For some companies, the notion of corporate responsibility (CR) is still embedded in ideas of philanthropy and good works rather than being recognised as a necessary and sustainable approach to running a business. For these companies, it’s still more about what they do with their profits rather than how they make those profits in the first place.
Such companies may not yet have fully understood or embraced the idea of shared value. This is the belief that they can increase their own competitive advantage while investing in and supporting the communities where they operate. And by communities, I don’t just mean local neighbourhoods in the strictly geographic sense – these can be communities of interest – groups of people with shared interests or characteristics or experience.
Increasingly, companies are thinking carefully about who and what they support when developing corporate responsibility programmes, and that’s good.
There are 3 main aspects to consider when aligning your CR programme to specific issues or themes…
- Define what matters
Considering the issues that matter to your key stakeholders and the communities you want to support – be they local or virtual – is the first important step for increasing engagement, particularly among your own employees. For example, Yorkshire Water identified that water use efficiency is critical to both its business and its communities and has spent substantial time and money putting in place water efficiency and education programmes for local communities. The value of these programs goes far beyond the direct immediate benefit to Yorkshire Water.
- Consider how best to offer support
Recognising what you can do as a company to address those issues is the next step. It can be as simple as donating to a charity or cause that is addressing the issue – that’s a hands-off approach that will certainly be of some value. How much benefit you and your employees will gain from such an approach may be limited however. It’s easy to give and there’s little personal investment involved.
Smart companies will think more laterally about how they can use the skills and expertise they have in-house to invest in supporting the issue while at the same time engaging their employees in a valuable way from which they derive both personal satisfaction and development. In so doing, they are also likely to improve their own “currency” in society, thus creating value that is shared by the company, society and also the individual employees that engage in the support.
- Capture and demonstrate your impact
After defining a clear strategy and identifying the issues that matter, it is important to capture your impact on those issues. Doing so will help further embed CR in your company’s ethos, as you are able to demonstrate to a range of stakeholders the difference your involvement has made.
As CR moves from ‘outputs’ (we did 1,000 hours volunteering) to ‘outcomes’ (our mentoring programme helped 100 people back into employment’) you must have the right tools and resources in place. Many businesses appoint local ‘champions’ internally in each of their offices or departments to help capture this info and, increasingly, businesses are adopting modern cloud-based software tools that can give visibility on all of your CR activity in one place and help you ‘tell your story’.
Ashurst, a global law firm, has successfully adopted both of these strategies – its central CR team and local champions promote, manage and report all of their volunteering activities through the Thrive CSR software system.
By identifying issues where the company can make a positive difference and successfully capturing and demonstrating your impact, over time, your company will come to be identified with those issues in a positive way, gleaning much more benefit than if they simply made donations to a range of ad hoc charities and causes.
Co-Authored by Gillian McKee & Neil Macdonald…