November 06, 2019
As the title of this blog suggests, I want to share with you all the 5 characteristics of corporate social responsibility that I believe socially conscious companies have in common. For each trait I outline, I will share an example of a company that is “doing it right.” The 5 companies that I highlight in this blog are outstanding illustrations of what good CSR looks like – and quite honestly, they all excel in all 5 traits. But first, what even is CSR, and why am I talking about it?
Corporate social responsibility is a “self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable — to itself, its stakeholders, and the public.”2 In other words, CSR is the effort a company makes towards social betterment. This accountability is for the benefit of the society – yes, but it also benefits company brand. CSR efforts, volunteer programs, and philanthropy boosts reputation and subsequently the profits of the business itself. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship between brand and consumer. It is a win-win.
Today, 93% of the world’s largest 250 companies publish annual CSR reports.3 Over ninety percent! That number really shows you the importance society puts on CSR… these companies wouldn’t be in the top 250 if people didn’t support them morally and fiscally. And I am confident that this is not a passing trend. We as consumers have a say and the power to hold companies socially responsible; and if they don’t rise up to the standards set out by themselves and the consumer more and more, we have the influence to affect the overall profitability and growth of the company.
But what is it that we look for exactly in a company? How do we measure the success of CSR?
Measuring CSR, as you can imagine, is quite a complicated process. Here are just some of the things we look for:
New customer acquisition is a great way to see if a CSR-focused campaign is effective or not.1
Customers brought into a company and who participate in CSR-programs tend to be more valuable. They are far less likely to buy once and leave after making an emotional connection with a company.1
The amount that can be saved or earned from CSR programs. For example, by going green and recycling materials substantial amounts can be saved. Also, trends show that customers are willing to spend more money on a company they believe to be “good” over one that doesn’t participate in CSR.1
These and more are used to create lists such as the Reputation Institute’s Global CSR RepTrak list, which rank companies based on their CSR performance.
According to Reputation Institute, the study “examines consumer perception of an organization’s products and services, innovation, workplace, citizenship, governance, leadership, and performance. The final scores are statistically derived from four emotional indicators: trust, esteem, admiration, and good feeling.”10
More and more, CSR is becoming a given in the corporate sector but only a few companies place a priority on measuring CSR activities and results. Measurement can improve and inspire CSR results and encourage stakeholders by highlighting the benefits of CSR and thereby gaining increased funding.
But now on to why we are here…
For me culture is the peak of the CSR mountain – the heart and soul of the company. The company culture tells the customer who they are and why they are here. It is from the heart of the company from which we get to see the intention behind the action.
So, what better place for me to start than from the inside out?
For many companies, culture is something that is implied more than defined, but recent trends have been showing that more and more companies are ironing out what they stand for and making culture a priority for all leaders and employees to follow.
Values, beliefs, behaviors, purpose, attitudes and every other attribute of culture have become the base upon which CSR draws its strength and stability.
One company that exemplifies leading with a strong positive culture is The Lego Group.
The Lego Group recently ranked second in the Reputation Institute’s 2019 Global CSR RepTrak list. Lego defines their purpose as: "To inspire and develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future - experiencing the endless human possibility."6
“Experiencing the endless human possibility.” I love that statement.
Every aspect, policy, strategy, campaign Lego produces is in support of their purpose. They stand by what they stand for.
This is CSR at its finest.
Another characteristic of corporate social responsibility is storytelling. How can CSR programs be successful if companies can’t effectively share their message with their audience? Having a heartfelt genuine story to tell is human and compelling.
One of the companies that I think tells the best human story is TOMS. Actually, I encourage all of your readers to click on the link and read their story in full.
For every pair of shoes, you buy, a pair will be donated to child in need, one-for-one. This simple but incredible thought was the start of a now multimillion-dollar company and over 60 million shoes donated.
TOMS has managed to make their name synonymous with their story. Everyone and their neighbor know that if you buy a pair of TOMS you are giving a pair of shoes to a child in need and that it a very powerful message.
A story is necessary to successful and lasting CSR.
Transparency has become the expectation for corporations and leaders in today’s corporate sector. And with transparency comes the opportunity for collaboration.
