This year has brought unbounded upheaval right across the globe; between the impacts of coronavirus, followed by economic upheaval (now an official recession), Brexit (more economic upheaval), the ongoing social and political unrest in the call out for equality across all races and genders, and a strong call to action towards more sustainable practices, this really has been a year when it is ALL happening.
These many and varied campaigns are paving the way for a new era in consumer and corporate responsibility. As a business, if you haven’t already, now is definitely the time to take action, or risk being left behind.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), or whatever label you prefer to put on it (corporate responsibility, social responsibility, corporate accountability or creating shared value, the list goes on and on) has been evolving over the last decade, but current events have brought about the rapid need for change. As a result, consumer expectations have shifted and intensified.
The customer has long held the expectation that business uses their power, resources and influence to ‘give something back’, to contribute to a greater good, or at the very least, work to ensure that they negate any detrimental impacts that they might have on society or the environment, but given the current climate, the general public is looking towards businesses, companies and organisations to help create solutions to the problems that are now so prominent.
Ongoing calls for racial justice as well as equality across the genders highlight that CSR should be ingrained into every level of the business and that we need to make room at the table for a more diverse and enriched workplace and executive board.
It is no longer enough for big brands and businesses to pay lip-service to their consumers and employees with tick-boxing, insincere communications as to all the ‘great work’ that they have been doing, whilst just a little scratching at the surface may reveal very little depth to this work, or at worst, that there is no truth in the statements at all.
With the world of social media making every platform a news feed that can reach a worldwide audience within minutes, consumers and employees quickly see through the greenwash and are not only prepared to call these business out, but to boycott their products and services, creating long-term collateral damage for the organisation.
So what should businesses do now?
Companies are starting to sit up and listen; they are beginning to examine their hiring practices for diversity and inclusion; they are starting to look into their supply chains to ensure best environmental and social practice; they are looking at how they can forge partnerships to achieve the best possible outcome towards achieving the net zero carbon targets.
Yes, the current climate does present many challenges, especially as many businesses are simply fighting for survival right now, but looking at your businesses CSR strategy can be an important part of recovery.
CSR can power profitability for the following reasons:
- You are inviting a more diverse skillset to sit around the management and leadership table
- You can find ways to lower operational costs or negate supply chain risk
- You may discover new value propositions that meet your changing customer and employee expectations and needs
- You may attract lead talent who can help you achieve your goals
As a business mentor, a sustainability professional and the owner of my own business, I constantly look for ways to improve upon my own CSR, and having worked with many companies to help them plan and execute their own business strategies, regain their footing during economic instability and forge ahead I can offer five main pointers on how best to approach your CSR goals:
Being small doesn’t mean you can’t contribute (and it doesn’t have to ‘cost’ your business):
In the words of Christine Todd Whitman:
“Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.”
Regardless of whether you are a one person show or a large multinational corporation, there are many ways that we can all contribute towards a better society or environment; whether this is through the way we use energy, manage our waste or engage with the community, we can all do something to help create a positive impact. I suggest checking out the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and aligning your business with the ones that resonate with you and your overall business goals.
Another myth that needs to be dispelled is the idea that CSR needs a big budget, or that it will be at the cost of generating revenue.
Profit can align with purpose to create shared value across the business and community. Statistics shared by Impact Reporting have shown that CSR functions are responsible for 40% of a company’s reputation and that an effective CSR strategy can increase market share by 4-6%
Doing nothing for fear of getting it wrong is not a better option:
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘paralysis by analysis’ and this is true of this scenario. Companies have finally cottoned on to the fact that their consumers and employees are not easily fooled (as mentioned above), and this is a good thing as it is making companies dig that bit deeper in coming up with some real, and relevant values.
However, what can often happen here is that companies opt out of talking about CSR altogether for fear of getting it wrong. There are many companies out there who are doing some great things but who choose not to share these good works with their stakeholders, which is such a shame as these stories can really help build long lasting and loyal relationships with the customer, and build a sense of community.
But here is the thing – your customers and employees want to see authenticity, not necessarily perfection. They realise that the people within the corporation are only human. Be transparent in your actions, admit failings as and when they happen and share successes when you can. If you make it clear that you are striving for your best your stakeholders will usually understand.
Become a problem-solver. Become a leader:
CSR is asking companies to think more broadly about their impact. The traditional approach to CSR has been a corporate beach clean or a group of employees coming together to plant out trees or paint a community wall of some description. And this is great, these things need to be done, and depending on the size of your organisation it is a great way to give something back.
But, where additional resources exist, now is the time to consider taking these efforts up a level and start asking some bigger questions, for example, how we can have a greater long-term impact on issues such as reducing carbon emissions; ensuring a fair price is paid to suppliers or tackling issues surrounding poverty or hunger?
As touched on earlier, CSR shouldn’t be about ticking a box. If your business has the expertise, the resources and the partnerships needed to create meaningful change then be the one who leads the way forward.
True CSR is a top down, and bottom up approach:
For CSR to be truly integrated into the fabric of your business you need to align your plans with your overall businesses vision and goals, and you will need employee buy-in and engagement.
This cannot be solely delivered by a management team who don’t understand operational minutia, nor can it be done by employees who don’t hold the purse strings or make the big decisions. All levels of staff, across all departments, need to be engaged from the start if your strategy is to work well.
Whilst it is perfectly reasonable for the executive team to have an ultimate vision for their CSR strategy it will need the input of staff who understand what it will take to make it work, whether this is from a budget, operational or HR perspective. And of course, you can’t expect staff to be enthusiastic about living the values of your CSR strategy, if there is no top-down, leadership buy-in – no one wants a ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’ approach.
This approach offers businesses a chance to build trust with employees, particularly millennials and Generation Z, through CSR. Employees want to work for companies that take a stance on important issues, which also makes it a valuable recruitment tool. Employees want you to give them opportunities to make a difference, not only for the company but for communities.
Adopt the kaizen approach:
Kaizen is a term that originated in Japan and translates as change (kai) for the good (zen). It is based on the philosophical belief that everything can be improved over time by adopting small, incremental changes.
Kaizen adopts the idea that all employees at all levels of a company work together proactively to achieve regular, incremental improvements to the businesses processes. In a sense, it combines the collective talents within a company to create a powerful engine for improvement.
Utilise this model to engage your CSR team in monitoring and reviewing your overall strategy on an ongoing basis; assessing which areas are working well, what needs to change course or what simply isn’t working at all and assessing the ‘why’ behind those issues. By holding regular update meetings, and strong record-keeping, you will be able to ensure continuous improvement within the company and adapt to an ever-changing marketplace.
Hopefully this article has provided you with some food for thought, but ultimately my main message to you, just in case you missed it, is to make a change towards adopting a CSR strategy today, if you haven’t already.
This doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking when you are starting out – it’s fine to begin small – and it doesn’t have to accrue a huge, separate budget to get things going, so long as your heart and values are in the right place this is a good enough starting point.
For those of you who have some sort of policy, or strategy in place; great work! However, perhaps now is a good time to shake the dust off it and take another look?
Either way, my main takeaways for you are:
Small is a good place to start
Don’t be afraid to do something and don’t be afraid to lead
Align your CSR with your overall company goals
Get everyone involved and engaged
Be transparent and honest in your actions
Keep re-evaluating and striving for improvement