Integrated CSR benefits society – and your business

Vertically integrated Corporate Service encourages a company to be true to itself and its business. By harnessing its expertise to serve the greater good, a company better serves society, and its corporate reputation.

What is vertically integrated Corporate Service?

The idea behind vertically integrated Corporate Service (CS) is incredibly simple. It can be reduced to this: companies identify and support worthy causes that relate to who they are. Specifically, this means what they are good at, and/or what they are selling. For instance, our company specializes in communication. So our CS revolves around pro bono work helping disadvantaged people (e.g. refugees) communicate with the local authorities.

Of course, many companies have been supporting causes unrelated to their core businesses for years. Indeed, such legacy causes are virtually impossible to separate from company support without causing collateral damage. Or a company might have such a broad variety of products and/or services that a truly coherent story is difficult to achieve.

“Whatever you do as a company – including your Corporate Service activities – becomes part of the public perception of who you are.”

When in doubt, use a metaphor

In such cases, however, solutions are easily conceivable. A common way to find unity in diversity is to creatively identify an applicable metaphor or theme. It is also reasonable to imagine that every major business unit of a company might have its own CS niche.

In any event, the point of vertically integrating your CS with your corporate activities is simply to better connect with customers and employees – actual and potential – and the general public, by reinforcing their awareness and knowledge of exactly who you are and what you do.

This raises an important, related point. That is, whatever you do as a company becomes part of the perception that people have of who you are. Companies spend a lot of time and money attempting to ensure that public opinion favors their endeavors. Aligning your Corporate Service activities with your business activities is an easy way to do just that.

Vertical integration of your CS simply narrows and refines the possibilities of that perception, strengthening your case to really be the company you say you are, and improving the chances that the public believes you and perceives you in the way in which you wish to be perceived.

What message are you sending?

Let’s look at one company who do not do this. A very large and well-known financial services institution (who shall here remain anonymous!) claims that it takes its responsibility for their social environment very seriously. The proof given for this seriousness includes support for graduate education in finance and a high-profile European artistic award.

Admittedly, those sound like pretty serious things. But the link between art and their business is not immediately clear. And, while MBAs may be important to the company, their overall value to society at large – or to the problems facing it – is less apparent.

The point is that, if it wishes to use its Corporate Service profile to convey, reinforce and/or expand a reputation for being elitist or out of touch, that is its prerogative. But, if it is trying to market itself as a company that cares, it is sadly failing to do so here.

Add value by being yourself

So what could that company do? Well, first it might try to identify some higher-level themes within its business and corporate identity that can be used to connect it more clearly with society. It actually has lots of opportunities to do this, for example with transaction, exchange, trading, transparency, crossroads, meeting, etc.

It might then play with those themes a bit to find a combination that both accurately acknowledges and affirms its identity, while leaving space for that identity to grow. This would not necessarily be a public slogan, but it would provide an internal compass for directing the next phase of CS integration.

Metaphorical themes allow you to firmly connect your specific business with a multitude of worthy causes with which you might not normally be associated. In this case, a rubric of (for example) “Clearly sharing value” could easily be applied to partnering with or pioneering programs that emphasize aspects of their actual business.

For instance, here are some relevant societal facts: many children lack basic skills in numeracy, and “22% of 16- to 19-year-olds in England are functionally innumerate”. Even more of the future global workforce lack skills in computer coding or programming. And in Europe – and globally – there is a huge group of young people “not in employment, education or training” (NEET). In certain countries, regions, and groups, these figures are staggering.

A “Clearly sharing value” approach would shift the emphasis from MBAs to children and marginalized young people, and from art to partnering with schools, NGOs, and governments to serve society with practical assistance, in areas in which a good financial institution has both competence, and a vested interest.

Sadly, many companies are missing out on what a good, integrated CS approach can offer them and the societies on which they depend, simply because they are not aligning their Corporate Service with their business.

In another article, we look at a company that is doing it right, and providing a benchmark for vertically integrated Corporate Service.

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