Even for the most seasoned writer, corporate credos pose a special set of challenges. On one hand, the author must reshape abstract principles into a sharp and compelling value statement. On the other, his or her language must be broad enough to accommodate the many executives who must approve it.
This difficult high-wire act is nowhere more evident than with environment credos, where emotions run high, and where failing to deliver can have hugely negative effects on a company’s brand and reputation.
To ensure that environmental credos are well-crafted and achievable, communications executives must be involved throughout the entire process, from conception all the way to implementation. Whether it’s for your own organization or for a client, the following 10 tips serve as a guide for helping communicators—and their managers/clients—prepare an environmental credo that strikes the right balance.
BEFORE PUTTING PEN TO PAPER
1. Understand what the CEO/client wants. Meet with the CEO/client and to gain insight into the environmental issues he or she feels strongly about. When a credo bears the imprimatur of senior-most leadership, its passage through the organizational gauntlet becomes an easier task.
2. Educate leadership about the qualities of a good credo. An environmental credo needs to be a compelling statement of an organization’s values. Unfortunately, this is more the exception than the rule. Click on many corporate Web sites and you’ll find a gauzy, cliché-riddled statement of “our environmental values.”
In many cases, this is worse than no credo at all. Make sure, then, that before you begin to write, senior leaders understand what a meaningful and dynamic credo looks like. Show them samples. Then enlist their commitment to help you fight to reach that goal.
3. Enlist internal allies. Environmental credos are often compromised by lack of ownership—by the sense among key department leaders that the credo originated elsewhere.
This is why, in addition to the CEO/client leader, it is always wise to seek input from influential leaders in various corporate disciplines such as legal, finance, marketing and human resources, as well as managers from subsidiaries, if applicable. This will provide you with various perspectives and also help with getting buy-in and, ultimately, compliance.
That said, be wary of drafting by committee, as this approach can quickly devolve into real-time editing sessions, accomplishing little in twice the amount of time.
4. Check with your industry’s associations. Chances are that your industry’s trade groups have published guidelines about environmental issues. This could serve as a model for your company’s own environmental credo as well as uncover issues that you hadn’t considered before.
5. Look beyond your industry. Best-practice environmental statements often reside outside your industry. Do the research to find out what environmental leaders are saying in their credos. You can draw inspiration from the concepts and language in these.
WRITING THE CREDO
6. Aim high, but be realistic. Your company alone can’t save the world, so don’t try. While lofty ambitions are nice, make sure that the elements of your credo are realistic; when over-promising, you run the risk of under-delivering.
Remember, your company will be judged by various constituencies including the media, who will be all too happy to report on how well you live up to your credo. Also remember that a poorly or hastily crafted environmental credo can serve as the basis for future law suits as well as damage to your company’s reputation.
7. K.I.S.S. it: Keep it simple ... (we all know the rest of the phrase). Remember that your credo will be read and hopefully embraced by many different people, from the C-suite to the mail room. It needn’t be a lengthy manifesto containing lofty language.
A particularly good example comes from Ikea: “Low prices are the cornerstone of the IKEA vision and our business idea—but not at any price. At the IKEA Group, we believe that taking responsibility for people and the environment is a prerequisite for doing good business.”
The company then provides an online brochure that provides specific details around its credo in action, from manufacturing to employee programs.
ONCE THE CREDO IS APPROVED
8. Educate internal stakeholders. Okay, you’ve survived the approval process. Now what? Post it on the Web site and forget about it? Definitely not.
Having a credo is great, but it doesn’t do any good if employees—the ultimate brand ambassadors—aren’t aware of its existence, or don’t know how it applies to the big picture.
Having the CEO discuss the credo and the company’s commitment to social responsibility is a good way to underscore its importance. Utilize whatever corporate forums are available and post your credo everywhere throughout the company. You might even consider rewarding employees for actions that reinforce the tenets of your credo.
9. Your credo is a living document—treat it that way. Times change, as do the issues. Your credo should be reviewed regularly and changed accordingly. Some companies go through the exercise of redrafting the credo every year, even if nothing is ultimately changed, to be certain that everything is challenged and nothing remains sacred.
10. Turn words into actions. An environmental credo is nice, but its importance and the company’s commitment can only be demonstrated through corporate actions. If your company is not already doing so, become involved in a cause that relates to elements of your credo, and then communicate that involvement to external stakeholders. This will make the credo a living part of your organization, and an integrated piece of your overall brand.
This article was written by Robbin S. Goodman, EVP and a partner at Makovsky + Company. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.