“…Time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” ~John F. Kennedy
British Standard, BS65000 (2014) defines "organizational resilience" as "ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, and respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper."
Corporate citizenship has a unique role to play in ensuring your company continues to thrive even in difficult times. A well-designed corporate citizenship program is the foundation to being able to weather adverse events. There are four critical practices to help any company PASS through disruptions and continue to thrive:
Predict and prepare. The resilient enterprise is proactive, not reactive. Looking at risks that may occur in the financial, environmental, social, or governance domains is critical to resilient recovery.
Align your program with business strategy. The ability to recognize and predict risk and opportunity helps ensure your ability to compete.
Sponsorship. Getting a broad variety of stakeholders in your company—from executive down and from outside your company inward—ensures that your network is robust and able to mobilize quickly. Enlist groups across and beyond the organization to ensure buy-in.
Systems thinking. Many organizations consider only infrastructure and redundant operational processes when continuity planning. A comprehensive plan must consider not only technology systems and business processes, but all of the people who interact with them—customers, employees and the communities in which they live, and other stakeholders including suppliers.
During moments of change we often receive conflicting signals. For example, our executive branch has an unmistakable antiregulatory stance that places sustainability programs and disclosures as a low priority. At the same time, the EU and some Asian markets are moving toward more rigorous requirements for sustainability reporting. The EU Directive 2014/95 that went into effect this year requires by the end of the year disclosure of sustainability and diversity information among companies that meet the following criteria:
- any company or organization (undertaking) operating in an EU member state;
- with more than 500 employees;
- that are “Public-interest” entities (PIEs) including certain financial institutions and insurers;
- that have EUR $20 million (approximately USD $25 million) on balance sheet or a net turnover of EUR $40 million (approximately USD$50 million).
The disclosure of material sustainability information strengthens competitiveness and ensures prosperity, not only for this quarter and this year, but for generations to come. Disclosing and managing the sustainability and public policy issues most likely to have financial impact helps companies mitigate risk and identify opportunities for sustainable growth.
If we do not manage sustainability issues we leave value unrealized or unprotected. Most Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship members are U.S. companies operating globally. We advise for our members a harmonized approach to reporting. The Directive does not introduce a requirement on the reporting standard that should be used to disclose; however, companies are encouraged and expected to rely on one of the internationally recognized instruments such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Framework, the UNGC Principles, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, ISO 260009, the ILO Tripartite Declaration of principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy and European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS). The Center can help you decide which are best for your purposes.
So how should U.S. companies respond? I have always been struck by something that New Balance President and CEO Rob DeMartini said a few years back. I am paraphrasing slightly here:
“Linking corporate citizenship to core business strategies yields results. The best organizations lead with their values. They take the long view… We want to be successful—but not at any cost... When the choice is between right and right now, the most successful organizations choose right...”
I believe DeMartini has it exactly right. His view is supported by multiple studies that illustrate the relationship between positive corporate environmental and social performance (CSP) and corporate financial performance (CFP). The positive relationship is generally intensified when long-term results are taken into account. In addition, findings suggest that the relationship is stronger when the strategic approach underlying CSP is proactive rather than reactive.[i],[ii],[iii]
So in this time of conflicting signals, aim for the highest bars of performance possible. Focus on reporting what matters most to your company and stakeholders. Don’t overlook employees and suppliers.
Leaders set standards. Others follow. Be among the first or be the best in order to differentiate your company. Be diligent about scanning the horizon. As higher standards develop in specific regions in our global economy, the bar will be raised everywhere.
If you can’t be first or best, baby steps are OK. Think of first small actions as training for your “moment,” which will come eventually. Every small step can be the beginning of your best practice.
[i] Margolis, J. D., Elfenbein, H. A., & Walsh, J. P. (2007). Does it pay to be good? A meta-analysis and redirection of research on the relationship between corporate social and financial performance. Ann Arbor, 1001, 48109-1234.
[ii] Haldane, A. G., & Davies, R. (2011). The short long. Bank of England, 29th Societe Universitaire Europeene de Recherches Financieres Colloquium
[iii] Gupta, S., & Innes, R. (2014). Private politics and environmental management. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 68(2), 319-339.