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Major events and big statements

Léon de Bakker
June 25, 2020

Organizations promise to deliver on positive impact

This photo shows the flooding of Venice. This is a major event that raises awareness. Combined with other major events, it triggers big statements from companies to increase their positive impact.

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We are increasingly exposed to large-scale events that impact our planet and society and that make us aware that our current actions aren’t sustainable. As a consequence, the expectations we have for the businesses we work for, invest in and turn to for our products and services are changing. In this context, it comes as no surprise that more and more businesses are now making big statements about their ambition to do good.

This post is part of a series about technology and organizational positive impact:

  1. A guide to organizational positive impact, tech edition
  2. Doing good drives profitability
  3. Major events and big statements
  4. Be consistent about your positive impact
  5. A strong purpose proposition requires agility and resilience
  6. Agility and organizational complexity, beware of the present
  7. How to create positive impact with technology? Foster critical thinking
  8. Technology as an accelerator for positive impact
  9. Assess how technology shapes your organizational positive impact
  10. Reframe technology’s purpose and strengthen organizational alignment

Major events and stark warnings

In the last two years or so we’ve seen quite a lot of large-scale events that show us how important and fragile our planet and communities are. A lack of drinking water in India, rising poverty in the UK and the USA, the global #metoo movement, massive fires in Siberia, California and Australia, deforestation in the Amazon, droughts in Europe, police brutality, plastic in our deepest seas and most pristine mountains. Just to mention a few. And at this very moment, we’re fighting the Covid-19 crisis.

We’ve also seen distressing predictions and stark warnings from the United Nations, governments, the Doomsday Clock scientists, the World Economic Forum, national intelligence agencies, and central banks. Urging us to speedily address environmental and societal risks. For instance, as stated by the United Nations and the European Commission, “There is only one planet Earth, yet by 2050, the world will be consuming as if there were three”.

Increased awareness and big statements

These large-scale events and warnings have been widely covered by mainstream media and have made people aware and active. So, they start to ask more from their favorite brands, employers, pension funds, and banks. Specifically, they ask them to take good care of our planet and society. And business is listening. Especially since doing good drives long-term profitability.

In August and September 2019, BIG statements were released by three different groups: 181 American multinationals, 32 key players in the fashion industry and 130 banks representing more than 47 trillion USD in assets. Last January, Microsoft made a big statement about going carbon negative by 2030 since carbon neutrality is “not enough”.

The commonality between these statements is that businesses of prominence and influence promise to do good for the planet and society. The response from media, stakeholders, and some of my friends was somewhat skeptical. This is the headline in the Harvard Business Review: “Is the Business Roundtable Statement Just Empty Rhetoric?”. Any skepticism will be amplified by the Covid-19 crisis. Because many fear its fallout will severely delay or diminish execution on aspirational goals.

Positive impact

Simultaneously, I see organizations, cities, and national governments move forward. To illustrate, take the response of businesses to the same Covid-19 crisis. Leveraging their resources, supply chain, and technology to contribute in a moment of need and vulnerability. Just a few out of an abundant number of examples.

Hertz offered their idle rental cars to health care workers in New York City. Nike and Gap produced personal protective equipment. Unilever donated €100m worth of soap, sanitizer, bleach, and food, also offering €500m of cash flow relief to support livelihoods across its extended value chain. Tesla engineered respiratory systems. Apple’s product teams worked with suppliers to produce millions of face shields. Corendon has made their hotel rooms available for free to health care workers in the Amsterdam region.

I’m hopeful that businesses are getting serious about improving their impact on the planet and society. Which requires making conscious choices and being consistent. More about that in my next post, “Be consistent about your positive impact”. You’ll find my posts and more at SogetiLabs.


Go beyond your big statement

If you decide to make a big statement yourself, then demonstrate there’s more to it than aspirational words. Embed your proposition in your business canvas and create a roadmap with actionable insights. Ensure you can show some results in the very near future and then continue to deliver on long-term fundamental improvements.

Setting the right foundations is paramount whenever defining purpose, values and aspirational goals. So, it is worth investing time and resources to create a clear, robust and somehow unique purpose proposition that stakeholders can relate to and you can deliver on.

Choose consciously the starting point and direction of your journey. The why. Recognize those involved and help your stakeholders to co-create and embrace your aspirations. Make it a mutual opportunity. Not a burden.

Understand your stakeholders

Obviously, it’s vital to have a deep understanding of your stakeholders. Especially when their context is changing due to large-scale events. Because those changes will affect their understanding and expectations of your organization. Leading to different behavior. Will they turn away and stop buying from, investing in, supplying to and collaborating with your organization? Or will your stakeholders become your most powerful ambassadors? So, a deep level of understanding of events and the impact on your stakeholders can play a crucial role all throughout the design and execution on the purpose proposition of your company.

Equally important, monitor developments and steps taken within your industry such as new initiatives to protect planet and society, to prevent or accelerate regulation and to influence public’s opinion.

Monitor regulators too. Be aware of proposed and ongoing investigations and of proposed changes to regulations. The actions by your competitors, industry-wide bodies and regulators most likely will raise the bar for your organization’s impact on planet and society. If left unattended, this will reduce your autonomy and profitability.  

About the author

Lead Improvement Coach | Netherlands
Léon leads digital transformations with a core focus on future-proofing organizations and putting purpose into action. Aligning teams, business and IT across all layers of the organization and its key stakeholders with a wide lens and an open mindset. He studied business economics, has IT experience since 2001 and has supported organizations with their transformation journeys since 2003. Léon is passionate about all that is tech, new gadgets and visual design. Currently, Léon is working on connecting purpose and IT as key drivers for organizational change and exploring innovative ways to redefine and remeasure growth and success in a world in urgent need of more businesses moving positive impact front and center.


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