All posts by rachel_eaton

Event report: Diversity & Inclusion for asset managers

D&I for fund managers was our 6th event focused on the link between reputation and culture. This time we focused on the asset management community and private equity in particular with a panel representing the views of investors and advisors who believe that the time has come for firms to focus on their own D&I, not only that of their portfolio companies.

From a reputation perspective we believe it is important for firms to communicate to stakeholders that they are acting on D&I, even if they are currently far from perfect. Better to convey the message that your firm is an engaged improver than a head-in-the-sand denier. As the FRC articulated in its report on the state of FTSE reporting, ‘At one end, a sophisticated understanding of diversity as the best utilisation of talent and a significant strategic issue is evident. At the other end, a lack of engagement, leading to a minimalistic, ‘tick-box’ approach.’ From our perspective, there are plenty of ways to get the message out there as well as to engage on D&I issues internally.

The purpose backlash and why it’s important

Check out social media, flick on the radio or read a business publication and you will find new evidence every day that the global apocalypse is coming, whether it’s the disappearance of insects, or the melting of the glaciers. It’s basically all terrifying.

Companies that can articulate what they are doing to help mitigate the long list of threats to our very existence: climate change, plastic and food waste, poverty, etc. are quietening their activist shareholders and cheering us all up in the process.

As part of this effort to line up on the side of the hopeful, many more businesses are finding and communicating their ‘corporate purpose’ which seems to be motivated by 3 main objectives:

  • Build brand loyalty among customers
  • Attract and retain talent – particularly ‘millennials’
  • And post ‘that’ BlackRock letter from Larry Fink; keep activist investors happy

But it’s not always easy to summon up a ‘purpose’ that people are going to buy into if you haven’t ever got beyond ‘market share’ or some other financial measure. Let’s face it, most businesses in this tricky global economy (and in the Brexit plagued UK) deserve a parade for simply staying afloat.

This would not be so bad except for the fact that there is a cohort of entrepreneurs globally founding companies that have purpose baked into their core business models. Everyone has their favourite examples, some of mine are TOMS (a pair of shoes donated for every pair purchased),  ToastAle (beer made from bread waste), InspiraFarms (off-grid cold chain) and Global Parametrics (insurance inclusion for poor rural farmers) –  I could go on to list many amazing companies innovating in areas such as renewable energy, sustainable food sources, sustainable farming, I’m sure you get the picture.

The issue here is that anyone who cares about the plight of the planet and our species survival (not to put too fine a point on it), naturally wants to spend their days working for an organisation that is part of the solution, not adding to the problem.

So there really is an ungainly tussle going on for the brightest and most engaged new workers.  Alongside this pressure is the knowledge that customers, business or consumer, also naturally want to reward ‘good’ companies with their patronage. And if that wasn’t enough, the largest asset owners are choosing investment managers based on their ESG credentials – basically how well they pay attention to Environmental, Social and Governance impacts.

Movements like B Corp are approaching a tipping point with a globally understood process for identifying ‘good’ companies through a detailed certification system. Now that some of the biggest (and coolest) companies are on board (Danone, Natura, Patagonia etc.), the sceptics are coming around. Or are they?

Anand Giridharadas, author of the book, Winners Take All  sets out a useful challenge to the notion of corporate do-gooding that also helps separate the different ways companies approach the issue.

His thinking is that corporate philanthropy and purpose are often more about the optics than any real systemic change to the way companies have always behaved to their various stakeholders. His pushback is that rather than ‘purpose’ as an afterthought, (supporting youth initiatives for example), if companies paid their lowest paid workers more, or eschewed zero hours contracts, families would be better placed to look after their dependents without corporate philanthropy.

His is not a lone voice. At the World Economic Forum in January, Dutch Historian, Rutger Bregman departed from the expected script on a TIME panel, noting how people in Davos talked about sustainability but flew there in 150 private jets and raised issues on participation, justice, equality and transparency, but “nobody raises the issue of tax avoidance and the rich not paying their share.”

Speaking truth to power is an essential part of advising on corporate purpose. It’s not OK to exploit one stakeholder group, like squeezing suppliers for 90-day payment terms, and then making a big song and dance about a campaign to support entrepreneurs. That amounts to robbing from Peter to make a very public self-serving gesture to Paul. It’s also going to end in tears because the very people that companies are seeking to impress (the bright young things and loyal customers) will pretty quickly catch a whiff of this reputational disconnect and opt out.

