Making CSR “Strategic Reviews” Strategic
In conversations with communications and CSR leaders at the UN Global Compact and Sustainable Brands conferences, an unusually high number of executives said they are doing a strategic review of their CSR commitments and strategies. As an advocate for significant changes in these strategies (and for changes in the overall communications and marketing investments that companies are making,) I see the scaling of innovative social enterprises as a means to increase focus, impact and measurable solutions to world problems.
Given the number of companies doing these strategic reviews however, it is also important to identify the best reasons for such a review and to pose this simple question: Is our review being done for the right reasons? In the current economic climate, a review driven by economic conservatism will not be strategic almost by definition.
Below are three key questions that focus the thinking on strategic issues. Incorporating the answers to these questions will provide the basis for a truly strategic review.
1. Can we identify and focus on a cause or problem whose solution creates shared value?
As you answer this question please consider the following quote:
“No business can solve all of society’s problems or bear the cost of doing so. Instead, each company must select issues that intersect with its particular business. Other social agendas are best left to those companies in other industries, NGOs, or government institutions that are better positioned to address them. The essential test that should guide CSR is not whether a cause is worthy but whether it presents an opportunity to create shared value–that is, a meaningful benefit for society that is also valuable to the business.”
Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility, Harvard Business Review, by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer.
2. What are the primary ways that we measure our CSR activities? Do these measures track the most significant impacts our business creates and the outcomes that our activities are designed to accomplish?
As you answer this question please consider this fact: At Sustainable Brands 2010, Jason Saul of Mission Measurement stated that the CSR practice of reporting on the checks written and the volunteer hours logged will not be an adequate measure going forward. The stakes are increasing every day. Ben Packard of Starbucks stated very openly that Starbucks knows they have not made enough progress in addressing the most significant impact they create as a business—the cup.
3. Is our wisdom, work and investment focused on attracting participants across the value chain—the behavior of all players must change to achieve real results—and from multiple innovation sources to encourage not just our own corporate progress but also the progress of as many other companies as we can reach?
Increasingly the ability to create value depends on market mechanisms that attract multiple value chain and investment participants. The innovation to attract the participants will often come from outside the companies championing the changes. ReachScale’s focus on scaling social enterprises and Nike’s GreenXchange are two examples, and there will be more. Finding and cultivating these innovations often depends on a problem solving commitment that goes beyond simply serving just one company’s goals. The commitment must flow from an understanding that the problem goes beyond what any single company can do; the real work is assembling an ecosystem to solve a problem which requires a committed company’s best and brightest wisdom and work.