Designing and implementing an effective corporate social responsibility strategy is increasingly integral to the success of UK businesses. When done well, a CSR strategy generates numerous benefits for the business and the wider world. From supporting employees and the community to protecting the environment and championing good causes, the scope of CSR is broad. However, with multiple stakeholders to consider, businesses can sometimes wonder where to start.
Fortunately, many UK businesses are showing the way with CSR strategies that demonstrate their genuine desire to make the world a better place and showcase their creativity and innovation. By adopting the following five CSR strategies and tailoring them to your own business, your organisation can follow their lead and gain all the advantages of good CSR.
Build a Robust, Healthy and Inclusive Corporate Culture
The way employees think about work is changing. Increasingly, employees want to align their own beliefs and values with those of the organisation they work for and are looking for businesses that are clear about their governing principles, the business ethics they adopt, and the support that employees can expect when they join the business.
This covers a broad spectrum of issues, from diversity and inclusion to workplace wellbeing, work-life balance and fair compensation. Ultimately, organisational culture must be defined and led from the board level and be authentically visible to all who engage with the business.
Sustaining corporate culture and nurturing employee wellbeing has become more challenging as staff work from home during the pandemic. One UK business ahead of the curve is communications agency Battenhall, which recognised the value of flexible and remote working and employee trust from its foundation in 2013. Staff are encouraged to work in the way that suits them best, and they’re given a generous technology allowance so they can choose the gadgets that make them the most productive — even if that means they buy a PlayStation!
In a core expression of trust, Battenhall employees are also offered unlimited holiday. They are encouraged to spend 20% of their time experimenting and innovating, and supporting pro bono projects as part of their core hours. The set-up also includes an in-house health coach, mentoring and wellbeing training for all staff, plus a wellbeing allowance to spend on something that makes them feel good.
Battenhall founder Drew Benvie is clear that the company’s strong culture underpins the success of this approach, and the agency recently won the “Best large agency to work for” at the Company Culture Awards.
Choose CSR Activities That Are Relevant and Attuned to Community Needs
Society is vigilant to activities that are inauthentic or “tone deaf” to the needs of communities. As such, CSR strategies should play to the strengths and expertise of the business while being relevant to problems being addressed. This has a dual benefit of capitalising on existing skills within the organisation and aligning with its core purpose while benefiting society.
UK bakery Greggs is leading its CSR strategy with its “Greggs Pledge” to do good “for people and planet” with a programme of ten pledges that align with the UN’s sustainable development goals. In the 1960s, the company offered free pie “n” peas suppers to elderly residents in its hometown of Gateshead. This has evolved to become a nationwide free breakfast club for schoolchildren, providing 70,000 free meals per day.
Importantly, as a fast-food business, Greggs also acknowledges its role in tackling obesity and food waste, showing that it is responsive to the needs of society and is not ducking its duty on health and environmental issues.
Celebrate CSR Strategy Successes on All Levels
While the starting point of CSR is philanthropy, it would be disingenuous for a company not to be alert to the positive effects it delivers in other areas. Being transparent about these benefits encourages other businesses to adopt similar measures and builds a rising tide of recognition that doing good initiates a virtuous circle.
A UK organisation successfully combining CSR with commercial benefit is Timpson Group. The company’s CEO realised that the nation’s marginalised community of ten million people who have a criminal conviction should not be thrown “on the employment scrapheap”. Timpson’s policy of employing ex-offenders now sees around 10% of its workforce making lives that move past their criminal convictions. The company says: “The vast majority of ex-offenders we recruit are extremely loyal, productive, hardworking and make excellent colleagues. Many have been promoted and fully grasp the second chance they have been given. To put it simply, recruiting ex-offenders has been great for our business.”
Publish Clear, Measurable Targets and Report Transparently on Progress
As the famous saying goes, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. However, some aspects of CSR are more challenging than others to put a figure on. While these intangible benefits are important, it is also essential that organisations develop metrics around the majority of targets they set and report on them as accurately and transparently as possible.
Retailer Marks and Spencer set the bar high for CSR strategy and reporting with the high-profile launch of “Plan A” in January 2007. The plan cost £200million to implement and centred around 100 commitments the company would meet in the following five years. By the first deadline, in 2012, the company reported achieving those initial 100 commitments plus 38 further commitments made in the interim period. Plan A has continued to evolve to reflect changing times, shifting from its initial focus on the supply chain into a broader customer education and engagement initiative. Reporting remains central to Marks and Spencer’s CSR strategy, and the business is transparent over the targets it hasn’t yet succeeded in meeting or where progress has slowed
Keep CSR Strategies Current and Seek Stakeholder Feedback
Businesses do not exist in a vacuum. Just as the challenges facing society and the environment are constantly changing, so must a company’s CSR strategy. Monitoring emerging trends and issues and developing an appropriate response is crucial, and so is actively seeking feedback from the stakeholders the programme is designed to impact. Doing so avoids the risk that the company might adopt tone-deaf initiatives or persist in activities that are no longer having the desired effect.
Fortunately, today’s social media-rich world makes it easier for organisations to monitor consumer sentiment around their CSR efforts and gather feedback. Individuals have more opportunities than ever to make their views known and are not reticent about doing so.
Employees should also be consulted about the impact and evolution of CSR strategies. They are both a recipient group and the engine that enables the programme to operate, making their views doubly important. Regular engagement on the topic can help identify new initiatives and flag issues before they become problems.
Investors are another core stakeholder group and are growing increasingly interested in a company’s CSR performance, as well as its more metric-focused relation, ESG.
Support CSR Strategy With Technology
Devising and implementing an effective CSR strategy requires a combination of insight, creativity and action, backed up by rigorous monitoring and reporting. It is a whole-business undertaking, from the setting of “tone from the top” at board level to the boots on the ground that ensure the programme is operating as it should and achieving its goals.
Organisations looking to build on the effectiveness of their CSR strategy should explore the technology solutions available to support goal identification, tracking and reporting. Tools such as Diligent’s ESG solutions add value at all levels, from educating leadership on frameworks and evolving regulations to monitoring stakeholder sentiment. So the company’s corporate social responsibility strategy can continue to deliver good results — for everyone.
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