The corporate conscience realm of CSR (corporate social responsibility) and corporate philanthropy
(giving some of the profits back to good causes) – are gradually yielding to a more holistic practice given a label in financial circles of ESG – a way of measuring the positive impacts that are created by the business.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when ESG standards translate into financial incentives, more senior executives start to sit up and take notice. In September last year, the FT reported that Danone was the first multi-national corporation to tie its risk rating to its cost of capital. Global ratings agencies (like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s) are now accepting B Corp certification as due diligence of a high standard of ESG performance, acknowledging that it will lead to a business being genuinely more sustainable in the long term. As a result, the piece noted a €2bn Positive Incentive Loan (PIL) issued by Danone in February 2018 attracted a discount – or put more simply, Danone was rewarded for its B Corp commitments by paying less for its credit.

The last word on purpose has to go to the SDGs – the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which have helped create a consistent global framework for action. What’s important about movements like B Corp and the SDGs is that they are galvanising business leaders and entrepreneurs around the stuff that’s really important. In the midst of all these efforts to contribute positively, it is important to look for signs that companies are balanced in their commitments and not jumping on a purpose bandwagon. But a note of caution, choose wisely – we don’t have enough time to sit back and see how this plays out, there’s just too much at stake.

Narda Shirley is Founder & MD of London and Nairobi based Gong Communications and a B Corp Ambassador.

This article was first published by the IPRA https://www.ipra.org/news/itle/itl-312-corporate-purpose-why-the-backlash-is-important/

How does your firm stack up for Diversity & Inclusion (D&I)?

 

Are you striding purposefully towards an enlightened new ESG frontier or ducking from view because your team and your investments don’t bear close scrutiny?

Join us for breakfast to debate whether D&I is the new ESG  for fund managers by emailing us here.

The latest FRC corporate governance code, calls for a focus on workplace culture and diversity, listing visible characteristics (like gender) alongside others that aren’t apparent in a team photo (like cognitive diversity or social mobility). Organisational psychologists counsel for well led teams with different perspectives and experiences to spur innovation and productivity, finding new angles and  new market opportunities.

In November, our panel Chair Toby Mitchenall, senior editor at Private Equity International, noted the growing commercial imperative of workplace diversity when he reported that two leading asset managers were passed up for a $50m allocation by the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund with a deficit in diversity cited as a contributing factor.

Is this investor interest in D&I criteria comparable to the rise in demand for ESG strategies over the past six years? And is D&I set to become a non-negotiable part of manager selection?

Join us on 26th March for a panel discussion that will tackle some of the D&I issues that firms are currently navigating:

  • What kind of culture and reputation will attract (and retain) ‘diverse’ talent to your brand?
  • Inclusive leadership – what is it and why do you need it?
  • How do you build a people-first culture without losing productivity?
  • How to get credit for diversity if you can’t see it?
  • Is there enough ‘diversity’ to go around?

 

Our panellists include Deborah Gilshan, ESG Investment Director of Aberdeen Standard, and Founder, 100% Club, Amy Clarke, co-founder and Partner at Tribe Impact Capital and Andrew Brown, Head of Private Equity Research at Willis Towers Watson.

08.30AM-10AM, Tuesday, 26th March 2019

Devonshire Club, 4—5  Devonshire Square, EC2M 4YD (1 minute from Liverpool Street Station)

 

Download full invite here. 

GONG WINS BRITISH COUNCIL CULTURAL HERITAGE BRIEF IN KENYA

GONG WINS BRITISH COUNCIL CULTURAL HERITAGE BRIEF IN KENYA

Gong Communications Kenya selected from 13 agencies to deliver communications for two-year British Council pilot programme

London, January 8th 2019: Gong Communications, a multi-award winning PR and marketing agency with offices in London and Nairobi, has won the contract to deliver communications support for the British Council’s Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth Programme in Kenya. Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth is a two-year pilot programme in Columbia, Kenya and Vietnam, which explores the use of cultural heritage for social and economic growth in ways which benefit all levels of society.

