Wake up and smell the coffee, corporate social responsibility needs to be addressed

3 hands holding a coffee each, with one of them being an iced coffee. Their cups are touching together. It's a top down view.

While sipping on my below-average coffee, I pondered why I kept coming back to the same coffee shop. I realized it was because, despite the sub-standard coffee, I liked it here. The staff were friendly, and the atmosphere surrounding this little hole-in-the-wall was inviting, welcoming and widely known. Despite the average cup o’ Joe, the coffee shop’s local public perception was magnetic. Public perception is a healthy indicator of how well a business will do. How much does social perception affect a business’ health? How much will a business’ standing within a community affect its outgoings? Is corporate social responsibility the latest vogue?

Businesses have a responsibility not only to their own employees and customers, but to the communities and societies they operate within. Increasingly, there is a need for companies to conduct themselves with purpose as a core value, not only to attract and retain the best talent, but to enact positive change within their communities.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a central theme for organizations in recent years, and with good reason. Both potential and existing employees prefer companies who are committed to positive core values.

One report from Deloitte found that 42 percent of millennials have begun or deepened a relationship with a business they believe has a beneficial effect on society or the environment. Harvard Business School found that 93 percent of employees believe it is important for companies to lead with purpose.

Implementing a successful CSR strategy is an ongoing process, but certainly doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult. There are some straightforward changes you can make to your CSR initiatives today.

Company collaboration

For CSR initiatives to be truly successful, they must engage the whole of a business. This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes businesses make when it comes to implementing their strategy. CSR initiatives that come exclusively from the top down often lack engagement and buy-in from employees. Instead, a “bottom-up” approach gives staff a chance to have meaningful input on the charities, volunteering or projects your company will support, promoting higher levels of engagement from the very start.

Listen to your team, take note of the causes that matter to them and create a healthy work-communication environment. It may also be an eye-opener to discover the causes your employees already have connections to within your community.

Bake it into the business

CSR strategies tend to fail when they are not fully integrated into the business. They shouldn’t be something done once or twice a year. While it is certainly valuable to have company-wide projects, such as community volunteering days, your values should also be woven into the fabric of how your business operates and conducts itself day-to-day.

Ensuring that your company isn’t merely paying lip service to its espoused values, but instead actively living them is crucial to making a real positive impact. This might include values of diversity and inclusion, the gender pay gap, creating an inclusive environment for disabled or neurodivergent employees or other environmental and societal concerns.

If employees can see your business is committed to operating with purpose and living by its values, they are much more likely to get on board with company-wide values.

Measure Impact

The ability to report the social and business value various CSR activities are having is incredibly important but can also be challenging. However, getting this right means being able to communicate to stakeholders, employees and the community as a whole on the successes of your employees and your organization.

When reporting on the impact of your company initiatives, it’s important to look at the big picture, and the overarching purpose of a particular initiative or project. It is of course useful to collect valuable data, like the amount of money raised, but it is also important to contextualize this impact with real, human-driven stories and narratives, or perhaps even case studies that provide qualitative examples of your work.

Effectively measuring CSR impact is often a work-in-progress, but as you become better at it, it’s invaluable for building credibility, boosting employee engagement and promoting additional goals and initiatives.

Communicate successes

As with many aspects of running an effective organization, clear lines of communication are vital and this holds true when it comes to your CSR strategy. Ensuring employees are consistently engaged with company-wide CSR activities means regularly communicating the impact and success of these projects and initiatives to them.

While impact reporting plays a role in this, it’s also important to provide regular updates and encouragement, as well as acknowledgement of employee efforts via company social media, newsletters, internal messaging or whatever channels are most utilized by employees.

It may seem obvious, but consistent communication is key to crafting powerful brand messaging and demonstrating the commitment of your business to its stated values and CSR goals. Not only does it show appreciation for what participating employees have achieved, but it also goes a long way in encouraging others to get involved in future initiatives.

Build partnerships

Your business does not operate in a vacuum and chances are there are already many positive initiatives going on within your community. Taking some time to identify what organizations are already doing around you and offering the support of your business is a powerful way to effect meaningful change within your local community. This could simply mean a financial donation, volunteering or even donating the time and skills of your employees or business resources to a charity organization in need.

The most effective CSR initiatives are built on a foundation of mutual understanding and benefit. Understanding what your company can bring to the table is important for developing long-term sustainable relationships with other organizations and charities, and avoiding one-off gestures that can come across as shallow PR stunts.

Developing purpose as a core value

Keeping in mind corporate social responsibility, business leaders have the opportunity to conduct both themselves and their companies with real purpose, but doing so successfully requires a collective effort from across the entire organization.

Living company values day-to-day through an effective CSR strategy not only helps to promote employee engagement and craft positive brand messages but also allows business leaders to do their part in making real impacts on communities and society as a whole.