Andrew Leach, partner at Hudson Sandler and Head of HS Crisis, wrote for the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce.
Until the unfolding of the dreadful events of the last few months as coronavirus has swept the globe, ‘E’ was the most talked about letter of ESG.
The Environment and the response of companies to the climate crisis was top of the corporate agenda with businesses, both through their own initiatives and reflecting the concerns of their customers and investors.
Not that Social and Governance issues were being ignored, but they lacked the priority and urgency of tackling Environmental concerns. How quickly things change.
While the Environment and the corporate response to climate change remain huge medium and long -term issues, the impact of COVID-19 inevitably currently dominates the short- term thinking of business.
In the world today, the ‘S’ of ESG is to the fore. In the midst of this crisis companies are already being judged on their Social responsibility and how they behave to their staff, their customers, their suppliers and to their communities
Correct communication with the people closest to a company is key and the health and wellbeing of employees should be the starting point for any business. In the current febrile atmosphere lack of clarity is confusing and dangerous. Employees want to know that companies care about them and the leadership needs to be visible.
Businesses must communicate in a timely and clear manner. Whether that is talking face-to-face with staff where permitted or making use of the plethora of technology which is enabling remote working. While communication does not need to be constant - which could distract from workstreams - it does need to be frequent. It should also be honest and transparent, never speculative or repeating rumours or potential misinformation.
In communicating beyond employees, companies need to make full use of their own communication platforms, most commonly their website. This could range from a simple reassuring statement on the home page to more detailed information and, if appropriate, advice to customers regarding the status of products and services.
Communication also needs to be a two-way thing so businesses need to be available and visibly contactable. While this projects an open and transparent character for a business, dialogue and shared experiences can be extremely valuable in creating and evolving responses.
No one is expected to have all the answers in this current crisis, but businesses will be judged on how they are responding and communication is vital to that. Those which prioritise Social responsibility towards employees and their communities are likely to emerge with the reputational credibility which will provide a solid foundation for them during the recovery which will come.