The Programme seeks to create an understanding of Cultural Heritage and its contribution to inclusive growth, support inventive Cultural Heritage projects in the country and create new connections between the UK and Kenya’s Cultural Heritage sector. Gong will offer strategic PR support in creating awareness and building an understanding of Cultural Heritage by first exploring how Kenyans value, protect, learn and share culture, and working alongside stakeholders to articulate how Cultural Heritage contributes to tourism, economic growth and job creation with a focus on women and young people. Gong will also be delivering a campaign to drive conversation around Cultural Heritage and how it contributes to inclusive growth, digital asset creation and a digital marketing skills training programme.

Rocca Holly-Nambi, head of Arts, Kenya and East Africa at the British Council commented, “We’re delighted to have Gong on board as one of our partners in delivering our new Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth programme in Kenya. This programme directly supports the British Council’s overall mission of increasing trust and mutual understanding between peoples and cultures. We were impressed with the quality of all 13 submissions, but Gong’s proposal really stood out as well considered, creative and practical.”

Nikki Francis-Jones, director at Gong Communications said: ‘‘As a B Corp and a purpose driven agency we are thrilled to be working with the British Council on this brief which focusses on inclusivity, participation and sustainability. The work, kicking off with an insights phase, will be delivered by a combined London/Nairobi team.”

THE CONSIDERATE WAY TO DO BUSINESS – B CORP STYLE

THE CONSIDERATE WAY TO DO BUSINESS

B CORP STYLE

By Nikki Francis-Jones, Director, Gong Communications

It’s a requirement for B Corps during certification to “consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment”. Few would argue that people are the very core of a thriving business; attracting and retaining the right talent not only means doing work with like-minded colleagues that is purpose driven but it also means working with people externally who are similarly socially conscious. We experienced first-hand the oft mentioned B Corp spirit of collaboration during a recent website project.

Introductions first: Gong Communications was among the first UK communications agencies to achieve certification in 2017. Last year we were made Best for the World Honorees (Workers), our MD, Narda Shirley, is one of 18 B Corp Ambassadors in a new UK programme and our Nairobi team were delighted to attend the October launch of B Labs in Kenya.

Yep. We’re proud to be a B Corp. It has led to new colleagues, new networks and new business. There’s something about cooperating with like-minded people that makes work seem less like, well, work. Fellow B Corp, Resource Futures, which enables clients to positively manage material resources, found us through the network, and developing their new website was our first professional B Corp collaboration. And the experience has only deepened our enthusiasm to work with more B Corps. Project managing a web build necessitates a fair degree of back and forth particularly in a multi stakeholder set up. The consideration and efficiency shown by the Resource Futures team has catapulted them to the top of our ‘best practice web build leader board’ or it would have done if there was one! Deadlines were adhered to, questions were gathered in a list before sharing, well-thought out feedback was collated internally first then clearly delivered in comprehensive responses (rather than a flurry of 15 different opinions on 15 different emails for us to decipher and diplomatically referee – it happens). Payments were made on or ahead of time. The stand out adjective here is Consideration. The B Corp spirit is Considerate. Which nicely ties in with our values too. The smooth running of the build was no mean feat given that two of the team members worked flexibly (Considerate employers). We were delighted to work with an organisation that has protecting and preserving our planet at its heart and with a team as mindful of our time constraints as suppliers as we were of theirs as clients. More please!

Each client journey varies but for anyone reading this who is considering a new web build or a refresh for your organisation, here are a few tips to getting started:

1. Think big picture. Ideally your website should be aligned to your communications strategy. All of your marketing communications needs to be joined up. Brochures, trade show booths, business cards and social media etc. need to be mutually reinforcing and designed to support your business goals.

2. What is the purpose of your website? Do you want it to be an online brochure, act as a sales funnel or something more interactive? It’s important to think about this upfront as it’ll affect the build process (and cost).

3. Embarking on a new website or a refresh can be a great way to engage employees behind a fresh organisational vision. You may want to ask your staff to suggest websites in your sector they like the look of and why, to generate interest in your new site. However, it’s advisable to limit the number of people in the actual development process to a small team otherwise finding consensus can be a challenge and deadlines might not be met.

4. Right at the start, once the domain name has been registered and hosting organised, start focusing on security and getting the right certificates in place, if you haven’t already, or, your web build partner can help you with this.

