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CSR Strategy: If You Build It, Will They Come?

You might remember the movie Field of Dreams, in which Kevin Costner is constantly reminded, “If you build it, he will come.”  It seems fitting that with the World Series in full swing I am reminded of this phrase almost on a daily basis (although a little less often since my beloved Red Sox have been eliminated). The goals of any socially-responsible organization are not dissimilar to that of a professional baseball team: promote your organization as best in class. Be accountable for the performance and decisions that got you to where you are. Engage and rely on a diverse group of stakeholders to mobilize success.

In the context of the “team,” the responsibilities of a CSR manager include employing various stakeholder engagement techniques to scale and broaden conversations, creating  meaningful dialogues to inform and help develop the organization’s CSR programs. Stakeholders benefit from this kind of interaction, too, by gaining awareness of corporate initiatives and how an organization is tracking their progress towards goals. When this kind of two-way communication can help spur tangible improvements – in your own life or as a contribution to reducing your company’s impacts – then you’re getting somewhere.

How does a manager ensure avenues for engagement will result in real achievements? Beyond focusing on engagements that relate to your company’s core CSR strategy, don’t dismiss the value of discussing key issues and challenges facing your entire industry.

Working with stakeholders to develop a long-term strategy could result in new discoveries, investments, or game-changing tactics. And because you may be focusing on issues larger than your own company, you’re more likely to work on issues that need scaleable solutions – thereby positioning your company as a leader – without that being the only objective!

Also consider leveraging forums that broaden your circle of stakeholders to folks that don’t show up as “the usual suspects” on a CSR manager’s engagement list. In today’s increasingly crowded space of companies claiming corporate responsibility, a social media platform that rallies companies and individuals around these concepts is a place where organic ideas begin to blossom.

For example, our webpage on JustMeans allows for direct and immediate feedback from all kinds of stakeholders – including consumers, students, and the average blogger – so that programs or metrics can be adjusted for improved performance. You might be surprised that some of the best ideas can come from folks that are not CSR experts.

The very way many of us think of these engagements has also begun to shift. Stakeholders are being viewed more and more as partners working to help our organizations achieve a new level of thinking – rather than a group that only keeps us “in check” for accountability purposes. By building a community of thinkers and doers rather than a list of key audiences that should be aware of our CSR efforts, we are collectively creating opportunities for society improvements..

So as we’re nearing the end October and beginning to fade into the last days of baseball season, I find James Earl Jones entering as “The Voice” inside my own head: “If we build it, will they come?”  I’m definitely looking for more stakeholders to join our conversations online and in other venues. However, rather than issuing a “Call to Action,” companies’ stakeholder engagement efforts should leverage forums that will provide the most meaningful exchanges. A dialogue can only be a two-way street if it is viewed as a “Call for Inter-Action.”  I hope you’ll join the conversation.

Beth Holzman is the CSR Strategy & Reporting Manager at The Timberland Company.

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One thought on “CSR Strategy: If You Build It, Will They Come?

  1. A very interesting article Beth. With the need for standardized approaches to carbon management and measurement for carbon labelling and a crucial need for especially supply chains to be all ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ on sustainability – stakeholder engagement is more important than ever. I’ve heard too many stories of great ideas for saving carbon/waste/energy (i.e. money!) being pushed to employees and failing miserably because of a lack of communication with them on the benefits and objectives. There is a danger that external CSR activity to consumers and to suppliers may also fall foul if there are not the platforms in place to interact and inspire stakeholders, with the often well-defined and intended strategies.

    We at 2degrees are providing an online collaboration tool to major corporates, who need both the ability to privately engage and interact with their stakeholders (providing them with a “Call to Inter-action” – a phrase I might have to pinch from you Beth!!) and also the added value of being able to share best-practice in the wider information networks on topics such as waste, energy-efficiency and carbon. It is application-only to join us but feel free to drop me an email at oliver.hurrey@2degreesnetwork.com for more information.


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