and their answers are vague at best, varying at worst. Check your website and if you see an all-white, all male leadership team, know that the millennials will stamp you pale, male and stale and move on. 5
- You want to leave a legacy for the next generation – This point ties back to building a business that will withstand any viruses or supply chain crises the world can throw at you, and not just survive but thrive. Write a letter to your grandchildren, or imaginary grandchildren, letting them know what you’ve done to contribute to a better society, or a more sustainable planet. It’s a great exercise, rather like writing your own obituary. If you find you’re struggling for words, call me.
The one common denominator here is communications. You are working with multiple audiences – internally and externally, and they all want to hear your vision and plan for future success. Wherever your company is on its corporate sustainability journey, it’s your obligation to interact with these audiences. Whether that’s with regular townhalls, thought leadership pieces, or your LinkedIn account, keep the lines of communication open. Even if you are at the planning phase and unsure of where your sustainability strategy will land – that’s a message. Honesty can be very refreshing, especially with people who are expected to have all the answers.