5. Consider what kind of Content Management System (CMS) you want to use? WordPress remains one of the most user-friendly and cost-effective options and it’s possible to scale WordPress and build it up in stages when budgets grow.

6. Your website should reflect your organisation’s personality. Think ahead and, if possible, commission some of your own photography, illustration or animation to ensure your website stands out from the crowd.

7. The style and tone of the words also need to accurately mirror your ethos. If you are developing your own content make sure you do your search engine optimisation research first.

8. Allow enough time. It’s easier to work out the flow of the website when all elements are considered so agree your site map before starting any coding. Adding sections later can delay the process and blow the budget. As a guide, from concept to going live, we can deliver a simple scrolling website in five to six weeks. However, sometimes getting internal approvals for concepts and text take longer, so 9 to 12 weeks is a more realistic timeframe.

You can view our Creative Portfolio here.

FROM LONDON TO NAIROBI: EXPLORING THE BOUNDARIES OF COMPANY CULTURE

FROM LONDON TO NAIROBI:

EXPLORING THE BOUNDARIES OF COMPANY CULTURE

By Malini Parkash, Account Manager, Gong Communications

Google’s global employees (called ‘Googlers’) are encouraged to share what makes them ‘Googley’. They actively reflect on how they identify with Google’s culture as owners, not receivers. This insight was shared by Dorothy Ooko, Google’s PR lead for Africa; guest speaker at Gong Kenya’s recent Cultural Capital event held in Nairobi. Fellow speaker Chris Harrison, Africa partner at The Brand Inside, discussed the importance of defining, communicating and measuring culture.

Observing this event while on secondment to Kenya from our UK office, what stood out for me was the lively Q&A amongst the 50 attendees – a rich discussion around the possibility of a borderless culture. A concept viewed as highly appealing by those in the audience working for international organisations with HQs overseas.

The benefits of having a strong company culture are well documented and include loyalty, retention of talent, lack of conflict, and high levels of engagement (Harvard Business). If an organisation can establish a purpose that determines its general direction of travel, then its culture will govern everyday decision making. This is crucial for companies that operate in multiple jurisdictions. When the overarching company culture is the guiding force, whether you are in Kenya, Ghana, London or New York, the brand experience, both for employees and customers, well communicated, should feel the same, while also allowing for local cultural expression.

How this looks will vary but from a comms perspective, a key route is the uncovering of moments that shine a light on employees who are living the company culture across borders: through case studies, personal testimonies or visuals. What it can do when people don’t have physical proximity is create opportunities to build connections and reinforce values and behaviours.

Strong cultures create employees who are brand ambassadors, proven to help with talent acquisition and retention. Recent Gallup research showed that employees with a strong connection to their organisation’s culture show higher levels of engagement and are more likely to refer friends to their company.

Our Kenya and UK teams work collaboratively on pitches and briefs as required, sharing ideas and best practices. But Gong Kenya has its own flavour, which originates as much from the personality of its team members as it is shaped by its clients and its surroundings. Based in a dynamic co-working space, Ikigai (the Japanese term for ‘a reason for being’), that unites communication specialists, founders of VC start-ups and East African NGOs, the feeling of opportunity and enthusiasm for what can be achieved is palpable.

Doing business in developing economies such as Kenya, while not without challenge, is getting easier as evidenced by The World Bank’s latest Doing Business report that saw Kenya move 19 places higher in the global rankings to 61, earning it a place among the 30 most improved economies in this year’s Index. The forward momentum in the city is evident, with several roads and new infrastructure projects currently underway, alongside towering office and accommodation blocks sprouting up in all corners of the burgeoning city. Amongst them, Gong Kenya client Garden City, one of the earliest mixed used developments – a flagship real estate project by Actis along Thika Superhighway, combining commercial offices, residential property and an international shopping mall in one design, with plenty of green outdoor spaces.

Albeit not quite Googler scale (yet!), Gong’s employees (so-called Gongers) embrace a core set of values, expressed in the four Cs: Considerate, Curious, Courageous and Connected, and adherence to these values transcends geography. Through the warm welcome I received from the team: their enthusiasm to introduce me to their friends and family and to show me the wildlife that surrounds the city as well as their commitment to go above and beyond to deliver excellent client services. The trip made me eager to return to Africa and further encourage the depth of collaboration between offices that generates fantastic results for clients.

