Doing CSR and Communicating CSR
To a CSR novice like me, my project could not be more ideal. In addition to the fact that the project was about designing a holistic CSR strategy, the initial document from our soon-to-be client was asking the following question: “We are already doing responsible practices. Do we still need a CSR strategy?” For me, this was the most intriguing question amongst all the project descriptions submitted by multiple potential clients.
Assuming that all corporations are seeking highest possible return on investment, the answer to this question should be “yes”. What I learned throughout the project was that, just like any other corporate strategies, CSR also requires four key elements to be able to create highest impact on whatever investment made. Those elements, I believe, are 1) goals/objectives, 2) area of focus, 3) the approaches to create strategic differentiation in engaging those areas, and 4) effective ways of leveraging capabilities/competencies of the company.
On top of these, what I found personally enlightening was the importance of “communication” of a company’s CSR initiatives. CSR, I found, is a great platform to cultivate the company’s brand equity especially to newly arising customer segments who are more sensitive to social or environmental issues. As such, it was evident that CSR is a great framing tool for many kinds of activities that are done within the company for various reasons such as enhancing financial performance, complying to regulations, retaining human assets, to name a few. Therefore, it was a small revelation to me to find out that in creating CSR strategy, “what and how to communicate” is as important a question as and inseparable from “what and how to do“.
Well, the story doesn’t end here. This learning led me to another puzzling question. If “doing” is never enough or complete for the company without “communicating”, should the company only do what can be communicated (or bragged about) in CSR?
My client company has been doing many things both in internal and external CSR domains. Some of them were not very valuable for the purpose of strategic differentiation when it is narrowly defined. However, as employees have strong faith in their company’s core philosophy of “doing the right thing”, encouraging them to do whatever employees believe to be worthwhile causes seem to be helpful for the company to maintain (or even invigorate) its mantra.
So, I think the answer to the aforementioned question is yes and no. The answer totally depends on how we define “communication”. As CSR can is a great branding scheme toward potential customers, it is also a great platform to deal with various interests of various stakeholders such as enhancing employee satisfaction. So the bottom line is that there can be many areas of engagement that are not particularly differentiated or requested by certain stakeholders. If not distinguished or requested, there’s no point talking about it. The story won’t stick with specific segment of stakeholders. Therefore, in devising a CSR strategy, we need a clear idea of ‘who (e.g. customers, employees, or governments, etc.) we will be talking to’ and ‘how we need to do so’. A seemingly generic initiative from a customers’ lens, can be something at the very heart of what employees are passionate about. If your strategic goal and asset is related with cultivating devoted employees, letting them know that company values their commitment to that initiative can also have high strategic value.