Top 5 Corporate Community Impact Questions
29 January 2013 at 10:05 am
Drawing on his experience of working locally, in Asia and North America over the last 5 years, UnitedWay’s Doug Taylor shares the most commonly asked questions that effective corporate leaders are asking about their community impact programs at the start of 2013.
Corporate Community Impact is in an incredibly dynamic space at the moment. My work at United Way brings me into contact with corporate leaders across the world who are responsible for this portfolio area and feel increased pressure to create outcomes for their business, their people and the community. Some are proactively leading their business through the change and to be honest many others are all at sea looking for the next good idea as a potential lifeline.
As we head into 2013 here are 5 questions that I have observed the most effective corporate leaders asking about their community impact programs.
1. We seem to be doing lots of things but what’s the business case for this work?
It may seem obvious but it never ceases to amaze me how many business leaders are unclear about the purpose to their strategy, more specifically the business purpose. In other words, why your business is addressing those community causes, in that way, with these partners. The best business leaders I have seen are pushing their people to be crystal clear on the business case for their strategy and not just rely on history or warm and fuzzy justifications.
To that end much has been written about Shared Value and the opportunity to better integrate traditional CSR into the business. This has been a useful development but good leaders know that change is often incremental and so they start with the basics and ask why? I think they do this because they know that if they can answer this and create a business case, then the strategy will stand the test of time and not be subject to whim and personal agendas.
2. In the grand scheme of things our contribution is relatively small, so how can we maximise our impact?
The most insightful corporate leaders know that in reality a corporation’s contribution to creating community impact is actually quite small when you consider the scale of problems and the comparative investment made by government and the community. These leaders aren’t disheartened by this and still want to make a mark and know that this can only be done through partnerships and collaboration.
Most corporations have partnered with not for profits for many years but the new frontier is collaboration with government and other corporations. This takes many forms and can include sharing information to ensure that you don’t create your strategy in isolation right through to intentional partnerships with other corporations. These relationships can be within their industry or with other businesses who may be suppliers or customers (which of course creates other tangible benefits). They do this because they know that social issues are complex and to have a significant impact requires more resources and complementary capabilities must be harnessed to make the biggest impact possible.
3. I have less money to spend now so what non-financial resources can we harness?
Many businesses have seen reductions in one way or another in their budget allocation for community impact programs. For some this is the result of the changed economic climate and for others it’s the result of a mature strategy that’s hit the ceiling in available funds. All of this has lead the best corporate leaders to creatively look at how they can harness the true power of the business- their people, assets and capabilities. From my perspective this is a welcomed development because the amount on money corporations can give is actually quite modest when you compare this to what the business itself can do to create community impact.
I’m regularly part of fascinating conversations with corporate leaders across the world asking how they can leverage the personal and professional skills of employees as well as the organisation’s IP, products, services, systems and assets for community impact. This is taking us into a new and exciting time and has opened up a whole new frontier, which will result in more resources available to creating community impact.
4. We have been doing this work for a long time so how do we know it works?
Let’s face it businesses are like any organisation because they are made up of people who can often fall into the trap of just doing what they have always done, becoming emotionally detached and ultimately losing the edge to innovate and endeavour to do things better. I’m encouraged to see the best corporate leaders asking tough questions about their community impact programs and developing strategies to measure performance. Data is critically important because it provides one source of information that both challenges and reaffirms what you are doing.
Sadly many business leaders fall into the trap of low expectations for these programs essentially because they don’t understand what it’s all about and can’t measure it like the rest of their other business activities. The reality is community impact programs have elements that need to be evaluated like any businesses activity but also have some fundamentally different metrics that require complementary methodologies. In my experience the best business leaders are raising expectations and bringing the same focus and discipline to community impact that they have for any of their business activities.
5. We are part of a business network beyond our shores, surely we can replicate what’s worked elsewhere?
A colleague of mine recently talked about contemporary organisations suffering from the ‘terminal illness of uniqueness’. She made the great point that leaders in many organisations fall into the trap of thinking that what they do is special and unique and fundamentally different to what others do. Often it is but only in marginal terms often hidden from most observers in the market place. The great challenge this presents is that it creates an unwillingness to learn from others and replicate good practices from other organisations.
I have observed this illness is not only experienced by community organisations, who are often preoccupied with promoting how different they and the community they serve are to everyone else. I often see corporate leaders quite unwilling to learn and replicate strategies from colleagues within their own organisation in other regions or countries. The best corporate leaders are applying a healthy dose of common sense to these conversations and asking what they can learn from their own organisation’s activities globally.They realise that community impact is a global phenomena so work to get more connected with your colleagues across the world.