CULTURETECH EVENT REPORT

CULTURETECH EVENT REPORT

 

On 11 September, we held our third event on Culture, this time lifting the lid on how digital platforms are used to measure sentiment and predict behaviour at work. Our panel was chaired by Helen Barrett, the FT’s Work & Careers Editor and comprised Alastair Gill, People Partner at multi-award winning telco, giffgaff, Briana Van Strijp, COO & Chief People Officer, Anthemis, a VC firm focused on ‘digitally native finance,’ Hani Nabeel, Founder, CultureScope, which provides behavioural diagnostics of organisational culture and Torie Chilcott, Co-founder of Paddle Consulting which has developed a unique methodology using data insight into the emotion, moods and tastes of people across the UK to help organisations engage their internal and external audiences.

The event was run under Chatham House rules to encourage free and open debate. Here are some of the main takeaways:

ON COMMUNICATIONS:

Culture needs to come from the people in the business, not only from the leaders. Emotion came through as being a critical component of good cultural communication. We shouldn’t be afraid of tapping into emotional responses to messages and to answering the question, ‘What does this message mean for me?/my career?/my development?/my happiness?’

Communicating inside organisations should be approached with the same rigour as for external audiences, for example customer targeting, using persona building and segmentation to define different internal ‘tribes’ and split testing content for effectiveness.

Similarly, we have to acknowledge that people at work are just people and we all respond to things that are funny or aesthetically pleasing or inspiring in our own time and work doesn’t really change that. Organisations need to apply the same creative standards to their internal comms as their customer comms.

ON RECRUITMENT:

Onboarding: When new people join the organisation, we give them a computer, a password and show them where the coffee machine is. We don’t spend nearly enough time on the culture. We need to help people understand what is expected of them, and why they have been hired. What are our values? What are the behaviours that show that we are living those values? How will I feel as a result?

ON THE FUNCTIONS:

Often HR is not the client for the most progressive culture tech. HR has an opportunity to step up and lead on this stuff. One observation was that HR used to be thought of as there to protect the company from its people. Now the role of HR includes helping the company attract, retain and motivate talent and culture is the key.
When HR people spend time with their marketing colleagues, the result is internal communication that feels sync’d up with the brand and how it engages external audiences, most importantly, customers. This isn’t typical, but it makes a big difference to the quality of the internal output.

Post all of the corporate scandals, it’s easy to view culture as a potential villain that needs to be managed by risk professionals, but we should think of culture as the hero.

ON THE TECHNOLOGY:

Technology is just an enabler. It is pointless collecting more data unless you know what to do with it.
The tech doesn’t influence the culture, or fix it when it’s bad, it just measures sentiment and behaviour or delivers messages. What it can do when people don’t have physical proximity to transmit culture is create opportunities to connect to reinforce values and behaviours.

From foundations to futures – what building an orphanage in Ghana taught me about stakeholder relationships

 

FROM FOUNDATIONS TO FUTURES

WHAT BUILDING AN ORPHANAGE IN GHANA TAUGHT ME ABOUT STAKEHOLDER RELATIONSHIPS

James Deacon, senior account manager, Gong Communications

There’s a lake in Ghana called Lake Volta, it’s the largest man-made lake in the world. It lies along the Greenwich meridian just six degrees above the equator. Completed in 1965, it displaced 75,000 people and flooded some of Ghana’s largest forests. Nowadays, its hydroelectricity powers most of Ghana, Togo and Benin, whilst its shores play host to makeshift huts and markets servicing the largest fishing trade in the country. It’s a beautiful scene to witness surrounded by breath-taking natural beauty, but sadly also reflects a life of limited opportunity for the most vulnerable of children.

Fishing can prove difficult when you have an underwater forest, and the perceived best way to solve this is to send young boys, usually less than 10 years of age down to untangle the nets. There are currently over 10,000 child slaves trapped in forced labour on the lake (International Justice Mission), suffering from malnutrition, physical abuse and with no access to education. They’re often sold for as little as 75 Cedis (£12 GBP) by desperate families looking for a way out. Unfortunately, this doesn’t gain much media attention, so after spending a month in Ghana in 2013, already in love with local hospitality and the discovery of how fresh mangoes actually taste, I started the ball rolling on a project to help children who end up in this situation.

