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Developing CSR Strategies that Command C-Suite Buy-In and Long-term Value
by John Friedman
Cplay a key role in the roll out of corporate
orporate communications professionals usually
change initiatives including mergers and acquisitions, restructurings, new visions and strategic imperatives and the like. It is not surprising, therefore, that they are key players in the roll out of sustainability programs. However, there are several ways in which professional communicators can bring their skills and internal and external networks to the process of developing as well as implementing CSR efforts. Following are five ¶keys· that are necessary to unlock the full potential of a sustainability/CSR program that is integrated into the business model: y Integration of the program within the overall strategy. Contrary to popular criticism of companies, most organizations do not only manage their operations on a quarterly or yearly basis. Successful companies adhere to long-term strategy maps that divide into four or five categories such as financial, operational, sales and culture imperatives. Within each of these categories, imperatives are defined and assigned to operating units. In order to be an integral part of the company strategy, the corporate social responsibility program must be integrated into the imperatives.
levels within the company to assist in the development of the CSR program itself, as well as designing and implementing a successful communications strategy that clearly and compellingly communicates how the new program can and will work to internal audiences. The larger and more decentralized the company, the harder it may be develop a turnkey solution that works in all operating settings.
A truly integrated CSR/green program requires the individual buy-in and empowerment of everyone in the company as well as changes in processes and procedures.
Empowering and engaging employees at all levels in the organization. As with any culture defining effort, a truly integrated CSR/green program requires the individual buy-in and empowerment of everyone in the company as well as changes in processes and procedures; it cannot rely on the work of a central 'green team' to long-term carry the ball for the organization. Everyone has to participate if it is to become part of the corporate culture. Otherwise employees may, intentionally or unwittingly compromise the effort.
Professional communicators who have played a key role in defining the language, presentation and the communications around the vision are well positioned and qualified to play a key role. The emphasis here is on appropriateness and the need to overcome the inclination to overpromise or justify the CSR program as the ¶magic bullet· that addresses every strategy. y Compatibility with the day-to-day reality. At the same time, many employees face daily realities, such as customer expectations, that sometimes appear to conflict with corporate directives. Failing to address and respond to these real or perceived incompatibilities is a key reason why so many corporate initiatives fail. Communicators are in a key position to use their skills, networks and established credibility at all
Corporate communicators are in a position to play a key role in identifying and addressing those concerns that are real and offering ways to overcome those that are based on resistance to change. Several years ago I watched in dismay as one company replaced several incompatible accounting systems with a single solution. In order to overcome initial resistance, management determined that rather than explain the benefits and need to employees, they would instead customize the program so that those responsible for keying in data would not have to learn a new input screen. The result was a project that was over budget, took far longer to be implemented. 12
Measureable, credible results. Whether through independent third party certifications, awards, or reporting using trusted criteria; the public is skeptical of unsubstantiated environmental claims, as are employees. In some cases it is easy to point to environmental impacts ² wildlife habitats set aside are visible examples within a community that a company and its employees can see for themselves. But in some cases it is harder because you are quantifying what did not happen ² energy saved, trees that were not cut down, water that was not used. Engage stakeholders throughout the process. Engaging people rather than speaking to them is a fundamental change in how successful companies must communicate with both internal and external audiences. Communicators must stand as staunch advocates for using new technologies and taking advantage of rather than fearing the universal and free-flowing nature of the Internet and the various social media. The world of communications has changed, with the rise of social media and citizen journalists who, despite the fact that they may or may not adhere to the same standards and practices (such as fact-checking) as professional journalists, have an increasing prevalence and influence. Companies that wish to build, maintain or defend their reputations and brand equity have no choice but to join the dialogue, bringing authenticity and transparency to the conversation.
Getting on the CSR Bandwagon: Strive for Real Integration y Communicators are in a key position to use their skills, networks and established credibility at all levels within the company to assist in the development of the CSR program. y At the same time, it is important to recognize that many of the goals traditionally assigned to corporate communicators ± including culture change, stakeholder engagement and external relations ± can be accomplished by enhancing sustainability and corporate responsibility management across a company. In order to be an integral part of the company strategy, the CSR program must be integrated as appropriate into the strategic imperatives identified to achieve the long term vision as well as compatible with the conditions and circumstances that employees face in day-to-day operations. A truly integrated CSR/green program requires the individual buy-in and empowerment of everyone in the company as well as changes in processes and procedures. Communication is the key to both sharing ideas and understanding and overcoming resistance to changes. Failure to communicate and listen can result in passive (and sometime active) sabotage to your program. In order to effectively engage stakeholders in today¶s high-speed information world, corporate communications professionals must modify their strategies to effectively foster, encourage and facilitate dialogue.
One of the key differences between sustainability efforts today and the environmental efforts of the past is the emphasis on net (or multiple) gains. Progressive companies have recognized the true power of the stakeholder engagement and have made the transition, revising their strategy for traditional communications tools (including meetings, presentations, even media interviews and
the Internet) not as vehicles to provide information, but as a forums for dialogue, seeing each as an unparalleled opportunity to tap into, and respond when appropriate, to what is being said about their enterprise. To meet these challenges Corporate communications professionals can use their same tactical skills but must modify their strategies refining not only the content but also the structure
Guide to Best Practices in Corporate Social Responsibility & Green PR
of all manner of communications vehicles including Web sites, annual reports, executive speeches and presentations. They must shift their overall strategy to effectively foster, encourage and facilitate dialogue. Today·s CSR Versus Your Mother·s CSR One of the key differences between sustainability efforts today and the environmental efforts of the past is that emphasis on net (or multiple) gains. The value of leveraging the power of capitalism and business to produce environmental gains can sometimes be a hard message to communicate to people who adamantly and passionately believe that any program that is presented as environmental is somehow sullied if it has any other results; particularly economic benefits. For these people, even initiatives to reduce the use of energy and
natural resources (such as raw materials and water) are therefore not ´realµ environmental initiatives. As much as we might disagree, these voices will find a forum to be heard and it is far better to serve as the host of the dialogue and know what is being said rather than pretend it is not happening. By allowing professional communicators to contribute their skills to each of the five elements outline here, a CSR program is almost assured of a successful implementation. Failure to do so will result in a program that will have limited effectiveness. PRN John Friedman is senior director of PR for Sodexo, Inc. and has more than 20 years' experience in internal and external communications and a decade in corporate responsibility and sustainability. He is also a co-founder and serves as chair of the board of directors for the Sustainable Business Network of Washington. JohnF@sbnow.org | 703.405.0200
Reproduced from: PR News· Guide to Best Practices in Corporate Social Responsibility & Green PR Vol. 3
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