Corporate Responsibility (CR) has shifted from the margins to the mainstream of business practice. However, behind this apparently positive picture lie two problems that create an impediment to companies in realising the potential benefits of CR. The first problem arises from the fact that one of the greatest drivers causing business leaders to adopt CR is ‘fear’, with the emphasis on avoiding trouble rather than looking for opportunities. The second problem is that CR is too often a ‘bolt-on’ to business operations rather than ‘built-in’ to business strategy, resulting in CR becoming a distraction and hindrance to business purpose and objectives, rather than a help.
How can a business leader or manager build CR into business strategy and, while not ignoring potential risks, exploit associated opportunities? And what are those opportunities? We suggest it is possible to follow a seven-step analytical process which shows how the implications of CR on business strategy can be considered and illustrates how it can be factored into decision-making at a point when new business strategies are being explored or existing strategies updated. In this way the repercussions of CR for business operations can be considered and the pros and cons of alternative policies and practices weighed up. Final decisions are subsequently taken on the basis that form (business operations) serves purpose (business strategies and objectives). Given the right approach, CR can be made to work for a business. If companies can advance from regarding CR as primarily a risk minimisation process and learn how to integrate CR into future business strategy, they will, we suggest, be able to capitalise on corporate social opportunity (CSO).
We see individual corporate social opportunities (CSOs) as commercially viable activities which also advance environmental and social sustainability. These tend to be based on one or more of the following: innovations in developing new or improved products and services; serving under-served or creating new markets; or organising the business differently in a new business model: for example, in how it conceives and develops the new products and services, or how they are financed, marketed and distributed. The goal is to be able to create an environment where numerous CSOs are possible.
Step 1: Identifying the Triggers
How a combination of changes in the external environment and heightened expectations from stakeholders cause triggers that impact business. How these triggers can pave the way for a revision of business strategies and operational practices.Outputs
- Identification of potential triggers caused by CR factors in the external environment
- Identification of potential triggers prompted by stakeholders
- An assessment of the likely impact of these triggers on the business
Step 2: Scoping what matters
How to assess the potential impact of key triggers on business strategies. How to generate revised strategies.
- Identification of potential business strategies
- A revision of the strategies in light of stakeholder impacts and inputs
- Further refinement of the strategies taking into account current market and operational issues
- A ranking of the strategies based on possible importance for the business
Step 3: Making the business case
How to build the business case for the proposed business strategies, informed by the marketing mix, organisational considerations and by overall corporate goals and business drivers.Outputs
An analysis of the impact of the strategies on revenues and costs, informed by marketing mix and organisational considerations
An analysis of the alignment between proposed strategies, key business drivers and corporate goals
An assessment of how the proposed strategies fit with organisational culture
A ranking to identify the most attractive strategies
Step 4: Committing to action
The implications of and for proposed strategies in light of organisational values, leadership style and governance arrangements.Outputs
- An assessment of the implications of proposed actions on corporate values and leadership – and vice versa
An assessment of the implications for governance and management arrangements
An identification of appropriate public commitments to be made and communications signals to be given
Step 5: Integrating and gathering resources Focus
How to integrate aspects of CR and other operational requirements that emerge from reviewing business strategies. Consideration of resource implications.
An assessment of resources needed to implement proposed strategies and operational changes
Identification of resource gaps and potential sources
Step 6: Engaging Stakeholders Focus
How to engage stakeholders in the shaping and delivery of business strategies
An assessment of how proposed strategies impact stakeholders, and vice versa
Identification of the roles required of stakeholders to enable implementation of the strategies
Identification of the necessary actions needed to ensure the desired roles are undertaken
Step 7: Measuring and reporting Focus
How to measure and report on issues identified in the following steps. How to track the progress of actions identified and agreed to be necessary during progression through the seven steps.
Identification of what data to measure and report
A summary of actions required
A framework for tracking progress on agreed actions
Learn more about the Seven Steps to Corporate Social Opportunity in this summary of the book by Prof. David Grayson and Adrian Hodges, Corporate Social Opportunity: 7 steps to make corporate social responsibility work for your business.