Like most of you, I’m often asked what I do for a living. Do you dread this question as much as I do? I’m deeply passionate about this field and continue to trumpet the important role CSR plays in shaping modern society. However, despite the constant refining of my elevator speech over the years, it seems like an unwieldy concept for some to grasp.
My latest encounter was unavoidable. So began another attempt to explain corporate responsibility and how ACCP supports executives in their efforts to strategically align CSR with their companies’ business priorities. As if on cue, what immediately followed were bewilderment and confusion, then an attempt to shift the conversation to more pressing matters like the Grammys and Kanye West. Geez, what did I say?
Earlier this week, I read a timely article that succinctly explained how two perceived diametrically opposed concepts like increasing shareholder value and corporate social responsibility can be reconciled. After reading it, I had a better understanding of why those outside our profession have such a difficult time understanding what we do. This insightful article was written by Richard T. Bliss, a professor of finance at Babson College, and published on CFO.com. You can access it here.
Mr. Bliss rightly points out that, despite the increased focus, many companies struggle to fully integrate CSR into their core business strategies. At the heart of this disconnect, according to Bliss, are the different “demographics, education, and experience” of the two sides of the corporate fence – those “making” the case for CSR versus those “assessing” its potential value.
When you think of the metrics that most CEOs and CFOs to measure results, a very clear yardstick exists – shareholder value. Shareholder value is clearly defined and there are requirements, such as SEC regulations, GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Practices) and IAS (International Accreditation Services) accounting rules, which dictate reporting requirements. CEOs and CFOs are driven by defined, quantifiable measures.
According to Wikipedia, globally there are 15 CSR reporting guidelines, each with its own methodology. In addition, depending on the company, the goals of a CSR program vary widely. CSR professionals are not accustomed to benchmarking results against shareholder value.
So, how can you bridge the divide and communicate more effectively with your C-suite? Here are some tips you may find helpful.
- Articulate Value to the Business – hone your business case to a few salient points and stay on-message.
- Speak their Language – avoid “CSR” terminology that leaves the impression you work for a social services agency.
- Build Cross-Functional Alliances –learn to walk in the other guy’s shoes. Actively demonstrate that you understand the business to internal stakeholders.
In closing, the corporate responsibility function is rooted in future-proofing the company’s business model. While CEO and CFO performance are typically measured based on shorter cycles, you are uniquely positioned to address issues that impact long-term competitive advantage. Speaking in these terms will resonate with this more data-driven and analytical audience.