The new normal or business as usual

10 Jun 2020
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Hello ,

 In a world where sustainability is a vital business practice, an organisation’s success is only as good as its sustainability and social acceptability. How society views the entity based on its actions and undertakings.  In fact, its success is dependent on its social acceptability.  This is more evident or is under greater scrutiny in the event of a global crisis such as Covid-19.  

The Government of Botswana, in response to the pandemic, declared a 6-month State of Emergency to control the spread of the virus and established a national relief fund to help mitigation efforts locally.  An appeal for corporate and individual contributions to national relief efforts was made and donations poured in to the fund, demonstrating the strength of the unwritten obligations entities have towards society.  Some companies have stepped up to be counted amongst those that are most impactful by their contributions in cash and kind, finding ways to improve the welfare of frontline staff, ensure food production continuity, as well as show acts of kindness and goodwill to motivate and inspire as the country closes ranks in the fight against Covid-19.  

The concept of sustainability, in its broadest sense, starts with an acute awareness of key aspects of the human world; the social, environmental, economic and technological landscape in the region of your business operations.  Greater understanding of sociological aspects of human society and interactions, especially as the world rapidly evolves, should then be of high importance in order to do good by both the consumer and the entire ecosystem in which you operate.

It’s a passing fad you might think, like the Atkins diet and bellbottoms in the 70s. It would be a mistake to take the demand for social license to operate lightly.  Over the years, many practices were considered smart business or ‘no big deal’ even though now we regard their illegality as common sense; think child labour, racist and sexist recruitment and remuneration policies, toxic waste dumping, attitudes to sexual harassment in the work place.  It is important for businesses to be proactive and methodical about sustainability because people have, over time, shown that they care as much about your product or service as they do about your conduct, impact, contribution and reputation. They are more likely to be inclined to your brand and give their trust and support if they understand and see your purpose and ethos: why you exist as opposed to just what you do to make money. 

In addition to reaching your strategic business objectives, how are you using your trade to benefit society, especially in times like these?  It has become increasingly necessary to make a deliberate effort to not only sustain a business, but also positively impact the communities in which you operate.  How do your operations impact those around you? How many small businesses are you supporting as part of your operations? What informs the policies your business adopts to ensure that you add value far beyond your bottom line?

Practical applications of those wonderful vision, mission and values statements such as paying business suppliers faster or more promptly to avoid any further strain on their cash flow due to the business disruption by COVID-19. If we were to personify your organization, what about your identity and persona would be from the heart?  What would be done for humanity or the environment and not just hyper - focused on the bottom line? 

As the repercussions and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic unfold across Botswana and the world, organisations increasingly realise that they cannot solely exist to answer the endless hunger pangs of consumerism & profit at any cost. More than ever brands must answer the call to propel communities and society at large forward meaningfully. Organisations and brands must offer solutions beyond the products and services that they provide, balancing profit with the greater good of society.

With the 4th industrial revolution upon us, changing how we live, work and communicate, we must anticipate shifts in how and what society values.  The world has a need for business and brands to do more to go beyond winning just the wallets of consumers and communities.  Why should people care about your business, product or brand?  The answer is simple; a company that can do business AND demonstrate an authentic and consistent commitment to the environment it operates in, be it to society or the environment, is adding value to the societal ecosystem, especially on a national scale. It is more trustworthy and therefore, it is then easier for people to take up their brand with interest and support.  This is the big picture; a cognitive bias phenomenon known as “The Halo Effect.” Wikipedia.com explains the Halo Effect as a term for the tendency for positive impressions of a company, person, product or brand to positively influence one’s feelings in other areas.  The halo effect is correlated to brand strength and brand loyalty and contributes to brand equity. 

So how do you earn a social license? Based on the sustainability school of thought, this license should, almost certainly, guarantee social acceptability, brand loyalty and subsequent brand equity.  Companies earn their social licenses by being transparent in their policies to the general public and stakeholders.  Does your entity make a deliberate effort to invest in its people? Are we consistently reviewing the changing world in relation to the welfare of our staff? The community? Do you have a corporate social responsibility policy to bring to life how to demonstrate your commitment to addressing societal issues in the region where you operate and are these aligned to your purpose?  A procurement policy that encourages local procurement to allow other people in the country opportunities in the ecosystem?  Our closed borders due to Covid-19 as at the current status quo, will go down in our history books as a defining moment and be attributable to the increased self-sufficiency of the country and lowered dependence on imports. Are your efforts real? First do good, then be seen to do good. Today’s stakeholder can see through things done just for show and these often backfire publicly on social media.

It is wise to introspect as a business and assess the health of your corporate governance particularly in our fast changing and dynamic world.  Stakeholders are more inclined to align themselves with and support brands that have a positive impact and are alive to the greater sociological or societal good.  

Businesses in Botswana can demonstrate this meaningfulness by effectively communicating to stakeholders and the general public, their economic, environmental and social governance performance.   This will ensure the restoration of reputation amongst stakeholders and be a catalyst for stimulating consumer confidence, adding to your bottom line.

Article written by Rebatho Tumagole – PR Manager at Incepta Communications.  Rebatho has over 11 years of experience in the broadcasting and media arena. She is responsible for creating, managing and implementing public relations initiatives for an array of client brands.

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