This year, over 60 percent of consumers reported being “very likely” to purchase from a company that takes a stand on social issues. Consequently, companies are feeling a great deal of pressure to become a good corporate citizen, if they were not already on the route to do so. Rerouting, however, comes with real challenges as companies must work to remove the firewall between departments that exists due to the historic belief that CSR needed to be intentionally separated from Marketing, Communications, and other lines of business, to maintain its integrity and independence. Fortunately for society and for brands, this separation is no longer desirable or beneficial. Companies must now communicate within their ecosystem with great transparency and intention, sharing freely and clearly their commitment to social issues and their respective communities. To do so, companies must fully integrate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) into all lines of business, fostering collaboration between the CSR department and other teams.
The journey to full integration is a four-step process that requires CSR professionals to act as change management experts to create necessary synergy and truly lead the company to being the best corporate citizen it can be. I like to call this the 4C CSR Integration Journey™. This process will help you lead your teams and over time, break down the firewall. It all starts with communication, the beginning of any change management effort.
The first step in integrating CSR within your company is to authentically communicate with other departments, share your strategy and learn what they do, how they do it, why and their overall timing. CSR professionals typically initiate this outreach and consistently follow-up with the other teams. It may seem mundane, but this step is vital in laying a solid foundation for your relationship with other departments because it shows that CSR is interested in the work of others and is not trying to drive sweeping change without regard for the workload and responsibilities other teams own. During this step, you may essentially hear from your colleagues, “Okay, we met, and I hear what you are doing.” Do not be discouraged if you do not get more than a one-dimensional response. Be patient, change takes time.
The Communication step is also really beneficial because it allows the CSR team to gather intel that can be used to brainstorm new ways of working with other lines of business. Intel and understanding becomes more and more valuable as you move through your integration journey.
Work to arrange genuine moments to connect while being conscious of the other team’s busy periods and total responsibilities. You want to move from Communication to Connection. This important step occurs when other lines of business begin to include you in existing plans or initiatives, or might send you FYI’s regarding their plans, because they now know more about your CSR strategy. You may even be asked to weigh in on plans that are already in motion, or in advanced planning stages. When this begins to happen, you will know you have achieved Connection. However, you must be cautious about taking a strong stance against their ideas. The relationship will likely still be fragile at this point and hindering an idea could sever the trust you built during Step 1. Use good judgment here to determine whether there is an opportunity to integrate CSR in their plans, and if there is not, then you are simply not there yet in the relationship.
If you must oppose the plan of another team, be sure to offer a viable solution and emphasize the benefits your solution will bring.
As teams continue to work towards integration, you will begin coordinating by leveraging tools, channels, and outputs to include each other’s work. Typically here, teams work together on an as-needed basis in a transactional way. Ideas and strategies may work together independently, but lack cohesive planning in formulation. Trust is pretty high, and teams are comfortable pushing back on ideas as needed. You should use the intel gathered during steps 1 and 2 to inform both how you can help the other teams, and how the other teams can help you.
Coordination leads to increased visibility of CSR programs, and appreciation of other team’s work. Often, companies reach this step and become content, but it is up to CSR professionals to lead the way to the ultimate step - Collaboration.
When CSR becomes fully integrated in a company, teams work together seamlessly meeting, planning, and incorporating each other’s work in advance, building on each other’s strengths and sharing outcomes. Ideas come from any team at any level because all parties are focused on the collective good of making the company as great as it can be. Collaboration leads to enhanced relationships within your ecosystems. Whether it is consumers, employees, vendors, suppliers, or community leaders, with collaboration, business leaders understand the value of CSR and teams work together to drive business performance.
Very few companies reach the final step of collaboration because changing company culture can be challenging. CSR professionals, the new change management experts, must face these challenges head-on in order to lead meaningful change that satisfies both business goals and consumer demands. Remember, once collaboration is reached, the journey is not over. Collaboration requires continuous focus and effort to stay there without taking a step or two backwards.
Though you may have a long journey ahead, hopefully this roadmap helps you navigate successfully and will help your CSR program become fully integrated which ultimately builds brand as a good corporate citizen, positively impacting consumers, employees, and overall business success.
Principal at Rhythm Strategy Consultancy
A woman and minority-owned boutique advisory firm, focuses on enterprise-wide impact by delivering custom solutions to your corporate social responsibility, marketing communications and change management needs to support both emerging and established companies with strategic insight or technical assistance. She brings more than 25 years of executive-level experience within a diverse range of sectors: sports, financial services, telecommunications, utilities, and health care. Rita received a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations from The University of Texas at Austin and as a National Urban Fellow received a master’s degree in Public Administration with honors from Baruch College, School of Public Affairs, City University of New York.