Corporate Leaders, Rise to the Challenge

Corporate leaders, business, society, social responsibility, ESG, health crisis By Concepción Galdón PhD., IE Sustainable Impact Teaching and Research Lead, Director of IE’s Center for Social Innovation

By Concepción Galdón PhD., IE Sustainable Impact Teaching and Research Lead, Director of IE’s Center for Social Innovation

Corporate Leaders, Rise to the Challenge. With kind acknowledgements to IE Business School, IE University

There are times in life when your attitudes and decisions reflect who you are with more clarity than the cleanest mirror could. At those times, people around you can see you—the real you. And whatever they see, they won’t forget. This is one such time. The coronavirus crisis is putting society to the test.

A testing time for corporate leaders

Our individual behavior is being tested, as is that of the organizations and companies where we come together. And we must all rise to the challenge. We are all struggling. Individuals are. Companies are, too. And we must all rise to the challenge. As corporations make decisions to cope with the difficult economic environment, they need to ask themselves what impact these decisions might have going forward. Behaving as a responsible member of society is now, more than ever, not only the right thing to do but also a true competitive advantage that will set some brands apart from the rest for customers and workers alike. Of course, this is easier said than done.

A challenge to survival

The present public health crisis is generating a socio-economic context that challenges the survival of companies in most sectors. Many are being hit hard by the change in social behavior brought about by the measures aimed at increasing social distance. Some are directly impacted by the illness itself or by the fear of it. Most, if not all, have revised their revenue generation projections for 2020 to numbers that simply do not add up when compared to costs. Responsible managers are, as I write, looking at their numbers, looking at themselves in the mirror, and trying to make ends meet.

It would be superficial and simplistic to say that leaders in all companies should avoid firing anyone or discontinuing services to clients who can’t pay. Even more people will lose their jobs if companies go bankrupt. So, how to assess their decisions?

The truth is that not all companies are made equal

Corporate Leaders, Rise to the Challenge. Business, society, social responsibility, ESG, health crisis

It’s not the same thing to run a young startup or small business as it is to run a big corporation with decades of history. And the main difference between the two is the ability to refinance themselves in the financial markets. Some companies risk going down. Others risk closing the year with losses that they can overcome with some leverage from banks. The risk-benefit analysis comes out very differently for each of them.

The same corporations who have access to financial markets tend to be those who have made strong statements in the last few years about their purpose and commitment to society. The time for “greenwashing” and boasting of promoting SDGs by simply putting up colored boxes on a website is over.

We’re all about to see who’s who, and it will matter to us and to corporations

Numerous studies have confirmed the influence of perceptions about CSR dimensions on companies’ stakeholders’ loyalty, such as customers and employees. In the case of customers, this impact is partly mediated by corporate image and reputation. For employees, it’s mediated by perceptions of justice, and organizational identification.

To summarise, if your company is risking losses that it will be able to manage via financial markets, be careful of overreacting by making socially damaging decisions. You might very well be undermining your ability to generate revenue and attract talent in the very near future.

Leaders: The decisions you make

However, decisions you make that prove your purpose and commitment to a fair and sustainable society will grant you extra muscle to overcome a longer-term crisis with the loyalty of your clients and employees. Not every company has the opportunity to decide between one path and another. If you are a manager-leader in one of the companies who can, your responsibility is even greater.

Stand up to the challenge!

Concepción Galdón, Director of the IE Center for Social Innovation, digital divide
Concepción Galdón

Learn more about the Council on Business & Society

The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.  

Member schools are all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.

The Council on Business & Society member schools:
- Asia-Pacific: Keio Business School, Japan; School of Management Fudan University; China; ESSEC Business School Asia-Pacific, Singapore.
- Europe: ESSEC Business School, France; IE Business School, Spain; Trinity Business School, Ireland; Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.
- Africa: Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa; ESSEC Africa, Morocco. 
- South America: FGV-EAESP, Brazil.

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