Social License in the 21st Century: Growth Predicated on Permission

March 13, 2019

I was recently asked to speak to a large gathering of agricultural leaders in Australia about creating social license, or earning reputation by permission, for their industry. The concept of social license is not new. The concept was born out of the movement calling for corporations and organizations to reconcile business decisions and behaviors equally against people, planet and profit (Triple Bottom Line).

reputation by permission

As we forge ahead into the 21st Century, the concept is evolving to one of “permission first” business engagement. Simply put, we now see an emphasis on demonstrating commitment and value to people and planet to unleash growth opportunities as priority vs. an afterthought. Mature markets with elevated values have a keen awareness of personal impact and responsibility. Individuals transpose those values on the brands, companies and businesses in which they trade; seeking to keep values and value in balance. Without permission, profits mask weak brand and business health. For those affixed to bottom lines, the short-term compensations cloud the task at hand to regain permission to grow.

Many innovative initiatives and start-ups made permission a priority; a foundational platform upon which the business was constructed. Mature businesses are scrambling to re-engineer in an effort to keep up with the competitive bombardment of these businesses that have seriously weakened their worth. Old school cost-cutting remedial efforts further weakened these behemoths threatening their ability to survive. As I look at the food industry – supply and value chain – through my rearview mirror, I can’t help but worry that investors are completely tone deaf and dismissed or overlooked the massive market-making potential of cultivating values alongside value.

Social license in this new world is, quite simply, the EARNED permission to pursue and realize growth. It is born out of investments, behaviors and actions that prepare and continuously preserve a healthy marketplace in order to gain permission to operate successfully in the future. Permission cannot be purchased, PR’d or promulgated. It requires assuming a state of continuous improvement, reassessment and realignment to social and societal needs. The successful CEOs of the 21st Century will be masterfully paving a path of permission at all times.

Food, water, agriculture, and healthcare related businesses and industries have and will continue to be held to higher standards of social license than other businesses; because survival and quality life depends upon their continued success. Many highly visible brand marketing successes failed to adequately tie the brands’ equity to social and societal values.

Before you take steps to build your path to permission, get a clear assessment of the trust gaps that exist. Our Data & Analytics team can help you uncover the truths that will guide your journey forward successfully.

Linda has 25+ years of branded and commodity food experience leading marketing communications programs, CEO and corporate counsel, reputation management, issues and crisis management, reputation management and shareholder relations programs.