Every company has both written and unwritten obligations to make the world a better place for the present and future generations. It may be multinational corporations or small enterprises. They all share they same mission and vision: to contribute to the progress of the society.
We live in a customer-centric and highly connected world where consumers not only want to feel good about their purchase but also want to make use of communication channels, like the social media, to share the story behind the purchase.
And more than certainly, consumer sentiments can make or break businesses. Having a positive social purpose and a core message that resonates with the values of the community can be they key business differentiator.
This is where Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) comes in. For companies that see CSR as an opportunity to strengthen the business, the big challenge is in the execution. Business leaders are often bewildered as to the kind of strategies they ought to adopt or implement in the areas where they can have the greatest impact.
The current trend among companies to advance their CSR initiatives is entering into “smart partnership”. Companies now recognise CSR as an opportunity to strengthen their businesses while building and renewing human, social and natural wealth. They realise that finding the right partner for their programmes is absolutely critical to the success of a CSR strategy and, accordingly, taking appropriate measures to ensure a partnership co-creates value for both business and society. They work with their partners to assess the needs and develop programmes that meet those needs, where they are in building capacity, improving awareness or supporting policy development.
Smart partnering generally can provide a practical way forward for corporate leaders to assess the true opportunities of CSR. Smart partnership focuses on key areas of impact between business and society and develops creative solutions that draw on the complementary capabilities of both to address major challenges that affect each partner.
Smart partnering is difficult, but when both sides see win–win potential, there is greater motivation to realise the substantial benefits. Relationships—particularly long-term ones that are built on a realistic understanding of the true strengths on both sides—have a greater opportunity of being successful and sustainable.
In smart partnering, the time frame is essential, as initiatives can be complex and take time to fully create an impact. Benefits generated have to be shared between the business and society. It must never be one-sided as it will defeat the purpose of CSR.
In nutshell, smart partnership requires planning and hard work to assess potential mutual benefits, establish trust, and build and manage the activities, internally as well as externally.
But is it worth it? Companies at the forefront of smart partnering suggest the answer is a resounding yes.
But to ensure the success of smart partnership, it is absolutely vital for companies to go in with a long-term commitment. Having a positive impact on societal issues such as living standards is not a “quick fix” project.
Corporate leaders who want to go into smart partnership, therefore, need to have long-term mindsets backed up by solid vows and measurable commitments and actions. Their initiatives must demonstrate added value to both shareholders and stakeholders over time.
Another equally important consideration to ensure the success of smart partnership is the need to engage the company’s entire workforce and lead by example. It has to be a top-down approach. Leaders must be prepared to make a personal commitment to the activities. A company’s workforce is one of the greatest assets and beneficiaries when it comes to CSR activities.
Of late, there has been noticeable increase in employees, especially the millennials, choosing to work for companies whose values resonate with their own. Attracting and retaining talent will be a growing challenge in the future, so activities that build on core values and inspire employees are key to a company’s success and profit margin.
There is also a groundswell of interest in CSR by SMEs (small and medium enterprises). These SMEs have realised that incorporating smart CSR initiatives into their operations can help them develop more focused and effective business strategies.
In adopting CSR to shape their strategy, leaders of SMEs need to have a vision that highlights employee morale and new product innovation. They also stay true to their business and pick CSR initiatives that are appropriate for their company’s size, sector and location. For example, a small catering business might offer cost-price catering for a local school fair. A training company could offer work experience and a free training course for the long-term unemployed.
The SMEs also need to ask for feedback by getting input from employees, key customers and suppliers to understand how their business generates value and reveal areas for improvements. Doing so can lead to enhanced products and processes for the company.
And finally, as in the case of corporations, SMEs also need to think long-term by focusing on long-term efficiencies, not short-term cost-cutting. For instance, in the wake of a sales slump, the SME should foster employee loyalty by reducing work hours rather than firing employees.
In entirety, smart partnering is good business. There are clear signs that momentum is building towards a time when CSR will be absorbed into core strategy and business activities rather than treated as an orphan in need of a special label.