2020 was a year that prompted a reshifting of values for everyone globally – not just COVID-19 related, but in social justice movements, as well. As with the changing of the tides, the expectations of what a company should stand for and prioritized have shifted slightly, too. According to ReWorked, “Until January 2020, the focus of Corporate Social Responsibility had typically been global warming, climate action, sustainability, adherence to diversity and inclusion principles and efforts aimed at building a kind and empathetic corporate image.”
COVID-19 changed everything, moving the focus onto what companies are doing to give back to their communities, care for their now-remote employees, and adhere to social distancing guidelines and regulations. Then, in May, the wrongful death of George Floyd sparked the critically important Black Lives Matter movement, leading to another reshifting of priorities toward equality and justice.
Consumers are loudest with their money, and they’re not afraid to take their business elsewhere if they’re displeased with the social responsibility measures that a company is taking – or not taking. Millennials especially are willing to look beyond the products or services a company offers, and into what the company stands for. A 2015 study reported that “More than nine-in-10 Millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause (91% vs. 85% U.S. average), and two-thirds use social media to engage around CSR (66% vs. 53% U.S. average).”
On the heels of a year that changed so much, and with stakes around corporate social responsibility as high as they are, it’s never been more important to assess what your company stands for and how your corporation is responding on the whole to the pertinent conversations the world is having.
Adapt To The New Challenges
Companies like Ford and Louis Vuitton were lauded for their quick thinking and selfless strategy of repurposing their factories to help in the mass production of PPE equipment and hand sanitizer. Now that the worst is presumably over, there’s something all companies can learn from this swift act of heroism: adaptability is critical. While not every company has the means to shift their focus in the middle of a global emergency, this adaptability can be sewn into your operations moving forward. Rethink the way your company used to do things. How can you amend these choices to ensure they’re in alignment with the changed world?
This doesn’t have to be anything of massive proportions. Rather, think through how you can give anything that you can. For example, eviivo, an all-in-one booking suite for hotels, AirBNB’s, and vacation rentals, has launched multiple campaigns over the past year to adapt to the changing travel industry. In the height of the pandemic, they launched ‘Stays for Heroes,’ which provided 55,000 rooms of free and low cost housing for essential workers. Now, they’re turning their focus to moving forward with their ‘#StayLocal2021’ campaign, which helps companies to give safe, socially-distanced one-night stays at resorts to their employees for some much needed R&R in lieu of the big holiday party. Even offering an option like this to employees goes a long way on the corporate responsibility front.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Many companies were quick to deliver statements of support or their values surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, but many came under fire for their empty words. Statements that tout diversity with no real legwork do more to harm than to help. If you’re going to be socially responsible, it’s critical to go beyond the cookie cutter statement.
Many brands did it right, and we can take a note from them. For example, Glossier devoted half a million dollars to multiple organizations that focus on combating racial injustice. Lego donated $4 million. Additionally, beyond the money, many companies offered lists of resources and otherwise to support their employees and customers alike in learning more and donating.
Keep The Focus On Interpersonal Relationships
With pressure mounting on CSR, it’s also critical to think through the smaller moments within your company – such as how you’re contributing to the company culture during such a trying time. One-on-one interactions with employees, clients, and customers go further than you’d think – and this is especially true if you need to cut corners or commit to any layoffs. Harvard Business Review acutely offered, “What companies do to help their laid-off employees — above and beyond what is required or expected — will be remembered and repaid in increased loyalty, higher productivity, and a lasting reputational benefit for many years to come.”
Much of this is financial, such as the choice from companies like Lyft or Walmart to continue to pay wages to hourly workers, even as they aren’t working. But, if you don’t have the financial means to do so (and, many don’t), it comes back to the adaptability piece. How can you offer resources, increased flexibility, or just a bit of extra care to those you work with?
At its heart, companies are about people. There is nothing like a global crisis to bring people even closer together. Your contribution through your company is not just a ‘responsibility’ by way of public perception, but of your responsibility to mankind. The companies who are able to adapt, think quickly, pivot, and keep the intention for collective good at the center of their actions are the ones who will win in the long run.