Corporate responsibility – what’s a good company to do?

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Thinking beyond corporate responsibility can transform your company from passive follower to corporate service leader.

Corporate responsibility

Many companies exist to make a profit by selling products and/or services. Most of the time, they are bound by laws, and pay taxes for the privilege of doing business. Along the way, they also provide jobs and purchase products and services, much of which supports the local economies in which they operate.

Some argue that companies should do more for society. But if a company obeys the law, then it is actually doing all that it is legally required to contribute to society. Laws are dynamic, of course, and countries change laws all the time, in areas ranging from discrimination, occupational safety and environmental reporting, to strictures against bribery or operating in certain countries.

The origins of corporate charity

Beyond what they are legally required to do, however, companies often also contribute to society through various charitable or philanthropic measures. In the past, these were often determined by such things as where the company had its base of operations, or by a particular cause that had caught the interest of an owner or higher executive officer of the company.

As a result, the corporate giving of many companies eventually came to include an odd assortment of beneficiaries: a bit of this, and a bit of that. A fictional example gives you an idea of what I mean: a global camera lens manufacturer might provide major funding for the symphony orchestra and an aquarium in their home town, award a well-respected international prize in modern Latin poetry, sponsor a stable for retired racehorses, and allow employees an annual one-day paid leave to assist gifted local secondary students in learning to water-ski. Meanwhile, various local units might sponsor a neighborhood watch committee, staff a soup kitchen one night per year, participate in a sack race supporting animal rights, etc.

Now, let’s assume that all of these are worthy causes, and let’s also assume that supporting these causes added some ineffable value to the company, at least locally or within a limited field (such as new Latin poetry). It didn’t really matter, though, because this was a largely private sphere where any company could act as it saw fit.

New thinking in corporate responsibility

But that wasn’t the end of it. Corporate philanthropy exploded following the Second World War, in tandem with the rise of the corporation, expanded business school education and the explosion in business terminology. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) appeared in the 1960s, as a new, modern philosophy of how companies should think and act in their charitable activities.

And so it came to pass that corporate giving was reconceptualized as Corporate Responsibility (CR), Creating Shared Value (CSV), or Sustainability, sometimes relying on Stakeholder theory, and sometimes incorporating a Triple Bottom Line (TBL).

Not unnaturally, many companies found this all very confusing! Of course, one way to keep it simple was to ignore the finer points of the philosophical approach, and simply claim the name of one of them. In this manner, a disparate group of legacy philanthropic activities could all be gathered together and rebranded with a new, modern-sounding umbrella term. If nothing else, no one then needed to spend any more time on that.

These corporate activities do need a name though if we are to continue talking about them. So I am going to introduce a new one – Corporate Service – because it also sums things up, but without the accumulated baggage of these other terms. I’ll tell you more as we go along.

Shifting your perspective to Corporate Service

Now, there’s nothing really wrong with simply adopting a modern term and calling it a day. Perhaps your company does that. But it does sort of miss much of what is arguably an excellent opportunity to combine aspects of:

  • Insurance, paying up-front for goodwill and a good reputation, which may come in handy somewhere down the road.
  • Investment, helping ensure that your company can recruit and retain the people it wants to employ,
  • Marketing, indirectly reinforcing the overall message of who you are as a company.

In that way, Corporate Service supports sustainability – not least your own!

But all of this is only the introduction. What I really want to do is propose a commonsensical, simple and efficient way to maximize the return on your company’s philanthropic time and treasure by vertically integrating your corporate identity and corporate story directly into your Corporate Service.

Vertically integrating? In my next posting, I’ll tell you what that means, and how to do that.

For more information on how to use your Corporate Service to your advantage, contact us: info@steelecht.com

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