Communication has always been the bedrock of good business. After all, sales is essentially communicating to your potential customers what wonderful products and services your business has to offer. (You might also like to have a sneak at our Ethical Selling article.)

But good communication is far more than selling

You need to build good relationships with your suppliers and customers, and that means keeping communication open and transparent.

Similarly, to ensure an engaged and motivated workforce, remembering that engagement and motivation = increased productivity, good communication at all levels is essential.

And there may be a host of other organisations that, from time to time, you need to communicate effectively with such as your bank, HMRC, landlords, accountants etc.

Never has communication with all your stakeholders been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have a problem, you need to communicate with the appropriate people and/or organisations as soon as possible. Your employees, if you have any, must be your number one priority. But if you are struggling to pay bills or about to exceed overdraft facilities etc. you need to speak with the appropriate people as soon as possible.

And not surprisingly, if you have built good relationships with those people, finding mutually acceptable solutions to whatever problems you are facing will be considerably easier.

But there’s another area of communication, both internal and external, that is extremely important but is frequently lacking. And I would suggest, as the economy recovers from this crisis and the world starts to operate with a somewhat different perspective, this is an area of communication that is likely to be a priority with ALMOST EVERYONE your business encounters.

So, what is the important area of communication?

Before I give an answer, let me start by asking you a few questions:

  1. Is your business based on a code of ethics and values that is at the very heart of all your company’s operations?
  2. Is that code of ethics communicated effectively both internally and externally?
  3. Are you certain that everyone in your company understands and adheres to the company’s values?
  4. And, of course, if you haven’t identified a code of ethics and values, when are you going to do so?

How you look after your people (the workforce, the local community and society at large); and how you consider your company’s environmental impacts, has been increasingly important over the last few years and is likely to rapidly increase in significance.

During the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen individuals stepping forward and volunteering to support the NHS and the local community. Similarly, we have seen companies of all sizes making sterling efforts to do the same. The community spirit has been amazing.

But we have also seen selfish business owners showing virtually no consideration for their staff; individuals stockpiling; blatant profiteering. Football clubs, for example, that have put their lowest paid workers on furloughed leave while players and senior executives continue to receive exorbitant salaries each week. (This hopefully may change, but with just a few exceptions it is still very much the case at the time of writing.)

John Elkington, a world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development, also known for introducing the term Triple Bottom Line, has today published his latest book Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism. 

John says:

COVID-19 has been labelled as a Black Swan event, coming out of the blue for many people (even though such pandemics have long been predicted) and triggering exponentially negative outcomes.

The inverse of a Black Swan, […] is a Green Swan—triggering exponentially positive outcomes.

Our current form of capitalism is manipulated by the most powerful forces. And just as the goods and services we take from each other are not free, the value we extract from nature (water, land, fossil fuels and so on) comes with a cost.

The aim of Regenerative Capitalism is to stop focusing on short-term profits and correct injustices in the current economic landscape by considering all stakeholders which includes the use of natural capital such as the community and the planet.

This, one might argue, is the next step forward from CSR, or responsible business – our preferred terminology.  

But, however our current capitalist system changes, and change it certainly must, the good and the bad that we have seen during this pandemic will be remembered for a long, long time.

Research shows that in an externally generated crisis, those companies perceived as the most honest and ethical bounce back the quickest.  (And although I have said perceived, please be aware that your customers and potential customers can no longer be greenwashed. Authenticity is key. You may have a nice statement on your website or your Annual Company Accounts, but if the reality doesn’t match publicity, this will very quickly be uncovered!)

And so, please, honestly ask yourself those four questions again. Do ensure you have got a code of ethics in place and ensure it is communicated internally and externally. Now is a good time to get started.

And if you are one of the companies that has been able to step forward and help the national effort during this pandemic, then that should be communicated. As we have said before, don’t hide your light under a bushel! But authenticity is crucial.

‘Business as usual’ is no longer an option. Ensure your business stands out from the crowd to ensure you achieve and maintain competitive advantage. Ensure ethics are central to your business operations.

But don’t forget: