The shared experience of COVID-19 has significantly changed what it means to be vulnerable and has thrust individuals, families, and communities across the world into situations where basic needs are not able to be met. In turn, it has also shifted how companies across industries are stepping up to support their employees, customers, and communities.
From CEOs cutting back their salaries on the heels of COVID-19, to brands entirely reimagining their purpose and hiring processes in the wake of the racial inequality movements, consequential and decisive words and actions among the private sector are becoming the new north star. However, with this renewed awakening of corporate purpose and an avalanche of public commitments, a new study, Activism Goes Mainstream: How to Avoid Traps When Communicating Corporate Purpose Commitments, found that fewer than 15 percent of Americans believe companies will deliver on stated corporate commitments. More importantly, the study also showed that the profile of ‘activists’ has shifted, making it difficult to understand which issues are most important to which audiences, and therefore more complicated for companies to meaningfully engage in Purpose-driven actions and conversations with their employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
As we approach the annual United Nations General Assembly—focused this year on “The Future We Want”—and Climate Week, here are some ways to ensure companies maximize their corporate commitments in terms of both impact and communication with stakeholders:
1. Set ambitious, realistic, and verified goals
Have third party partners verify and potentially endorse your commitment, and make sure your sustainability goals have relevance to your business and the market you operate in. IKEA is an excellent example of a company pushing the boundaries of how they are delivering on their brand purpose to ‘create a better everyday life for the many people.’ From aggressive environmental goals that include creating stores with zero parking spaces, using AI to tackle waste, and compelling advocacy, IKEA continues to strengthen employee and consumer loyalty—and make a profit.
2. Have a plan and be honest if you do not have all the answers
The tech industry has struggled to build and sustain trust among employees, consumers and policy makers. At the same time, from Amazon’s $2 billion Climate Pledge FundGoogle, Facebook’s $40 million pledge to Black-owned businesses, and Alphabet, Google’s parent company issuing $5.75 billion in sustainability bonds as part of its debt offering, the leaders have made bold commitments to address environmental and social issues. While some of these commitments have been met with mixed reviews, and Amazon leading the pack, each company has been clear about its goals and plans, while recognizing the enormity of the effort and the lessons learned along the way.
3. Be clear in your messaging and realize actions speak louder than words
It’s always important to walk the walk that matches how you talk the talk.Salesforce is a well celebrated company for living its purpose from day one. Established on a model where 1% of its revenue, 1% of its product, and 1% of its employees’ time are given back to the community, Salesforce has maintained this discipline for its 18-year history, and it has paid off. Just recently, there talk about Salesforce being the next trillion dollar company.
Communicating corporate intentions requires a deep understanding of stakeholder expectations and careful crafting of your message. When done well, it not only can positively contribute to corporate reputation, but also help companies avoid stepping into an activist trap.