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Nitish Mukherjee

The author is a Board Member, Advisor, Coach & Mentor. The content of this article is his personal opinion

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BW Businessworld

Dark Roast Double Shot: Who Should Sing the Ballad of Hope?

The role of business in the lives of people is no longer just good products and swag but to provide tangible proof of being a good, contributing and responsible citizen.

Photo Credit : PopTika/Shutterstock

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Lazy mornings had weaved its way into the fabric of my life as if it had forever been so. The morning dash to the airports, the serpentine queues at security gates, the interminable dozing in red-eye flights, early meetings in crowded boardrooms, waiting for the car to arrive at pick-up points, breakfast meetings, they were all already distant memories. First everyone said this was abnormal, then they said that this was the new normal and some said that this was a transitory phase as we moved to a new normal. The truth is that the pandemic caused a disruption and forced us to change our way of life to survive and we hustled to adapt. What happens though when things around us evolve over time? How and when do we respond to it and alter our ways?

It was 9AM and having already contorted my body and manipulated my breathing to build immunity, scrutinised the rather slim versions of newspapers, I was gently oscillating in my favourite rocking chair with a steaming cup of dark roast double shot at my elbow as my thumb guided me through my LinkedIn timeline. Someone had shared a video released by a major soft drink seller that had generated high response so I just clicked to view it. It was a rather well-made film in montage format with a nice background track. Their aim was very clearly to give a sense of hope and celebrate the human spirit. The comments section quite rightly gushed, touched with the emotional appeal so well crafted into the content. After all, who doesn’t like to feel that momentary upliftment that the magic of words, comfort of music and the empathy of warmly lit human pictures can create. I wasn’t spared a touch of that sensation as well. But rocking back and forth has that uncanny ability to shift things around in your mind. Quite like swilling a drink before you taste it.

Big brands have always in moments of crisis come with messages of hope. It was a way to convey their positivity, support and sense of altruism. So, why should one even question the wisdom of doing so now? One good reason is because our world has changed; as has the view on big corporations and our expectations from them.

There was a time when you needed resources of a significant order to create and take any message across to people. Only governments or big businesses had the means to do that. Today all that has been democratised. Any individual with passion and talent can create content that can blaze across the world in hours. Musicians, poets, videographers, celebrities, professionals, amateurs et al are individually or collectively doing just that.

The other really big difference is the erosion of trust that has happened between big corporations, their owners, their leaders and the people at large. The profits, the lifestyles, the influence is there for everyone to see. As is the greater awareness of the consequences and contribution that the communities suffer from and provide to for business. The context of accountability is of a different order now. The role of business in the lives of people is no longer just good products and swag but to provide tangible proof of being a good, contributing and responsible citizen. The times have changed and it may be that we have arrived at the juncture where the ballads of hope are best left for the people to sing while business should focus on actions that bring real long-term dividends to the communities that it so vigorously draws upon.  

While many companies made some smart moves during the pandemic to build healthier balance sheets, not many scored so well on their citizenship score cards. The future of corporations and businesses will largely depend on the latter. There is much to do, but now is the time to start focussing on a few, in good earnest and in your own interest.

Employees are your lifeblood

The context of employees should actually be seen in a wider context than those in direct employment. It should include trade partners, contractual labour, associates. Anyone whose physical or intellectual prowess powers your business. Have their physical and mental needs been uppermost in your mind? Have you given them a sense of security and all the help that they need to combat the scourge? Or have you found ways to manage with minimal resources and effort? Looked left and right and done just enough to keep it going? Profits cannot continue to remain your only priority. Shareholders’ returns can wait; stakeholder interests are your primary responsibility. If you fail your employees today, you will undoubtedly struggle tomorrow.

Communities are your reason to exist

Governments are falling short, administrations are withering, science is floundering, yet communities are coming together to support each other. Where have you been in this battle? Are you in the trenches fighting it out with them? Bringing your resources, expertise and gratitude to call it out as payback time? Memories built in crisis leave indelible impressions. The chasm between big business and consumers has progressively widened. The time to bridge it is now.

Conscience is your only pole star

Navigating the rapidly changing world of expectations and accountability will need a complete reorientation in corporate thinking. Authenticity and answerability have to be your guiding principles. As you come under greater scrutiny only your conscience can guide the way. A few companies have a Chief Ethics Officer but even that will fall short because ethics operates on a given code and at times that itself can be a limitation. Often in the most difficult cases the judges feel hamstrung by the tenets of law in delivering real justice. I would argue for the enlightened to have a Chief Conscience Officer whose advice to executive is free from any encumbrance and focused on what is right.

Time doesn’t stand still, neither does change. The ferocity of the pandemic and its many lessons have catalysed many changes. Corporations and businesses have to respond with equal sensitivity and agility. Sustainability will depend on deeper understanding of the responsibilities and creating a framework of governance that delivers to it. There is no harm is singing a ballad of hope. Just make sure you have earned the right to sing it.                                                  

You can DM me on LinkedIn or write in to [email protected]

(Nitish Mukherjee is a Board Member, Advisor, Coach & Mentor. The content of this article is his personal opinion.)