The new normal? Lessons for businesses beyond the pandemic
First it was the Circuit Breaker.
Then Phases One, Two, and Three. Followed by Phase Two (Heightened Alert). Next came the Stabilisation Phase. After the staccato of changing safe management measures, we are finally coming to what—for the first time in two years—looks like normalcy. And by “normalcy”, we really mean “what we are used to”.
But is this version of normalcy what we should strive for?
Never let a good crisis go to waste, as Sir Winston Churchill famously said. With all the negative impact of the pandemic, there was also goodness that arose. For example, over 130 firms returned S$97 million in Jobs Support Scheme payouts to allow the government’s financial support to go to businesses that needed it the most. Accelerated were digitalisation efforts by businesses, hawkers included.
As we begin to live with Covid-19 and so stand at an inflection point, this is a golden opportunity for businesses to strip away the bad and build upon the good—to Reflect, Reframe, and Rethink a new normal.
Reflect on what drives your business
Among the many issues that the pandemic exposed is this irrefutable truth: business and society are deeply interconnected.
In times of prosperity, consumers had their eyes peeled for the latest trends and gadgets. In times of crisis, they peeled toilet rolls off the shelves. As uncertainty loomed with no end in sight, consumer spending was cut, thus so was the lifeblood of businesses. Cost reduction measures came in the form of employee paycuts and layoffs, which further eroded consumer confidence, creating a negative feedback loop that spiralled downwards between the two.
What this means is that businesses, be they multinationals or small and medium enterprises, are not above the communities in which they operate. Indeed, businesses would stand to benefit from supporting these communities, generating a ripple effect in building collective resilience and growth. After all, a company is nothing but a shell without the people who contribute to it and that it contributes to.
Ultimately, business and society flourish—and flounder—together.
The signs are looking good on this front. NVPC’s Corporate Giving Study 2021, conducted with 1,014 companies last year amid the pandemic, found that businesses positively affected by the crisis, such as those in the financial & insurance and information & communications industries, gave more compared to others.
This suggests that businesses understand the interdependency that they have with society, and are looking to give back to the communities that helped them to do well when the crisis hit.
That’s not to say that companies on the downward stroke of the K-shaped economic recovery have their hands tied. They could drive their own rebound by exploring non-monetary ways of giving, such as the integration and institutionalisation of doing good as part of their business.
Reframe how business is done
Part of NVPC’s Company of Good’s 4 ‘I’ Framework, integration and institutionalisation are particularly effective and sensible for businesses to implement, as they do not have to expend additional resources like financial or human capital to do so.
This is possible because doing good would have been built into business-as-usual activities.
For example, cosmetics company Shiseido Asia Pacific developed beauty products for people with skin concerns like scars and pigmentation—achieving double wins of gaining new customers and improving their confidence. Shiseido also engaged in inclusive hiring by partnering with Daughters of Tomorrow—which helps women from low-income families to be self-sufficient—to place one of its beneficiaries in a full-time role.
As a first step, companies can look into their value chains and assess how they can add value—not just for the bottom line, but for the common good—at every stage. With one in two businesses still engaging in corporate giving on an ad-hoc basis, they will do well to shift towards embedding goodness into their business strategy and operations.
In fact, this has positive implications on a related business area: environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.
Rethink why your business exists
ESG is rapidly rising in importance, even more so during the pandemic. Besides revealing the interdependence between business and society, Covid-19 also brought about a record decline in global carbon emissions, as industrial and transportation activities slowed amid restrictions.
In line with such correlations, businesses were asked about their impact on people and the planet—for better or for worse. According to the Corporate Giving Study 2021, only 14 per cent of respondents thought that their businesses had contributed to the well-being of society.
There are growing expectations for businesses to play a larger role on issues around climate change, economic inequality and social justice. These expectations are consistent across stakeholder groups: consumers are buying from brands based on their values and beliefs, employees are choosing to work for firms aligned with their purpose, and investors are looking to back companies making net positive impact. It is no longer enough to solely serve shareholder interests. Instead, companies should create shared value for all stakeholders.
Business leaders must rethink why their companies exist, and whether the world is a better place because of their continued existence. The stage is set for businesses to emerge as a force for good across environmental, human, social and economic dimensions—to realise their corporate purpose.
To this end, Company of Good is working with the SG Together Alliance for Action on Corporate Purpose in developing a national framework and blueprint to enable Singapore-based firms to become more resilient, sustainable and value-creating. The first iteration of the National Framework and Blueprint on Corporate Purpose is expected to be publicly launched in January 2023.
As we move beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, let us re-imagine the future of business: a New Normal in which every organisation is driven by purpose in the City of Good.