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Corporate Responsibility in the Unpredictable Trump Era

Win, Lose, or Draw… I don’t think any of us know what the Trump era will bring.

For companies, a Republican President and Majority signals a pro-business agenda for the next four years. But Trump’s populist approach is unpredictable, and many of his proposed or projected policies could create headwinds for businesses. As I write this, corporate executives in all industries are watching carefully, listening intently, and muddling through mixed messages to develop stances on a myriad of scenarios, as they wonder how his positions on trade, immigration, healthcare, and education (to name just a few) will impact their businesses. Workers and consumers are watching their employers and their brands closely, expecting an increased level of corporate responsibility to ensure community and national well-being. Between government policy and public sentiment, companies will face enormous pressure to “do good” in the months and years to come.

An active and engaged Corporate Social Responsibility strategy is one way that companies leap into the future. It’s often through CSR strategies that companies can develop, test, and implement solutions to societal problems that if solved, would improve business, address headwinds, and elevate communities around them.

With this in mind, here are a few of my predictions for CSR in the Trump era:

1. More companies will invest more resources in education and workforce development in order to attain the talent they need to be competitive.

Many of Trump’s discussed policies could affect the ability of US-based companies to prepare, attract and retain skilled workers. Almost every company, in every industry, will need to be in the business of building “homegrown talent” and will therefore increase their investments education and workforce development. Take just some of the stances reflected in Trump’s inaugural address on Friday — Limiting H1b temporary work visas. Bringing manufacturing jobs back to US shores. Making major infrastructure investments to rebuild bridges, roads, rails and airports. Eliminating the Common Core curriculum in our public schools. If any one of these policies are enacted, much less all four, there will be immediate and intensive demand for many more skilled workers in communities all across the nation. Vacancies in high tech jobs that are already difficult to fill will skyrocket, and advanced manufacturing, engineering, and construction management jobs will demand that many more of our workers are STEM educated, trade certified, and digitally literate. The war for talent, and the deep need to upskill our workforce, are paramount.

As a result, there will be a marked increase in CSR investments that meet the specific needs of the changing labor market. We can expect companies to increase their investments in STEM education in K-12 and higher education, with a focus on women and minorities to broaden the pool. Community colleges and nonprofit workforce development programs that provide industry certifications will be in high demand, and companies will provide financial access to for those in the lower income brackets to grow the talent pool. Programs that teach soft skills, critical thinking skills, and problem solving like in the maker movement or youth entrepreneurship will attract CSR dollars and focus. Finally, more companies will work to upskill their current workforce instead of hiring trained employees from the outside.

2. Companies will do more to keep their employees, and their customers, healthy.

Regardless of the outcome of the Affordable Care Act or programs that may replace it, companies are anticipating that healthcare costs will increase, and it is therefore more important than ever to keep their employees healthy. They also know that every dollar that their customers spend on healthcare and insurance is a dollar not be spent on their products or services. While this trend is not new, we can expect many more bold announcements in the next 12-18 months from companies committing to their employees’ and communities’ health and well-being.

What were once perks for employees only in Fortune 500 companies will now become mainstream, like private gyms and on-site medical care. Employee bonuses and incentives for healthy behaviors and preventative care will become common place. Medical screening and community-based health fairs will be offered locally by companies who are not in the health care sector. Finally, housing, education, and human services organizations will be asked to integrate the provision of health care into their existing programming, and will be provided with increased corporate funding to do so.

3. Companies will go above and beyond regulatory obligations and take public stands on social issues, because millennial workers and consumers will hold them accountable for their corporate citizenship record.

In its 2016 study on Business and Politics, Global Strategy Group found that 81% of Americans believe that corporations should take action to address important issues facing society, and 88% believe that corporations have the power to influence social change. Further, 88% of millennials want to work for companies whose values reflect their own values, and taking a public stance on issues like pay equality, LGBTQ rights, and other human rights drives net-net brand favorability.

For example, we recently saw brands who came out in opposition to North Carolina’s “bathroom law” gain favorability across industries. We’ve seen very public boycotts of companies whose stands are more regressive, like Hobby Lobby. And while regulations in areas including environmental sustainability, community development, or safety may loosen as a result of the Republican wave, companies who retreat from their commitments in these areas face swift and painful consumer backlash. Corporate social stances may not have much influence in Washington over the next four years, but they will have influence everywhere else — more companies will take a stand and communicate their positions on social issues, and they will be rewarded on their balance sheet for doing so.

4. Collective impact, increased collaboration, and new methodologies will continue to gain favor and drive the CSR agenda forward.

The days of making an impact as a sole player in a hierarchical organization are over. No individual program can solve the complexity of problems or attract enough attention to make a dent in societal issues or public sentiment. There is too much noise on social media, too much competition for CSR talent, and too many stakeholders in any single issue for one company to act a lone ranger. Like politics before it, the discipline of CSR requires deep and meaningful partnerships with a range of stakeholders, sometimes odd bedfellows. Further, CSR initiatives can no longer be led inside by just Government Affairs, Public Relations, Community Relations, Human Resources or Marketing teams, but must align and integrate all of these functions in order to have the desired impact. In short, CSR methodology must be revolutionized in order to really address the issues just ahead on the horizon.

Externally, corporate responsibility will continue to shift from individual impact to collective impact, and the collection of partners for any one initiative will expand. The most powerful and enterprising initiatives will include participation from companies from across industries, foundations, nonprofits, government, associations, and the public, partnering to influence opinions, demonstrate impact, and change lives. CSR and nonprofit programming will adopt new ways of thinking and problem solving – borrowing techniques that drive industry innovation like Design Thinking and Lean principles. Old cultural norms that shackle innovation in various fields – large foundations, institutes of higher education, traditional nonprofits, or corporate hierarchies – will be challenged, modernized, and democratized. Because our work is grounded in a vision for the future state of society, CSR professionals will find ourselves leading the pack to integrate partnerships that create collective impact.

So, Win, Lose, or Draw, corporate responsibility is more important than ever, and its impact has the potential to go further for our society than ever before.