• Emma Gibson, Partner |
5 min read

Once upon a time, the environmental, social and governance goals of a business were largely unnoticed and deemed secondary to the day-to-day operations of running an organisation. But as ESG has risen to become a business imperative, those considerations have emerged from a side conversation to being front and centre on the board agenda.

Legacy is an important element for those with an authentic ESG-centred mindset to work into their ESG strategy. Beyond the here-and-now, the metrics, data analysis, and transformation of the wider business, ‘legacy’ is what happens over the longer term, end-pointing the journey. Businesses and their leaders must begin thinking about their own legacy and the footprint that will be attributed to them when left behind.

Society as a consideration

Leaving a legacy is not to be seen as a self-indulgent whim on the part of an individual showing off their achievements; instead, it is part of a larger conversation around accountability. There is a growing consciousness that businesses and business leaders should consider their role as one of custodians and that they and the businesses they run should (or rather could) have a lasting impact of other people’s lives. Creating a business legacy will have impact upon your industry, your geography, and your community. For this reason, legacy can be part of the ‘S’ in ESG coming into play. This long-term view of action and impact is one of the pillars of ESG, and has been clearly articulated globally as a key overarching principle of ESG.

Steps to legacy creation

A business legacy can be realised in numerous ways, but should pivot around the following:

  1. Community, social and economic opportunities: This could be in relation to access to apprenticeships, up-skilling a workforce, reaching out (not importing in), empowering employees to take their skills outside of the company, and assessing, understanding, and valuing the impact you have in the community (or not, as the case may be).
  2. Organisational impact: Think about working with city and other business leaders across the geographies in which you operate, creating partnerships as well as showing innovation as this is how leaders wield influence (although, just on what a business chooses to wield its influence on is a subject up for debate).
  3. Sustainability: Consider the impact a business or business leader will make after a business has either been sold or passed on to someone else (in the case of family businesses).

Here’s looking at you, kid

These starting points to creating a legacy are in no way limited to family business, although it is all too easy to see it in that context and therefore dismiss legacy as being an irrelevant consideration for public organisations. This is not the case; entrepreneurs for example who start a business with the aspiration of a successful exit and sell out can just as easily and equally create a legacy.

First and foremost, legacy is about making a lasting and positive impact on someone or something. This is directly related to business ethics, values, principles, and style, and is inclusive across organisations, regardless of the specifics.

The thinking about business success and continuity in the framework of ‘legacy’ is not entirely new but many businesses have not framed decisions in around legacy in an ESG context. What is important is that organisations do go beyond today’s fads, hot topics, and trends to consider how products and service will continue to be impactful and relevant in the longer term, no matter what the cultural climate looks like.

The importance of place

What is ‘place’? Consider the geography in which you operate - not just bricks and mortar but the place in which you do business. Investing in the culture and ecosystem of the place where you do business matters.

Legacy pays

The commercial benefits of creating and embedding a legacy include:

  • Gaining a competitive edge. A clear, purposeful legacy is tangible evidence of why you are different. This differentiation is arguably essential in today’s war for talent and for customers or buyers of your services or products looking to understand and engage with your brand.
  • Enabling a clear articulation of your ESG strategy. This is essential if you are looking for investment or funding and similarly seeking higher multiples on an exit. Stakeholders are demanding organisations do more than simply create profit for shareholders.
  • Building strong partnerships with non-profits and civic leaders in your community. Developing your brand and standing as a ‘force for good’ provides numerous intangible benefits, not least loyalty and reputation.
  • Making a difference.

So how can you ensure you leave a legacy?  Leaving a legacy means living a legacy and that means a long-term mindset.  If you think about the day-to-day actions of you and your business, these are the bricks on which the legacy is built. When it comes to including legacy in your business strategy, consider the following:

  • Define what matters and make sure that you have a long-term vision to match. That vision will become the guiding light for your organisation. All decisions, all product development, all marketing campaigns will circle back to your vision, which is related to what matters most to your business legacy.
  • Goal setting is an important part of building a business legacy. By setting goals, you’ll define your path and create a benchmark to compare your progress. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re setting these goals:
    • Each goal must tie back to the vision of the legacy you want to build.
    • Goals must be descriptive, specific, and measurable to be effective.
    • Smaller, defined goals are better than large sprawling goals. You are more likely to achieve them when they are realistic.

Remember that goals are only as valuable as they are achievable. If you purposely set goals that your business is unlikely to meet, you’ll just set yourself up for failure. This can impact company morale and future initiatives to build your business legacy.

Although the meaning of legacy can vary depending on whether you are looking at yourself, your business, or your industry, the goal is the same––make an impact that stands the test of time. As Oprah Winfrey famously said: ‘Your legacy is every life you’ve touched’. Just as for an individual, your business also has the power to touch and influence lives. Consider what kind of impact you would be proud to leave.