Another year over and a new one just begun as the song goes (thanks John Lennon!), and companies around the globe will be re-evaluating their brand and working out how to maximise their impact for 2021. One area many organisations probably WON’T look at first when thinking about branding is their CSR policy – that’s just about environmental stuff right? Wrong.
As any human resources professional worth their salt will tell you, a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility policy includes many facets, with the three most popular being (yes) environmental, philanthropy and volunteering. However, what most business owners will likely tell those HR professionals in the current climate is that funds for non-core business activities are low, and re-inventing how environmentally friendly their business is, or giving money to charity, is not really a priority at present. One could argue that some of these things should be core activities to any business, but I doubt it’s an argument you’d win right now. So, is it possible to revitalise your CSR policy without it being a drain on the bottom line, or even make a positive financial contribution?
Corporate Social Responsibility as a Branding Initiative
As I alluded to above, branding is certainly something that can add financial value to an organisation, but how does this relate to CSR? The main reason is that it’s becoming less and less acceptable for businesses to act with impunity towards the society they operate within, and the COVID pandemic has probably accelerated this view, as this recent article from Forbes outlines. If consumers are becoming more socially responsible, it makes sense that companies will be keen to demonstrate how their brand meets this increased expectation, and one way of doing this is through their CSR policy.
There are many factors that contribute to a successful Corporate Social Responsibility policy, but we’ve distilled these into the following five strategies:
- Know your Purpose
As any business manual will tell you, understanding your purpose and defining what success looks like is a key component of any strategy, and it’s no different with a CSR policy. Does your business want to help tackle big ticket societal issues such as climate change or inequality, or are you more focused on contributing to the local community in a meaningful way. Either of these options, or something in the middle, are worthwhile in their own right, but it’s important to decide on this up front before committing.
Once a decision has been made, the next step is to integrate this into the overall business strategy. For example, your organisation may be looking to increase its client base in a particular market sector, so would it be possible to concentrate your CSR efforts on activities that are relevant to this segment of the market? From experience, I’d say that clients love it when their suppliers show a tangible interest in their industry, and an added bonus is that by integrating your CSR policy into the broader company goals, you’re also much more likely to get buy-in from senior management too!
2. Give your Employees Ownership
Remember that some of your most effective strategies for executing CSR will often come from your employees. They will all have causes or community projects that they care about; giving them input (maybe via an anonymous online survey?) is a great way of ensuring buy-in and making them feel part of the bigger picture. After all, they are the ones who will be delivering what you set out to achieve! A great example of this employee buy-in came from Johnson & Johnson, who set out to tackle its citizenship and sustainability goals back in 2017. You can read about how they achieved this here.
However, it’s not just big multinationals that can benefit from this approach. Any business that supports its employees’ ideas, then integrates these into their CSR program, is likely to be well on their way to a successful outcome. Don’t make the classic mistake of asking employees to execute CSR priorities that have come down from senior management only. Give your team the scope to dream up and execute projects that matter to them, and flow naturally from organizational values – it’ll make a big difference
3. Plan for the Long Term
Planning is essential in any worthwhile initiative, and it’s often an indicator of the commitment level your organisation has to a specific project. In particular, longevity of commitment matters, and often differentiates you from the ‘tick a box’ CSR initiatives many companies employ. If you can demonstrate, for example, that your organisation is going to offer volunteers to an organisation consistently over a 12-month period, this will resonate more deeply with your employees, potential future hires andyour customer base, as well as achieving more impact on the ground.
Setting out a clear timeline of CSR activities, maybe to coincide with specific times of the year when core business may be quieter such as Easter and Christmas, is critical to overall success. As Confucius once said, “A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble at his door.” He may have been onto something
4. Implementation is Key
As with any project, although planning is important, the real key to a successful outcome lies in project implementation. However, many organisations come up with great ideas and plans for Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, but then fail to allocate suitable resources to ensure they are implemented effectively. Has your HR team got project management expertise that could be utilised for this? If not, it might be a learning opportunity for them to gain such skills, with the added benefit of increasing their value to the organisation. Although a sizeable project may need a more experienced resource, some type of basic project management training and executive oversight from management is usually sufficient for many smaller projects.
Benchmarking projects both internally and externally is also an important part of this process. Did you achieve your goals? Was one project more successful than another? Benchmarking internally against self- imposed criteria is key component of project management, and a valuable learning experience. Doing this externally can be even better, and there are a number of other organisations who have been through similar experiences to utilise. The B-Corporation website – a network of businesses certified as meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance to balance profit and purpose – is a good starting point. Most organisations won’t be as guarded about their CSR initiatives as you might initially think.
5. Celebrate Achievements & Communicate Them
So, you’ve planned and executed a successful Corporate Responsibility Program, be it a volunteering program or a sustainability initiative – that’s a cause for celebration! Given that it’s likely your employees have contributed significantly to this, set time to acknowledge the achievement at a whole of company event, which will let everyone know it’s a key milestone that is valued within the organisation. People love to be recognised for successful outcomes, especially if they have had input throughout the process!
Externally, make sure you communicate your success on the organisation’s social media channels, and don’t be shy about the attention your efforts will generate either – social media loves a good news story! This will continue to drive employee engagement, as well as attract better candidates to your talent pool, and encourage deeper support from your customers and investors. Creating this ‘virtuous cycle’ will feed back into your profitability and future community work as an organisation.
In summary, Corporate Social Responsibility is often seen as “a good thing to do” without a great deal of thought going into the how and why. Implementing the above five steps will have a positive impact on your organisation in a variety of ways: increasing your brand’s social capital, bringing tangible benefits such as a more engaged workforce and, perhaps most importantly, creating a lasting impact in the broader community. As the world looks to reinvent itself in light of the recent pandemic, commerce is increasingly being seen as a key driver in bringing about societal change. Can your business afford not to be part of this generational shift?