COVID-19 has brought about tremendous change to our economic and social fabrics. Businesses today face a new reality, one that should put sustainability at the forefront of their strategies.

Resilience during these unprecedented times will largely be shaped by a company’s sustainability, which is not defined by its corporate social responsibility (CSR), but rather by how well sustainability is integrated into the larger business strategy.

Financial and risk management alone cannot guarantee resilience, an organisation’s values and culture, its organisational and learning structures, its digital infrastructure and the agility in deploying innovative solutions are key factors in resilience.

This webinar highlighted the pivotal role sustainability plays during socioeconomic instability and touch upon the various elements that organisations should be addressing. This webinar also used real-life examples to demonstrate the value of embedding sustainability into business strategy and the importance of having a multi-stakeholder approach, starting with employees’ well-being.

Some of the points that were addressed include the following:

  • How the global health pandemic of COVID-19 redefined resilience
  • The death of CSR and the rise of the stakeholder approach
  • Sustainability as the driving engine for innovation and growth

What we learnt:
  • As a response to the global pandemic and resulting budget constraints, many businesses have closed or reduced their sustainability functions. This demonstrates that as a function / practice, sustainability is often an element that is bolted-on to operations, as opposed to being embedded into business operations.
  • When sustainability is not embedded into business operations; including into the financial management system and wider strategy, it is often built from a marketing and PR perspective, which dilutes its real impact.
  • A prerequisite for a business to be innovative, creative, and remain competitive is to adopt a multi-stakeholder management approach. This means assessing the needs and demands of both internal and external stakeholders.
  • Organisations should treat their employees as their first and most vital stakeholders. By addressing employee well-being, businesses are equipping themselves towards being more productive, agile and flexible in the face of external disruptions.
  • In light of the negative impact of the global pandemic, businesses should be looking to create a culture and environment that allows their employees to thrive which will in turn translate into flexibility, creativity, and growth for the business.
  • Organisational resilience only thrives if the wider culture and business environment accommodates and allows for it. This organisational culture cannot be built overnight or retrospectively. As such, it is vital to nurture such an environment in order to prepare businesses for disruption and unprecedented change.
    • This can be achieved through transparent communication and open channels to discuss the effects of the continuous disruptive change brought on by the global pandemic.
    • To help organisations understand their employees’ needs and concerns for the future, whyise developed a free comprehensive indicator that can be accessed here.
  • The key elements of corporate resilience include the following, although none of them can solely contribute to organisational sustainability
    • Collapsible structures: It is important to have functions that are collapsible, on the chance that they become unprofitable or are affected by external variables. Employees within these functions should be “right-sized” and reskilled to support in other more relevant functions.
    • Digital infrastructures: Having robust digital channels allows for businesses to be more adaptable in delivering their goods or services uninterrupted.
    • Cash-flow management: A viable business model and sustainable growth can only be achieved if sustainability is embedded into the financial management of the organisation.
  • Companies whose revenue-generating streams have been affected by the pandemic should reflect upon how they can pivot the services they offer to stay relevant and address an immediate need. The ability to do this through repurposing, reskilling, and upskilling both employees and their functions will largely be determined by how agile an organisation’s governance structure is.
  • If an organisation is impactful but not sustainable, the impact will not be valuable in the long-term. Similarly, if an organisation is profitable but not sustainable, that financial success will be lost in the long-term. Corporate resilience hinges upon embedding sustainability into business operations and striking the right balance between long-term impact and profitability.