3 tips for communicating about your responsible business

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Next week I am presenting at the monthly meeting of the Organisation for Responsible Business (ORB). I will be talking about my own work, promoting human connection, kindness and communication. These are important areas for creating and delivering social impact.

If your organisation values contributing to a bigger picture, how are you using that impact in your communications? This is relevant whether you are a business, public sector organisation or not-for-profit.

Changing times

I have hope that things are changing:

  • The idea that business is purely about profit looks increasingly outdated.
  • I’m a big fan of Mary Portas and her work, including the Better Business Act campaign that she co-chairs.
  • Membership bodies such as ORB and the rise of B-corp certification show there are now many organisations that genuinely make the world a better place through the way they do business.

“We are seeing a once in a generation shift in what it means to be a business.”

Sanjay Lobo, CEO of OnHand, speaking at last year’s CiPD festival of work

I really like the idea that our world and society appear to be heading in a more positive, collaborative, inclusive direction. Doing things in a way that benefits us all collectively is no longer the sole domain of not-for-profit organisations and charities.

To be honest, I don’t believe it ever was solely down to those organisations, but businesses of all sizes were certainly less likely to even think about it.

Just doing it isn’t enough

There are many angles of this shift to discuss. The one that I am going to focus on here is the communications aspect. Because if you are a business behaving in a responsible way, mindful of your impact on people, the planet and society, it isn’t enough to just behave that way. You should be talking about it too.

This also applies if you’re a not-for-profit.

Why? I hear you ask. Well, there are a number of reasons, including:

  • Your customers and potential customers want to know about it – consumers are increasingly making buying decisions based on who you really are and how you really behave
  • Your current employees and potential employees want to know – they want to feel proud of the organisation they are part of. And job decisions are increasingly being based on considerations of who you are and what you genuinely value.
  • If you talk about what you are doing, other businesses can be inspired by you and can take similar actions – we all learn together.

Top 3 tips

So if you are a communicator within one of these organisations, here are my top 3 tips for you to think about.

1. Be clear on your big picture

Being a responsible, sustainable organisation is about doing your bit towards solving big problems. It’s about understanding that collective action and collaboration is needed and is good for all of us.

It can be easy to get drawn into the operational specifics and forget the wider context. When you communicate about your policies and actions, remember to provide this big picture information. This is about demonstrating that the things you do are not about box-ticking. You are doing them for a reason and because you want to make a contribution.

You don’t have to add this bigger view in a way that is dry or overly ‘strategic’. It can be a simple one-line acknowledgement of your vision or a rallying call to join in. As the communications expert, you have the skills you need to work out the best way to do this for your organisation.

2. Be authentic

“You can’t communicate your way out of a situation you behaved your way into.”

This remains one of my all-time favourite quotes about communication. I don’t claim it as my own, it comes from a speaker at an event I attended years ago about crisis comms. It’s a helpful guiding principle to remember when you are communicating about your organisation’s sustainability and social impact credentials.

As communicators we don’t necessarily have control over the behaviours of people within our organisation. But we can influence which stories we tell. We can point out the impact of creating an image that is not consistent with the reality. Although there are organisations that use ‘spin’ to present themselves differently to how they really are, the value of your reputation really isn’t worth the risk.

This applies equally to internal and external communications. Your own people’s experiences of the culture and the way they are treated is a powerful force.

3. Be inclusive

Communication about responsible credentials is not something that can be simply top-down or seen as commanded from ‘on high’. You need to tell stories from a range of different sources to illustrate the culture of your whole organisation.

This is where your listening skills and ‘nose for a story’ come in. As communicators we often have contact with teams or individuals from across the business. They may not realise how their day-to-day work demonstrates the business’s responsible credentials.

But we do!

I’d love to build a bank of stories that show how responsible organisations communicate. Get in touch to tell me what’s happening in your business or not-for-profit. And if you need help to build your approach to responsible communications, let’s chat.

Until next time


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