Aligning your Generosity with your Competitive Advantage

Guest Author – Erik Speakman

Recent backlash against purpose driven work overshadows the stories of business as a force for good. People have forgotten that over the last two centuries, entrepreneurs and businesses have brought more people out of poverty and increased quality of life, health, literacy, and education for more people than in all recorded history. Negative perceptions often stem from a select few bad actors.

The good news is that goBeyondProfit member companies exemplify this centuries old commitment to purpose that includes support for the communities around them. The path is clear for more companies to find a way to incorporate this desire to do good for society into their overall competitive advantage and strategy. The even better news is that it is not that challenging. 

Erik Speakman
Owner, Speakman Management Consulting

The What and Why of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

You’ll find varying acronyms and definitions in this conversation around going beyond profit. AI defines Corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable to itself, its stakeholders, and the public. Essentially it is a model and strategy for implementing your desired generosity or “giving back,” ensuring your company’s operations are both ethical and beneficial for society. 

Recently, companies have focused on defining their business purpose beyond the bottom line and helping employees connect to that purpose. But purpose and social good without integration into an overall business strategy, operations, and human development practices are unlikely to deliver the intended impact and are often unsustainable. A clearly defined Corporate Social Responsibility strategy is the most powerful way to deliver on your generous intentions and company’s purpose.

A strong CSR strategy helps companies address unmet societal needs while creating value for business. If done right, additional benefits include satisfied and fulfilled employees, and higher rates of employee productivity and retention, increased customer loyalty, enhanced brand, reduced regulatory burden, and, ultimately, enhanced, and distinctive competitive advantage.

The bottom line…CSR enhances the bottom line.

Building a Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility Plan

Develop your specific purpose statement: Purpose is a company’s reason for being that simultaneously helps solve a societal problem and creates significant value for the company. To truly be purpose-led, a company’s purpose must address an under-met or unmet societal need. It should not be something generic or solely focused on satisfying customer needs. It must be integrated into strategy, operations, and human resource efforts. Try answering these questions when defining your purpose statement: Why do we exist? What would happen if we no longer existed?

Conduct a social issues audit/assessment: Who would be most positively impacted by your company’s work? Determine what nonprofits and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) are addressing the social issue, speak to experts in the field, see if any of the businesses along your value chain are also interested in the social issue you are addressing.  

Develop a multi-year plan: Detail the vision of your purpose work and your organization’s journey to achieve it with annual priorities, goals, and key milestones. In the plan, indicate how you will achieve your purpose and include required return on investment. Ensure a diversity of leaders are invested and gauge the interest of and relevance to employees. Finally, allocate the necessary resources to drive shared value efforts and achieve established milestones and goals.

Key Steps for Implementation

  • Engage beneficiaries: Continually find ways to engage those with lived experience, the beneficiaries you propose to help, as well as your employees.  
  • Pilot: Implement a small test pilot and co-create with key stakeholders. Test, collect feedback, and learn. Pilot with replication and scale in mind.
  • Collaborate: Test your understanding of the problem with potential partners and communities for alignment. Spend the time upfront to clarify the roles of each internal and external partner.
  • Measurement: Determine how outcomes will be measured to provide evidence of success and opportunities for improvement. Engage key partners in measurement early in the process and develop an evaluation system and protocol that is used for continuous improvement.
  • People and Structure:  Clarify the role company leaders play in supporting your CSR strategies. Assess how your current organizational structure aligns with CSR goals, identify what competencies and processes will be added to existing roles and what new roles need to be created.
  • Communicate: Determine key talking points and messaging for each segmented stakeholder group and audiences. Adjust the narrative to emphasize factors that matter most to each audience. Ensure alignment of internal and external messaging. Amplify and boldly communicate positive company activities that support your CSR strategy.

Regardless of the headlines, businesses will continue their role in improving lives. Corporate social responsibility simply offers structure for integrating good intentions into a strategy that benefits all stakeholders. Success lies in aligning the strategy with your business purpose and capabilities, and ensuring your efforts are well informed by employees’ perspective and the lived experience of those you hope to benefit. When solid strategy combines with authenticity, everyone benefits.