The secrets to any successful marriage or partnership are fairly basic. The partners start with a shared vision and mission, setting goals for their union, while they respect their individual needs. They make sure that they understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to support both. They look at problem areas, figure out workarounds, handle disagreements early on and decide who is responsible for what. This is not unlike the marriage of your business strategy and your social responsibility strategy.
In my last blog post, we began defining our social responsibility strategy. Now, let’s take a look at some of the things you will want to consider as you integrate it with your business strategy:
1. Identify the company’s long-term business goals. In addition to sales of products and services, you might be concerned with employee recruitment and retention or interested in streamlining your manufacturing process. You may be in a state of crisis management or in the middle of a merger. Clearly defining your vision for your business and how you plan to accomplish it (your mission) are critical to your success. And because market place needs and expectations are constantly shifting, it’s important to have long-term goals as your North Star, even as you tack to accommodate.
2. Consider alternate corporate structures. Your business goals and success can also be supported by the corporate structure of your organization. A majority of states have passed Benefit Corporation laws that allow companies to be focused on both shareholder return and the positive social impact they offer their stakeholders. This frees companies from the threat of shareholder lawsuits and allows them to do well even as they do good. Special purpose companies vary from state to state but are not unlike in their sincere intent to give companies the flexibility to be financially accountable to those invested in their success and socially accountable to the world around them.
3. Consider the geographic location of where you do business. Positioning your operations in a location or environment which has supportive governance and other like-minded companies can often make it easier to maintain your social impact initiatives. And in many instances, there are financial benefits, in terms of local tax incentives or a stronger presence in the bid process for international contracts when companies agree to leave behind a stronger infrastructure than when they arrived (i.e. new local school.)
4. Integrate your social responsibility strategy into your everyday business operations. Externally, it’s often easier to align with movements that are locally based as you will receive community appreciation and engagement. Study which stakeholders can benefit from your core competencies and how a particular initiative for them might support your brand. Internally, cross functional programs that benefit your employees or customers will ensure that your team fully embraces your long-term goals and that customers are loyal.
5. Associate with outside partners and grow your circle of influence. Connecting with partners can help you develop initiatives faster, and more affordably, than trying to do everything on your own. You will be able to draw on the expertise and capabilities of others outside of your company’s core competencies. But, remember that it’s all about shared value, with the exchange ebbing and flowing, satisfying the needs of each partner.
6. Align your impact investments with your overarching business goals. When reviewing your budget and revenue goals consider triple bottom line, a broader view of profit focused business. It takes into consideration the other two “P” words, people and planet, allowing you to enrich your community and also create a more vibrant environment in which your business can thrive and grow. However, it’s only possible when you have set up metrics to measure and report impact.
7. Tell the world about your efforts. Take advantage of the noteworthy work your company is doing and tell your story over and over so that your efforts become part of the brand. Don’t forget that it’s important that your entire workforce, especially those who are customer-facing, promote the same message. Use company newsletters and brochures, your website, and online social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube, among the many avenues available. Internally, celebrate the contributions that your employees are making by sharing and giving them credit. It inspires the rest of your employee base and the customers who believe in you.
8. Make it part of your products or services. Find ways to make your product or service itself more socially responsible. Whether it's sourcing recycled materials for use in the final product, using servers that run on renewable energy or ensuring that your supply chain adheres to corporate governance, consumers will perceive your sustainably-built brand as more authentically responsible than one that only pays lip service to the concept of sustainability.
9. Measure the Impact. Did you make a difference and how do you know? Because your social responsibility strategy is part of a broader business strategy, it’s important to track whether your initiatives are having the desired impact. Once you have identified the goals you would like to achieve, be clear on how you will measure your results. Set benchmarks and simultaneously establish key performance indicators for the business side as well.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to be consistent. Once the business and social responsibility strategies are aligned, regularly assess and recalibrate your social responsibility strategy. You will want to ensure it remains current and focused on the most relevant sustainability areas while it supports your business goals. Like every good marriage, it’s important that the partners grow together, both individually and as a team.
Copyright © 2019
Linda Lattimore – all rights reserved