Starting the Social Responsibility debate can be quite an intimidating one for companies to undertake when it's a relatively new topic for them. It can be challenging even for companies with existing CSR programs to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs or make strategic shifts in direction, with each company placing plans and programs that suit their reality which naturally differ by industry and material issues to focus on.
However there are a few key issues that are common between the most successful CSR programs and reflect the true social responsibility of the company. Below is a list of some of those key issues:
1. Employee Engagement:
Employees are truly the best spokespeople for any company and the difference between them truly believing in their company's commitment to CSR or not is their level of engagement in the company's CSR practices. Whether they are adopting a hands on approach in developing and implementing various initiatives and projects, or just simply hearing about "the great things our CSR practices are doing" from senior management, makes all the difference. Employee involvement in CSR practices leads to a brand built where the employees are the most avid spokespeople about the positive impact the company is creating in the focus areas of their selection.
Additional benefits of employee engagement are increased job satisfaction, leading to improved recruitment and retention of employees.
2. Stakeholder Engagement:
A few steps down the line from Employee Engagement lies Stakeholder Engagement, which is as crucial and possibly as neglected in this parts of the world as Employee Engagement. One might be thinking what all the fuss is about; why is it is so important to involve stakeholders in these activities? If the company considers communicating with stakeholders just as good as stakeholder engagement, they’re missing out on one important factor; stakeholder engagement is a two-way communication channel, not just for the company to present itself in the matter it sees fit, but also to listen to the stakeholders point of view; what is important in their opinion to focus on, how they think certain topics should be approached, and most importantly what areas of performance need to be improved upon. Stakeholder engagement when implemented properly is an effective method to manage and mitigate social risk through being able to better anticipate issues before they become critical, and work on solutions along with the stakeholders rather than possibly face negative campaigns, protests, or litigation.
3. CSR Communication & Disclosure:
While there is much room for growth in the number of companies that release CSR/Sustainability reports across the region, it is becoming a common place practice for others. Reporting on a company’s CSR activities is still relevant however it is not enough for stakeholders to learn about CSR activities and progress only once a year in reporting season. It is becoming sadly outdated to produce a CSR/Sustainability report only with the idea that this is all the relevant communication the company will produce till next year’s report.
As more stakeholders are becoming interested in the topics of sustainable performance of a company, the demand for ongoing CSR communication is rising. This could be implemented in various methods, through media and online communication or specialized focus groups and discussions to mention a few.
A good example for such a practice would be Unilever’s Sustainable Living website where they have outlined a 10 year long plan, and constantly report on their progress to achieving the 7 milestones they identified as the most relevant for their business.
When communicating CSR efforts or indeed attempting to brand a company as a “Sustainable Company” transparency on material issues is indeed crucial in the long run to its brand and reputation. Transparency is crucial not just because it builds trust between the company and stakeholders, but also because it gives an image of credibility.
Transparency becomes needed especially when addressing challenges the company is facing on the road to becoming a more responsible firm, the less than successful initiatives or projects they have implemented, and the areas they are still trying to improve their performance in.
However, transparency is a tricky topic, since the more transparent you are, the more transparent your stakeholders expect you to be, leading to a situation where a socially responsible company needs to actively select a level of transparency they are comfortable with, while meeting stakeholder demands.
5. Sustainability Integration
How can a company work on becoming a more sustainable company without integrating sustainability into every single aspect of it's operation? The simplest answer is that it can't, but that doesn't stop companies from treating sustainability as a function (whether it has a department or not) and plan for it accordingly. Unless the sustainability objectives are integrated into every department from HR, to Operations to Finance, across the whole organization, it will be doomed to fail in one way or another due to either lack of funding, lack of senior executive support, or indeed, both.
The key to success however, is the integration of sustainability commitments into the company's competitive strategy plan, which leads to access to funds and senior support which leads to sustainability being seen as relevant to the business and required to achieve high performance.
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