Apathy or Action? Corporate America, It’s Time to Choose

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By Mark Feldman

America has spoken. And post-election, we are all contemplating how a new administration will impact our lives and work.

As someone who has spent over 25 years helping companies create and communicate their corporate citizenship activities, I believe something game-changing is happening. These times compel business leaders at all levels to reimagine how we will step up around the social issues important to our businesses and stakeholders. More than ever before, American companies will choose their path between apathy and action. It will be an era of increased complexity and opportunity.

As the transition in Washington drives new legislation, fresh funding priorities and fewer government regulations, executives must analyze immediate and long-term business impacts. While navigating choices and opportunities brought on by the shifting environment, we will look toward shared anchors, values or a “True North” to guide our decisions. As social issues and challenges are thrust to the forefront, we will decide whether to watch from the sidelines, get more engaged or take a leadership role.

Employees, consumers and neighbors will become increasingly powerful influencers on decision-making. During uncertain and potentially polarizing times, these groups will look for comfort and alignment with their beliefs. Their voices around the social issues that are important to them will rise even louder as they get more inspired and passionate, especially if they are scared. We need to be prepared to answer what our companies and brands stand for.

In the face of the many complex challenges that lie ahead, it might be easier to passively observe and wait for the pendulum to shift back, but ultimately that means being left behind. The role of corporate America around social issues is too important – and the opportunity too great — for us not to take carefully considered, strategic action.

Having worked with executives who act boldly and make a difference, here is what I optimistically expect to see more of from companies in the future:

  • They will be open about sharing their purpose and values. If they haven’t yet developed them, this is the time to do some corporate soul-searching and define what the organization or brand stands for. For companies with strong corporate citizenship programs, I expect to see increased articulation of their values and purpose, and even greater communication around their social impact work.
  • They will cultivate deeper engagement with stakeholders. This election highlighted the importance of listening to the people and the frustrations of those who feel “unheard” by leadership. Many companies already have channels for soliciting and acting on stakeholder feedback and incorporating what they learn into business decisions. Those that don’t will need to create them.
  • They will recognize that a deep understanding of social issues is critical to their ability to make a difference. They will be more focused and strategic. These businesses will be more effective and smarter about their corporate citizenship thanks to this expertise, and they will be positioned to respond to potential voids in social support or changes to legislation that we might see in the next administration.
  • They will take leadership roles around issues that are most important and relevant to their employees, consumers and other stakeholders. Building upon years of corporate responsibility innovation, companies will apply a broad combination of expertise, product, financial and advocacy resources to drive social impact.

Our task this year is to look deep inside our companies and ourselves and ask what is truly important.   We’ll need a point of view, a lens to make decisions, and at times, the guts to go outside our comfort zone and stand up for what we believe in. I hope we will all choose to capitalize on opportunities to both strengthen business and impact society.

Image Credit: Flickr/Doug Geisler 

Mark Feldman is the Founder and Managing Director of Cause Consulting, a social impact strategy and communications firm dedicated to simultaneously strengthening business and impacting society.

Corporate Responsibility

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