Could you be more specific? Why your corporate social responsibility plan needs structure

Is your corporate social responsibility program full of sound and fury? McKinsey offers advice on how to make sure you can drive significant results.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

McKinsey Quarterly has published an essay about how businesses can improve the chances that the money they spend on corporate social responsibility programs actually will generate some sort of meaningful return.

The article, called "Making the Most of Corporate Social Responsibility," focuses on two primary concepts: First, the notion that corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs can't be managed off on the side, they must be integrated into overall corporate strategy, and second that business leaders should focus not just on internal efforts but on finding the right partners to help them get there. The McKinsey writers use Unilever as an illustration of both concepts.

There are a few high-level takeaways they highlight, which bear repeating here.

  1. Companies should concentrate their efforts on where they will have the most effect. This one really can't be overemphasized. When I read this, I thought immediately of Coca-Cola, which I interviewed last week and which will be the subject of a future blog post. Coke's major focus is on improving how its business affects water globally, as it should be.
  2. Businesses need to understand what benefits (goals) they are seeking, not just from a corporate standpoint but from a community standpoint. Sometimes, what society wants may be a bit different from what the business can support. Be realistic.
  3. The right partners will be valuable allies. Know what they bring to their table and make sure they share your same overall goals.

Like any other strategic objective, sustainability efforts need to be specific and attainable. A great example, which is amplified in the article, is Unilever's "Project Shakti," intended to help rural women in India "develop independence and self-esteem." If you look at the matrix of benefits to both Unilever and the local community, there are specific goals for each. So, for example, Unilever sought to drive employment for up to 42,000 rural women, helping drive $100 million in new sales in the region. The education and training it provided had a tangible positive impact on Unilever's corporate reputation, while a corresponding improvement in health and living standards helped the company create an entirely new rural distribution system.

You get the picture.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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