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One thing I know about the corporate world is that at the end of the day, it is results driven, unforgiving and shrewd. Most of my executive colleagues are studying for this or that course because they know that if they don’t, some junior with a better qualification will become their senior in an instant. The corporate world is driven by results. No matter how unfair Covid-19 has been to business this year, I can assure you that at the end of this year, boards will want results. You know it and I know it.
Those that have not achieved optimally will either be dismissed (or as the new politically correct term is now called – ‘ushered out’ – so they will be ushered out) or suffer a stain on their name. The end of 2020 will not be kind to anyone, I’m afraid. Yes, we have seen disruption, but ways have to be found to navigate crisis while bearing in mind the bottom line – what results did I get for the money I spent? At this time, CSI managers are ‘managers in crisis mode’, giving emergency funds while gathering hard-to-find facts and figuring out which parts of their 2020 plans may still be salvaged.
We have come to the point in the spread of Covid-19 where emergency funding must now move in tandem with planned programmes – programmes that may differ markedly from what you had in mind for the year. The two strongest currents in funding are now food security and enabling matriculants. Partnerships are being struck with the Departments of Education and of Social Development as businesses realise that the greatest need in the wake of the disruption will be getting our matriculants through their exams – and helping people survive.
This does not mean every CSI manager is compelled to flow with these currents. You had plans for the year – how can they now be adapted to remain relevant in this new scenario? Budgets have been hastily spent and now boards are keeping you in lengthy meetings – Zoom or otherwise – as you try to figure out what the rest of the year should look like.
(Personally, I am only too glad to have temporarily escaped some of those board meetings. Now I can meet the same people right where I am – and am not subjected to those dreadful Marie or ginger biscuits, and those white mini-cups of lukewarm tea that require me to pour two – can somebody change the crockery!!)
Keep your report in mind
Whether by Zoom or in person, your reporting has to be done and accountability remains. In the midst of the disruption, you’re also under constant pressure to ‘go digital’. Don’t be unduly intimidated by the term. You’re already digital in many ways, and digitalisation in itself will not give you a strategy going forward.
Here’s my advice for regrouping and salvaging your 2020/21 plans:
Do a due diligence review, looking critically at your current situation:
- Where are you in terms of budget and achievements so far?
- What are the ‘givens’ of the current scenario?
- What part of your 2020 plans can go ahead?
- What adaptations will be needed?
- What aspects of digitalisation can you use optimally, and …
- … in relation to the last point, who can you talk to to learn more?
Now get more specific about the budget:
- What was your budget for the year?
- How much of it has been diverted to Covid-19 relief efforts?
- How are you planning to report on your Covid-19 spend? Start marshalling your facts and figures.
- With the budget you have left over, what can you do that will get results and satisfy the demands of the board?
Now let’s think about what boards will be looking for.
Boards are never going to be merciful. Trust me, they will evaluate you in relation to your peers and compare your end-of-year report with theirs. Some tips on what to do in the next few months:
- Educational programmes will fare well. Choose which end you want to look into – not everyone needs to enable matriculants.
- You might enable university students who cannot access their results –launch an emergency fund to pay outstanding fees.
- Fund a programme that helps just those 2019 matriculants who intended to rewrite their matric exams this year.
- Consider partnership with tutor institutions.
- Look closely at your 2019/20 plans and see which areas you can salvage.
- Be seen in major reports. An independent report on your Covid-19 efforts will stand you in good stead in the future.
- Publicise your activities! Yes, on a personal level we give quietly, but in business, it is essential that communities and companies know what you are doing. –
- Let other people speak on your behalf through your publicity.
- You might consider preparing only a Covid-19 due diligence report for the end of this year, and work on a more comprehensive CSI report for presentation at the end of the first quarter, or even June, in 2021. This will give you time to get all your ducks in a row.
- Once you have identified your plan until April/June 2021, start preparing for the later part of that journey. Work on developing contacts and relationships and work out a strategy that goes beyond emergency relief.
- If you’ve decided to let Covid-19 be the focus of this year’s report, do the research and get your facts straight. It won’t be enough to say ‘R1 million allocated to Such-and-such NGO for Covid-19’, you know it and so do I. How many trips were made? What was the value and the content of the packages distributed? How many households and individuals received aid? Boards want figures.
- You might keep the two presentations separate, or you might merge the Covid-19 report with your longer-term CSI report in May/June 2021.
Some absurdities doing the rounds
The other day, a high-profile industry executive called to ask what I knew about a certain app his company was considering purchasing. An organisation had convinced this company about the wonders of their system, and how it would totally transform the way they did business in the post-Covid-19 world. The cost? Twenty million rand!
The executive was aware of the increasing pressure to go digital. I said, Look, we went digital back in 1993 when the first personal computer was made available. Now the world is just going mental. Don’t spend that kind of money – no app could possibly be worth that much.
My advice is know your company’s priorities before you buy into digital packages that may solve problems you do not have. Everything starts with your company’s unique priorities and plans and once those are clear, then you consider what you need to make these happen.
With all that said, I’m happy to share that Corporate Social Responsibility News South Africa has launched a consulting division, 360 Republic.
We help CSI managers navigate the digital world so that they derive maximum value from their CSI budgets – taking a 360° view of the country, the CSI industry, and your company.
Who gets to stay?
A closing thought about remaining relevant in a world of retrenchments. In the company I worked for 20 years ago, there was a fellow called Patrick who would come to work literally stinking of alcohol. When retrenchment time came around, many in my department were let go, but somehow, Patrick was retained.
One day in the corridor I overheard a conversation about Patrick. How was it, one wanted to know, that Patrick was still on the staff, hungover as he was half the time? The other gave an apt answer: It’s because, drunk as he is, Patrick gets results. For those who get results, a company will even pay for rehab if necessary – as my company did for Patrick. That is the cruel corporate world of board reporting.