Engaging Your C-Suite in CSR - A Four Part Blog: Part Two, “The What: Charting the Path Ahead”

As we discussed in Part One of this Blog Series, it’s important to share a clear vision of your CSR programming with your executive stakeholders. In this post we will discuss the importance of taking a pragmatic approach as well. It is equally important to be clear, detailed, and factual when you are working to elicit participation from corporate executives for CSR programming. And in order to facilitate a rapid adoption of your CSR programming, take an ecological approach (i.e. eco-efficiency); work to solve a problem; and map the enterprise directly to your CSR programming.
“Within a decade, it is going to be next to impossible for a business to be competitive without also being “’eco-efficient’” Stephan Schmidheiney (1987)
The case for taking an eco-efficient approach to your organization’s business practices is well-documented. For example, 3M has saved over $1billion dollars through its pollution-prevention projects since 1997. The term “Eco-efficiency” was coined as an outcome of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. “Eco-efficiency is a strategy that is designed to transform industrial processes from systems that take, make, and waste into systems that integrates economic, environmental and ethical concerns” (source: McDonough & Braungart. Cradle to Cradle. First Edition. North Point Press, 2002).   Making sure to frame your CSR programming within your organization’s existing eco-efficiency frameworks is critical to gaining executive support. Or, if by some chance, your organization isn’t currently taking an enterprise wide ecologically friendly approach, it is a good opportunity to serve as a convener within your organization to make the case. In this case, it is critical to convene and provide solutions that alleviate industrial (or organizational) burdens, while rewarding innovation.  In order to get the ball rolling, one area of your organization where you can facilitate rapid adoption of CSR is to look at end-of-pipe processes – those processes that are towards the “emissions” or “end of life” side of your business. End-of-pipe processes tend to be more closely regulated and therefore there may be an interest by leadership to innovate in order to stave off crippling government oversight and restrictions. 
There is a saying that all of the problems left to be solved are difficult. Otherwise, we would have already solved them by now. And many executives spend significant parts of their day brainstorming and workshopping practical solutions to address the significant problems within the enterprise that they are confronted with. One way to garner executive buy-in for your CSR programming is to solve one of these problems. Can you connect your programming to the provision of a solution to a significant challenge that your leadership is facing? How about specifically to your organization, department, or industry? As you work to plan and roll out your CSR programming are there ways that you can inculcate your programming as a powerful lens to promote innovation and disruption? There is research which suggests that organizations that do good in the world return more profit to their shareholders than their counterparts. So, to the extent that you can be explicit in detailing the causation between your CSR programming and specific challenges that your organization is facing (i.e. retention, happiness, team-cohesion, innovation) you are much more likely to gain executive support and buy-in for those efforts.
Another exercise that can pay real dividends towards gaining executive sponsorship of your CSR activities is to take the time to directly map your CSR activities to your enterprise. In other words, there is great value in sitting down with your team of advisors and a white board and drawing the links between your organization’s business units (e.g. HR, Finance, Legal, Operations, Sales, Marketing, R&D, etc.) and your CSR programming. The connections should be clear – as should the goal: to integrate CSR into the enterprise and to make the adoption of your core technology(s) integral to your organization’s philanthropy. This exercise shouldn’t end until you have a clear elevator pitch for how your programming appeals “across the aisle” and speaks to the double and/or triple bottom line of your organization. There is a powerful process that proponents of the FranklinCovey approach to business use called, Workback Planning. With a workback plan, you start by envisioning the outcome that you seek – in this case a deep integration of your organization’s core technology into your CSR programming. Then, build a plan back from that accomplishment that includes timelines and key outcomes at regular intervals. This exercise ends when you have a list of daily tasks (or to-dos) at weekly and/or monthly intervals, and can site project markers that are directly tied to the integrated outcome you envisioned. 
Charting the path ahead means creating critical links between the good, that you as CSR professionals are doing, with the core aspects of your organization’s offering to the community.  By using eco-efficiency, solving a problem, and mapping the enterprise we can, as CSR professionals create a powerful “what” that the entirety of our organizations can get behind.
Next up with Engaging Your C-Suite in CSR: The How – Keeping It Simple.
Have a different or similar perspective? Please feel free to share your experience with me on Twitter @iiikaizeniii or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/seekingdharma, and let’s keep the conversation going.
For information on how SVCF can help with your CSR programming, please contact us at Donate@Siliconvalleycf.org