You may often hear the remark that “CSR is a nice to have”; people say that “there’s some really amazing things happening out there”; that “CSR seems to be really catching on”; and that “unfortunately, even though everybody seems to be really behind the idea here at XYZ company, it just doesn’t, and will never, have a serious influence on the overall business plan.”
Newsflash: The Guardian tells us that, “finding meaning in one’s job and being part of an inclusive community have become important, especially to millennials”. Forbes magazinetells us that we currently have, “a generation of consumers who care more about social responsibility and underscore this inclination through their purchases.” And the FT Advisorreported on research revealing that, “Two-thirds of 25 to 34-year-olds said if an environmental, social and governance fund were easily available they could see themselves investing for the first time.”
Despite a rapidly changing landscape, which is seeing more and more companies with entrenched ethical and moral values ‘walking the talk’, and reaping the rewards, there are still many companies lagging behind, and with much ground to make up.
You’ve seen the light, you know that CSR makes sense, but how do you – with minimal political sway – take on the CSR mantle within your company and break open that locked business plan to blow in some fresh air and meaningful direction, while at the same time ensuring that you aren’t putting your job on the line?
Where do you start? Here are five pointers that may help you initiate the change that you want to see in your company:
1. Start at the beginning!
What does your company do? What is its purpose in society? Does it have convincing values, a vision and a mission? How explicit are its commitments to its stakeholders?
Depending on what’s already there, you may already have the foundations upon which to build. It may be that this exercise leads eventually to a new set of guiding statements, in which case you’re responsible for setting a new direction for the company and you’ve saved them a load in consultancy fees! If nothing exists, then this is a point that needs to be called into question. Starting from any of these three points will lead you well on the way to a CSR happy ending.
2. Find your fellow CSR sympathisers.
Whether this takes a top-down, middle-out, bottom-up, or any combination of these, fine. What’s important, though, is that it’s not just you.
You could start by putting the feelers out among colleagues in your department and those in other departments to figure out who, like you, is motivated by working for an organisation that places great importance on integrity and wants to do something about it. It may be that word spreads and you start to get some weighty execs together.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it certainly wasn’t built by one person. You may need to form an informal group of people and get together to thrash out some ideas for your company. By forming this collective, you risk losing control of the initiative but it’s okay, you’re working for the greater good! And the end result is more likely to result in more hefty changes than a one-(wo-)man charge that ends with you being squeezed out.
3. Be ready to demonstrate alignment with business objectives.
Your restaurant chain might have an issue with uneaten food at the end of the day and you suggest selling it at cut price. You’d have to look at the ins and outs of course – how do you get the food to these buyers, how can you make it worth the additional preparation time, how will you avoid people simply waiting for your cheap meals, etc. But, here, you’re very possibly looking at a win for the company and a win for the communities surrounding your restaurant. Quick wins are your friends at the beginning as they allow you to celebrate openly and early!
4. Don’t be afraid to pull on the heartstrings.
Performing good deeds leads to general warmth and fuzziness inside. This can help your cause. Charitable giving and philanthropy won’t please all shareholders and inevitably undermines the seriousness of CSR as a potential leading light on the business plan. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t spell out the case – through beautiful story-telling – for motivated employees, grateful suppliers, inspired partners, impressed retailers and, of course, loyal customers.
5. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
It may sound like somewhat of a cliché but it’s an important point to tack on at the end. Your efforts have led to an official task force being assigned responsibility to implement CSR within the organisation. Assuming that the process of identifying issues to address, stakeholders to consult, initiatives to conduct and partners to work with have all gone swimmingly well, you’ll do well to develop a thorough list of KPIs to track performance against objectives and demonstrate impact.
If you get this far, give me a call. You’re about ready for a well-deserved a pat on the back!