Corporate Social Responsibility:
The current and future state of CSR in a COVID-19 Framework
A Two Part Reflection
In Part One of our discussion on Corporate Social Responsibility programs I shared why CSR programs are important for companies and their employees. In this installment I will expand on some of the details behind how to make your program work.
Four (4) drivers of Corporate Social Responsibility success were, and are now, more important than ever:
- CSR Makes Us Better Together: During Covid-19 and Beyond, CSR Can Make Us Stronger.
CSR efforts always provided the intangible benefit of bringing employees together in common mission. Initiatives drive conversation outside daily job responsibilities. Efforts facilitate conversations across management tiers and company functions. CSR is a source of positive conversation and sense of community, living and growing inside of a company. It leads to higher retention rates and higher levels of transparent communication.
At a time when we feel more remote then ever—when communication and soft touch points are more limited, when conversations are anchored around hardship and fear—it is critical that companies provide employees with a positive focal point that is forward looking, goal focused, community driven, and a tool to increase communication. Although CSR efforts are shaped around helping the external community, the internal community sees the benefits of improved communication, increased productivity, and higher employee loyalty. The near-term COVID-19 response and longer-term CSR efforts should not only focus on how they will appear to clients or customers, but these efforts should be anchored in how they are connecting the diverse aspects of your employee community.
- CSR Emphasizes Health & Wellness: When CSR and HR Unite, Results are Amplified.
In selecting an initiative for CSR, companies often select a cause with a narrow opportunity set. Employees should not be asked via CSR to volunteer at a shelter and then asked by HR to run a 5K, seemingly with no connection. Both have exponentially more value when they are tied together. At a time when overall health is a concern and individuals are less physically active than ever, the COVID response is a great reminder that caring for your employees’ health and wellness can drive greater connection to your CSR efforts. Strategic and planning and communication creates more emphasis and impact. Tying your CSR efforts together with employee wellness goals through a well-executed communication campaign, drives higher results for both. As companies define future initiatives, they should use CSR to help employees live healthier lifestyles.
- Make the Macro into Micro: Layer Causes, Do Not Shift Causes.
It has always been important to select causes that are broad enough for all employees to engage with the issue. But the cause also must provide local and tangible results for the employees and beneficiaries to see the impact. This balance ensures that your efforts have a consistent narrative to raise awareness of core issues, reinforce opportunities and measure its impact. In times of sudden change, this consistency can be reaffirming for employees a give a rallying point around company values. In response to COVID-19 it is natural to want to redirect all CSR efforts to helping first responders and health care workers. It feels like the right thing to do, and it often is, but it should be done with care.
The key is layering the causes, not shifting from one to the other. For example, if you have built your efforts around autism support, holding true to that core, you can layer support of first responders within the autism community. For example, you can raise awareness around securing personal protective equipment (PPE) for therapists and group home managers, or you can ensure those group homes still have meals if normal supply patterns are broken. Think creatively to tie your broader themes to the needs of the day. Instead of breaking consistency and cause, think about how you can layer your traditional cause over the unique needs the community is facing. This will help your employees feel uniquely connected to the cause while also addressing a need that may be overlooked by others. Think about overlaying, not shifting your CSR focus. CSR response to COVID-19 gives companies the opportunity to make their cause flexible enough to respond to specific priorities, while holding centered to a core cause.
- Meet People Where They Are: Offer a Variety of Engagement Opportunities
Any successful CSR program should have multiple engagement points and areas where employees can contribute, while still connected by a central theme. Some may like volunteering on site, some may like remotely supporting an effort, some like daily challenges, some may respond to a larger goal. The more ways that you can unify these diverse preferences around a central cause, the more powerful the internal and external results of your CSR. And in times such as these when social distancing protocols may limit some engagement styles, having a variety of CSR opportunities is vital.
Companies that hold to only one style of engagement offering will struggle to execute a meaningful CSR effort. Companies should use this as an opportunity to diversify their offerings around a central theme; this will both help them respond in the current environment, while building an even stronger foundation for future CSR programming.
Please comment with your thoughts and additions. Reach out to continue the conversation. Share to build awareness. And email to let us know what topics you would like to see a deeper dive or discussion. Let us know if you would like to discuss how to adapt your company’s efforts.