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

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Photo by Namphuong Van via unsplash

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