I recently overheard a happy hour conversation between a real estate executive and a colleague about the challenges her brokerage is experiencing around developing a strategy for social impact.

I interrupted to share with her the good news and the bad news: That, for better or worse, she was not alone. 

Companies and organizations of all stripes are struggling to hit the right notes when it comes to doing good by their customers, their community and their employees.

The political and cultural landscape we’re navigating is rapidly changing, and consumer expectations are rising. Flashpoints with the George Floyd murder last summer, the 2020 election, and tensions heightened by the pandemic punctuate the growing need for corporations, nonprofits and other organzations to be clear on where they stand on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and sustainability and governance.

Study after study says a majority of Americans want corporations to state their positions on social issues. Add to that the growing dysfunction and mistrust of do-nothing Washington, and it’s no wonder people are looking to the private sector to fill the void with something resembling leadership.

So how do business leaders respond to this new set of expectations for the C-suite that traditionally has been only about the Benjamins?

From my vantage point, many business leaders—including my real estate executive friend—don’t know yet how to answer that question. Look at the varying, unsteady reactions from the corporate sector when Georgia enacted restrictive voting laws for a recent case study.

But leaders better figure it out quickly. Poor planning—or lack of planning—can lead to  inaction or an unanticipated strategic misstep that can be costly, while the businesses that get it right can earn an edge over the competition for making the right moves. And rest assured, people are watching and waiting for your organization to weigh in.   

That’s why part of our job now involves significantly more advising our clients on how to stay standing when the ground beneath them is shifting so quickly. We’re taking our own medicine, too. Our team is working through how we as a firm can state and act on our mission and values, engaging in early conversations with our staff, and devising a more formal playbook to use with our clients as they inevitably confront their own issues around social impact.

Think of it as a matrix of sorts, anchored by your organization’s core purpose: Are you here to make money? Are you here not to make money but instead provide critical social services? Do you exist to win votes? Align the answer to those questions with the cultural issues on the other axis: What are the values or ethos of your organization? What do your employees expect? Ultimately, what do your customers expect? Cross-check the answers. Look for the overlaps, and find the gaps. 

Of course, it’s not that simple, but it’s a framework to get started, and sometimes, just getting started is the hardest part. 


This article was written by Executive Vice President Natalie Bauer LuceNatalie is a seasoned communications and public affairs strategist with extensive experience at the intersection of government, law, politics and business.