In a world where consumers are increasingly buying into brands that stand for more than just positive gains in profit, having the ability to clearly communicate your company’s social good efforts is more important than ever. From educating consumers on how to make better consumption and lifestyle choices, to inspiring other business leaders and decision makers to follow suit, the opportunities that come with being a purpose-driven company (and being able to effectively communicate this differentiating factor) extend far beyond the sales numbers.
As with most things in life, however, these opportunities don’t come without challenges – challenges which tend to stem from the lack of both strategic and creative communication knowledge and leadership skills.
While sustainable communication and purpose-led storytelling is most certainly an external, strategic communication effort, it also starts and rests on your internal leadership abilities. Whether you’re a global, purpose-led responsibility driver or a smaller start-up, being prepared, agile, and resilient is key.
This is why, at Refresh Agency, we work with our clients in two areas – Internal Leadership Skills Training and External Communication Strategy, Techniques and Tools. In doing so, we help ensure them the strength and agility needed to strategically implement and communicate important messages, efforts and learnings, as well as bring value to all stakeholders.
The following take-home tips build the foundation of this strategic and eye-opening journey:
Internal Leadership Skills
1. Systemic Understanding – An interconnected picture
Understanding the systemic nature and economic flow of media, journalism, business and society is a pivotal skill for any business leader – especially one who works with communications matters. As the vast majority of the media is busy click-baiting for attention, it will help you navigate the pitfalls and wasted efforts by understanding the system with which you engage. Increased systemic leadership understanding is one of my biggest predicted trends for the next 5-10 years in business, education, and management.
2. Courage Zone – The new normal
It takes courage to be a change-maker and to shift your focus on systemic issues towards one of more awareness, consciousness and intent. The good news is, the more you face your fears and move forward, the more your courage zone expands. Make it a daily practice, and soon you’ll be one of the few people in the world entirely free to create consciously and fearlessly.
3. Shame Resilience – Be Unrockable
Prioritize inner growth and shame resilience in the leadership team. No outer change can happen without first focusing on inner growth in each individual. Shame resilience results in a higher level of grounding, cognition and consciousness, as well as the ability to create processes that increase innovation, solution thinking, and deeper connections and collaboration. This will not only help you improve the way you handle problem solving and crisis management, but will also help your business grow and innovate in ’up’ times. Talent is good, but not enough. Resiliency and perseverance are what winning teams are made of.
4. Change-Maker – Be the change
Our biggest potential positive impact for society and humanity as change-makers is to help shift consciousness. It requires real leadership skills to hold the standards of a higher worldview, especially in the phase of a communication dilemma or crisis.
5. Expect Criticism – It’s par for the course
All change is met with criticism and resistance. Resistance is an important and intrinsic aspect of transforming an industry. Set yourself up for success, and expect criticism and resistance as a wise and grounded expectation. The human mind has the funny, and not always clever, ability to expect a perfectly linear success route, despite our experiences that show the opposite.
6. Imperfection - A pivotal part of success
Humility is important. Speak openly about how you handle challenges, which skills you’ve had to learn, which personality traits you’ve had to unlearn, etc. This makes you believable and a real human being – and shared knowledge inspires others. Drop perfection, and embrace imperfection and learning as a process. If you can do this successfully as a leader, you then have the skills to drive communication authentically.
External Communication Strategies
1. Talk about business-driven purpose, social good and environmental efforts – not philanthropy
I hear over and over again from companies that they find it challenging to get noticed by mainstream media when it comes to their social and environmental efforts. Rather than placing the blame on the media, it’s important to remember the responsibility we should be taking on as business leaders and communication professionals – taking an honest look at ourselves and the stories we think are relevant. In truth, many sustainability and social impact efforts are meek and mere tag-ons to a larger business strategy. It’s not relevant for the media to cover that kind of effort. Is your effort real, deep, long-lasting and generating both business and real societal value?
2. Focus on the business opportunities created
Inform and inspire how business opportunities are created through sustainability and social impact efforts – not just compliance and risk management. Be proactive about telling the story of your company, as well as its challenges and learnings, rather than playing it safe and staying silent. Louise Koch, DELL’s Corporate Sustainability Lead in the EMEA, also shared this advice during a speech at SB’16 Copenhagen this past November.
3. Bring Value – Check your motivations
Check your motivations and make sure you are sharing stories that bring value to the readers and stakeholders. If your motivation is one too heavily focused on personal gain, you’ll find it is much more challenging to inspire the media to pick up your story (You cannot fake your motivations – people can smell that a mile away!).
4. Align with national or global societal trends
Tie your business sustainability efforts to relevant national or global efforts and trends (ex: UN’s Sustainability Development Goals, anti-advertising, gender equality, water issues, etc.).
5. Radical transparency of the real process
Be authentic and open, and practice radical transparency about your sustainability vision, efforts and processes. It’s a complicated and often lengthy process, but sharing the real picture comes with beneficial challenges, learnings, and ultimately, wins.
6. Be Choosy – check the worldview level
Not all journalists are created equal. It’s important that you get a sense of their worldview levels and their level of consciousness. You can do this by examining their values and, more specifically, their actions. Has this journalist previously written about sustainability, social impact, and making the world a more thriving and just place? The higher the worldview and level of consciousness of the people you work with, the easier it will be to get them to understand and grasp the good your company is doing in the world.