Now a registered charity in England and Wales, Holy’s Home for Children sits in a village called Kwahu Nteso in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Standing inside the completed dormitory last Easter, it was hard to believe that just two years ago this was a piece of land, some vague foundations, and a slightly mad idea to build a home for orphans in the region.

Two years ago was also my first day at Gong. The timing was serendipitous as the company had just introduced a new democratic selection process for its CSR projects. This comprised of a Dragon’s Den style pitching session to my brand-new colleagues, a slightly daunting but encouraging opportunity.  However, there was no need to persuade my colleagues of the development needs of sub-Saharan Africa; the company has been active in West Africa for years, has an office in East Africa and has since been shortlisted for two specialist agency awards for communicating sustainable development in emerging markets. Winning the pitch resulted in a monthly donation and counsel from Gong enabling the charity to plan more effectively its construction schedule. Over the past 18 months, more than 25 labourers and six local suppliers from across the immediate villages have been employed and have worked incredibly hard to finalise the two-storey structure that now stands proudly upon the hill (with the best view possible!). We’ve built what will be a financially self-sustainable enterprise by the purification and selling of clean drinking water – locally known as ‘pure water’, then giving children the chance to reach their full potential, attend school daily and live away from danger in a safe and loving environment. Once all donation targets are met, we’ll be looking after up to 30 children by Spring 2019.

In retrospect, none of this would have been possible without stakeholder relationships. It’s a term we hear most days if you’re in agency world, whether in new business proposals, campaign plans or perhaps a rationale to a client for why something didn’t quite go the way it was supposed to. Whether it was sourcing timber from local suppliers or drafting in legal advice during the charity commission registration process, every person we’ve encountered and persuaded, whether paid or voluntary, has been crucial to making this small charity functional.

Building solid networks and relationships with people on the ground in Ghana has been crucial in enabling the development of the charity. In the UK, Holy’s Home has been lucky enough to have the support of a network of passionate volunteers called Challenge12, who have so far among them sent a rocket in to space, climbed Everest, attempted to swim the English Channel, walked the Camino de Santiago, kayaked Lake Windermere (twice), stood on the wings of a plane (mid-flight), and escaped an underwater helicopter crash simulator that apparently is character building. I’ll leave that there.

Each of these volunteers is a stakeholder, aligned firmly to the same purpose. What I’ve learned from managing stakeholder relations both at work and through Holy’s is that when there’s limited attention given to purpose or grey areas in the overarching vision, plans can begin to crumble but uniting together behind a common and clear goal is when the best results are achieved.

After all, as the (slightly generic) African proverb goes: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

www.holyshome.org

 

CULTURAL CAPITAL AND ITS VALUE TO AN ORGANISATION

 

CULTURAL CAPITAL AND ITS VALUE TO AN ORGANISATION

If an organisation’s Purpose is its general direction of travel, then Culture governs everyday decision making in the business when the CEO is not in the room. Positive cultures are valuable because they create focus, enable innovation, productivity and cohesion and help attract and retain great people.

The next generation of talent; portfolio careerists, gig economy workers, freelancers and contractors  – those who are arguably most attracted to a great culture are becoming the hardest to get traction with because of increasing remote and agile working practices. Communicating, managing and measuring culture effectively in this environment is the next wave of competitive advantage.

On 15 May we asked author and strategist John Grant, (Better – Wellbeeing and the human-friendly business, Unbound, March 2018), to lead a discussion on Cultural Capital* which we defined as the value of culture to an organisation. He was joined by Yvonne Smyth, Group Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Hays plc, whose annual survey of 14,000 people ‘What Workers Want’ reveals how many people value culture more highly than remuneration.  Dineshi Ramesh, Director, Board Intelligence Academy provided insights on how Boards struggle with the issue of culture when it comes to how it is reported, and Kevin May, founder of Seattle based consultancy Sticks LLC, contributed insights from his research into ‘The Office of the Future’ which examines the role of the physical environment on culture.

Watch some of their insights here.

* (with a little nod to Bordieu),