Take ownership of your company story

Posted in Reporting and Employee on 23 October 2019 By Susannah Gerner, Client Services Director

As a company on a growth trajectory, seeking investment or preparing to IPO, and the added transparency and pressure this will bring, defining and articulating your purpose and corporate narrative is more important than ever.

Your corporate narrative is your equity story. As you look to attract investors, encourage great people to join your business, to engage customers, partners, suppliers, this story plays a crucial role.

These are your stakeholders. They are fundamental to your business, so how they perceive you, and how they feel about you, is of paramount importance.

And contexts are shifting. There are dynamic forces at play in our society that are influencing how people view conduct, businesses themselves and even whole industries.

You can take action to control that perception, and own your story, or you can leave it and let it evolve organically – along with the risk that entails.

A new level of transparency

As the breadth and depth of information public companies have to report continues to grow, corporate narratives are becoming more complicated and the need to communicate in a clear and transparent way has never been greater.

We are moving away from traditional financial disclosures towards articulating the broader social purpose of a company. Regulation is requiring listed companies to talk about how they establish and embed purpose, values and strategy, and align them with corporate culture; how they demonstrate workforce and stakeholder engagement; and how they generate and preserve value over the long-term.

Meanwhile, ESG (environmental, social and governance) is transforming investing – the number of assets under management that are invested sustainably has increased by over a third in two years, in part from a belief that these values will support a company's long-term performance.

We are seeing the impact of a new, more socially-conscious generation. Add to this the rise of social media and a window into every organisation through the likes of Glassdoor, and there is visibility and accountability for companies like never before.

These forces have been building for some time, but because of recent developments – from Greta Thunberg, BlackRock’s Larry Fink and climate crisis strikes, to continued corporate scandals and a growing regulatory stick – it has reached a point of fever pitch.

Whether you are preparing to list or not, this is the world in which we now operate – and it requires a shift in mindset in how you tell your company story.

Driven by purpose

A lot of this change pivots around ‘purpose’. Purpose defines why your business exists beyond profit – your societal impact. It should inspire and deliver value to your stakeholders.

A 2017 PwC survey of CEOs revealed 63% believed their company’s purpose made a positive contribution to their revenue growth – and given the proliferation of conversations around purpose and focus from investors, that number would surely be higher today.

Lloyds Banking Group have ‘Help Britain Prosper’, John Lewis Partnership’s is ‘the happiness of all its members’, while energy company SSE’s is ‘to provide the energy needed today while building a better world of energy for tomorrow’. Then there’s Masonite’s brilliant ‘to help people walk through walls’ (they’re a door company).

Whatever the actuality of your purpose, its importance as a foundation and focal point of your corporate narrative cannot be understated. However, purpose is not a marketing strapline or a tool to reposition the brand, it needs to be connected to everything you do and authentic – driving business decisions, core to your strategy and awash in your culture.

Proactive not reactive

For companies on a growth trajectory, or indeed preparing for an IPO, this new level of transparency waits around the corner. My advice is to start the process now – set yourself up for success by starting to act, and communicate, like a public company.

Identify and articulate your purpose, start speaking to investors about the non-financial aspects of your business, engage with your stakeholders – and make sure it is done with the honesty and authenticity that is the currency of today.

Even businesses that have a lot of this already in place will benefit from revisiting it. Dynamic companies need to keep on top of their strategy and story as they adapt or look to become industry leaders – or even disrupters. You only need to look at a company like Uber to see how potential complacency on culture during rapid growth and transformation can catch up and cause reputational damage down the line. Your narrative evolves with your business and aspirations.

It needs to be led by the C-suite. They need to own it, lead by example and cascade it through the business. Grassroots insight is still invaluable, and executives need to be prepared to listen to employees who may have a better grasp on day-to-day aspects of the business.

Five top tips

Once you have all aspects defined and articulated you are ready for the next step, here are my five top tips for communicating your story:

1. Be transparent: Communicate the steps being taken to make a positive and sustainable impact

2. Be accessible and engaging: Connect readers to your narrative through intelligent design

3. Be consistent: To all your audiences across all channels

4. Be inclusive: Evidence value creation for all stakeholders

5. Be 365: See communication as an all year round exercise, not a programme of projects

Business transparency will only continue to grow and your corporate narrative is your most valuable communication tool. Take ownership of it and use it to drive your business forward.

For more information contact Susannah Gerner at [email protected].

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