Is your Social Responsibility Strategy a brave commitment to long term change, or a short-sighted response to the current pandemic?
Expectations for companies to play a positive role in society have never been greater. The Covid pandemic will mean we all face serious and unforeseen social challenges for years to come as a result of the financial recession we find ourselves in, and the inequalities that will be exaggerated as a result.
Businesses fortunate enough to survive or even thrive through this crisis, will need to step up their efforts to alleviate these problems or face resentment from their wider stakeholder group.
Short-term, tactical one-off charity initiatives will not cut the mustard. Communities, employees and investors alike will see these for what they are – a sticking plaster to placate expectations and demonstrate at surface level, an intention to address the challenges others are facing. When the immediate crisis is over, those businesses who want to inspire customer, employee and investor loyalty, will need to show a commitment to a new kind of Social Responsibility – one which is not a skin deep marketing ploy, nor a detached employee engagement initiative – but one that will endure, and really address the issues society is struggling with.
A successful Social Responsibility strategy (meaning successful for both the business and those benefiting) will need a tiered response with focused initiatives based on the purpose and culture of the organisation, and which maxmises the use of all of its skills and assets. It will be embedded at the very heart of the business, in its business model, its culture and the way it measures and reports its success to all stakeholders.
But we need to be realistic, a business’ first corporate responsibility, particularly in these times, is to be financially viable, and provide stable employment. The social responsibility strategy therefore is not entirely altruistic – and neither should it be, if it needs the commitment of the Board. A well thought through strategy will also deliver tangible commercial returns, including improved talent acquisition, employee engagement, learning and development opportunities, enhanced brand reputation and client attraction. But these should be in addition to, and not in order to, drive social change.
All of this can be a relatively new way of thinking through a core thread of strategy, which until relatively recently was often confused with philanthropy of the Board, or charity of the year initiatives. Driving systemic change is notoriously hard – so here are some key thoughts to bear in mind:
Developing a Successful Social Responsibility strategy:
- Identify Your Specific Assets and Your Cause:
Articulate how your particular business can best address specific social issues. This is easier to identify for those who can manufacture useful bi-products, or those whose infrastructure is their key asset enabling them to provide distribution services. Professional services firms sometimes struggle to see how they can help – but in essence they all sell their ability to solve problems, think differently, and implement change.
- Frame your Top Line Strategy within the UN Sustainability Development Goals:
Once you have that clarity, pin the change your business plans to make to the UN Sustainable Development Goals – to ensure your efforts are aligned with those statistically proven to be the real issues.
- Engage your Stakeholder Community:
Your stakeholder group (including clients, employees and investors) has the power to create commercial success or disaster, and if stakeholders believe the business is only there to serve the Board financially, their loyalty will vanish. This is more than a generic short-term fundraising drive; it is about a systemic change and long-term partnerships.
- Identify your internal and external KPI’s:
What does success look like for both your business and society? Commercial measurements may focus on employee engagement, retention, or attraction or on client acquisition. To identify what success looks like for the identified social issue on which you are focusing, you need to identify a realistic vision based on practical KPIs such as hours volunteered, pro-bono work completed, or funds raised, but these must be counter balanced by meaningful data from your charity/ social enterprise partners as to what actual change this has affected.
- Commit Assets and Resources:
Review all the assets the business is prepared to deploy to achieve your aims and the fixed parameters of each. These could include, but are not limited to, current products and services, investment, employee skills & time, infrastructure, business influence and procurement contracts.
- Implement and Measure:
Develop initiatives and programmes to deploy the committed assets effectively to deliver throughout the stakeholder group. Measure and report on the Social Impact programme to inspire stakeholders and ensure meaningful impact against the identified need. Relevant technology can help to facilitate initiatives and provide impactful, accurate reports.
Atticus Social Purpose and Ethical Angel both exist to help businesses become a force for good and will be working together going forward on selected projects.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of your Social Responsibility programme please do get in touch.
Atticus are management consultants specialising in Social Responsibility strategy and implementation. We help organisations to transform their CSR approach, moving from unaligned tactical initiatives to a business aligned strategy that delivers meaningful social value and tangible business benefits.
Contact: Meg Headley, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: 07967 640 065
Founded in 2018, Ethical Angel is a PE backed start-up and certified B-Corp on a mission to change the way that employees experience work. We believe that reconnecting employees with the world around them adds value to them, their employer and society. Our technology commoditises the needs of global charities, NGOs, social enterprises and non-profits (“causes”) as e-learning projects that we then match with private sector employees.
Contact: Alex Fahie, CEO Ethical Angel