Suzanne Fallender, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Intel predicted: “In 2019, companies will be asked to provide even more transparency into their strategies and public goals—from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index to the Just 100 Index, companies will increasingly be ranked on their public transparency and disclosure. Companies that provide a transparent roadmap of progress—and challenges—will be poised to help drive collective impact. New industries will continue to rise to the challenge.”7
Again, this leads back to the idea of corporate accountability. Leaders are now having to open the doors to public and employee scrutiny. This trend is becoming more and more common place and showing very little signs of stopping. The customer wants to know if they can trust the company they are dealing with and employees want to know if they can trust their leaders.
Introducing Netflix, currently holding ninth place in the Reputation Institute’s Global CSR RepTrak list. This placement is somewhat controversial though with Netflix’s transparency being deemed radical by some parties.
Netflix Inc. is so transparent that executives are even encouraged to publically share their decision making, such as why an employee has been fired, a practice CEO Reed Hastings has deemed “sunshining.”8 Directors and above also have total access to employee salaries to promote inclusion and fairness.
While some of Netflix’s decisions might be seen as taboo in most companies, they have stated that they actually have one of the lowest employee turnover rates in the industry.8
Netflix has become a controversial but dominant example of transparency in the workplace and with the public.
Customers and the public are becoming increasingly concerned with the corporate treatment of employees.
If we as the public would be horrified at the idea of working for a company… why would we want to support it with our money. These reputations are only becoming more and more important, and with transparency becoming an omnipresent factor we are beginning to see companies for who they really are.
CSR programs can help foster a stronger bond between employees and the companies they work for. Feeling like both the employee and employers are working towards the same goal and for a cause can boost morale and make the organization feel closer to the communities they support.
With job opportunities on the rise, employees are now more than ever pickier about the roles they choose. Most applicants are drawn to companies that have a good track record for social responsibility, such as environmental protection, and rank CSR as one of the strongest influencers in their decision-making process. By having a strong CSR program, a company can attract people who have skills such as innovativeness, leadership and collaboration.7
Companies are being held accountable not just by public opinion but also by their own employees. Paid Volunteer Time, for example, is now something that employees expect to be a part of their contract and companies are listening. To attract the best talent you have to offer the best incentives.
Corporations, such as Google, ranked first in its industry for its relationship with employees, that have a reputation for treating their employees well are valued above other big corporations that the public deem untrustworthy.
It’s pretty well known that Google has a one-of-a-kind culture. Most of you have probably even seen pictures of the inside of the Googleplex, and it looks more like Disneyland than a workspace.
But what we hear most about the culture at Google, is how wonderfully Google treats every person that works for them. Google even has people whose sole responsibility is to keep employees happy and cultivate productivity.
Google understand the importance of staying true to culture and keeping their employees happy.
Working today is so much more than who offers the largest pay check – it is who do you feel the best about working for – employees care about the why.
If it is not authentic, it shows! Consumers can absolutely tell when they are being sold a story for profit vs. an authentic heartfelt story.
It is more than good marketing… there is an x-factor or a gut feeling that tells you when something just doesn’t feel right and that feeling is usually because the message you are receiving in unauthentic and contrived.
We want to see companies that do more than talk the talk we want them to walk the walk and I can’t think of any companies that does that more than REI.
REI is a national outdoor retail co-op whose goal is to inspire, educate and outfit its customers for “a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.”11
REI stands behind their purpose: “We are passionate about the outdoors and committed to promoting environmental stewardship and increasing access to outdoor recreation through volunteerism, gear donations and financial contributions.”11
Now, what makes them more authentic than the next outdoor apparel shop? They actually walk the walk. They do what they preach. And they proved how far they were willing to go last year…
When last year’s Black Friday came around and every retail company was cutting prices and welcoming in hordes of customers, REI did something a bit different… they shut their doors and encouraged people to instead spend their time not in their stores buying thing, but rather with their families outside.
In a letter to customers published on the REI website, CEO Jerry Stritzke wrote:
“For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.
We’re a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.”
This wasn’t a publicity stunt or some kind of campaign to increase their bottom line. This was a message that was authentic to the brand. Life is to be lived outside.
All of the brands I have mentioned today stand out as front runners in CSR and incorporate all 5 characteristics into their CSR agenda. I actually think I could have used any one of them as examples for each trait.
I hold these traits very dear to my heart and try to bring them with me into any new venture in my life. As a leader, I want to create a culture that I and my employees can be proud of, I want be transparent in business ventures, and authentic in my storytelling. When these traits are valued and encouraged companies have a strong foundation for creating an organization that will be cherished in the employee, public, and corporate eye.
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