Noa Burger: A Newbie’s Guide to Responsible Business

Little more than two years ago, corporate responsibility was declared dead. In its place, the responsible business movement has emerged, demanding a far more ambitious and radical approach. It is an approach which asks businesses to take responsibility for what they do in the world – their economic, social and environmental impact, both positive and negative.

The movement is gathering momentum, with a growing body of evidence showing that organisations which don’t catch on will be left behind by their employees, customers and the wider public, whose expectations of business are growing. But where do you start when what is being asked of you is a transformational shift in how your business operates?

1 – Baseline your responsible business performance

Your first step should be to look at all the corners of your business – how you govern, how you support, engage and progress your staff, how you improve the lives of your wider community and how you protect the environment for the future. Find out what you are doing well already and celebrate that. Find out where you are vulnerable to risk or falling short of your values, and commit to improve those. There are plenty of tools out there to help you, including B Lab’s Quick Impact Assessment, which guides you with a series of questions you can ask yourself.

2 – Identify what matters

Use your baseline, knowledge of your business and relationships with key stakeholders to collaboratively define your priorities. Use technology to find out what your employees, customers, clients and investors care about, and focus in on areas where you have the power to make a real difference. You can use free materiality assessments online, or take a look at industry specific advice for delivering against the sustainable development goals to help you ascertain what might be most relevant to you and yours.

3 – State your purpose

Now you are clear on where you can have the greatest positive impact, you need to name your priorities, set targets and agree on how you are going to achieve them. Ideally, this should be woven into your commercial strategy and led from the heart of the business. Publish your plans in a way that is accessible and engaging to your key audiences, internally and externally. Aviva’s responsible business strategy is a great example of a persuasive strategy which demonstrates how it will benefit others.

4 – Review, reward, reset

Measure your progress to know if you are really changing things for the better – both in your business and outside of it. Integrating responsible business KPIs into performance management processes will help you test whether your values are alive in your day-to-day decision making and practice. Take it one step further by rewarding team members who go above and beyond. This will give a clear message of how you define great leadership. You can also check back against your baseline to measure distance travelled, and when you’re ready, this will help you decide what to tackle next.

5 – Tell your story

Make your responsible business credentials part of your story. Create a compelling narrative of what you’re doing, why it’s important to you, the difference it has made and what you are going to do next. You need passionate and honest spokespeople, not only at the top, who can tell their own version of the organisational story. They should use the language of your audience, keeping things free of jargon, relevant and sincere.

6 – Leading by example

The benefits of all this are vast – economically, environmentally and socially. Not just for the biggest businesses, but also SMEs, charities and public bodies. With 75 per cent of living wage accredited businesses saying the move has improved employee motivation and retention, and Unilever reporting that their sustainable brands are growing 30 per cent faster than their traditional brands, the case is more compelling than ever. 

Noa Burger is Head of Responsible Business
at the City of London Corporation.

She leads the Corporation’s vision to inspire responsible business
across UK financial and professional services.

This article was first published in Issue 9, January 2018 of Pi Magazine.

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