BLOG: A new brand of high performance CSR?
Corporations, like individuals, are never truly altruistic – in a capitalist society, individual benefit is incentivised, writes Doug Flynn of global consultancy North Highland.
It is unrealistic, and much more importantly, unhelpful to expect global corporations to be truly selfless in their approach to corporate and social responsibility. It is time to stop being ashamed of this, and time to stop awkwardly shuffling the board room chairs around this inconveniently large elephant. There is huge power in forms of social responsibility that are also self-interested. This is a reality to be acknowledged, faced and indeed embraced.
Admittedly, this approach may at first seem counter-intuitive, cold or even contradictory. Surely corporations should be expected, or even forced, to have an environmental and social conscience, regardless of whether it is in their own interests or not? Wrong. Human nature, economic theory and real world experience belie this. Corporations that truly approach CSR as an investment and an opportunity, rather than a burden, actually generate significantly superior outcomes – for the cause being supported, and for the company itself. Accept this and the possibilities become enormous for both.
Profitability and integrity can go hand in hand. Look at the Tom’s ‘one-for-one’ model (which sees a pair of shoes provided to a person in need for every pair of shoes sold) that catapulted this embryonic shoe business to global success. Then look at Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, who staked the fate of one of the world’s largest CPG companies, and his own career, on a relentless belief that leading CSR can deliver leading results. And ever since he oversaw a doubling of Unilever’s global share price in 5 years, it’s hard to argue with him. Approaching CSR with a business mind-set actually yields superior outcomes - for everyone. Like it or not, there are limitations to ad-hoc outings of well-meaning volunteers painting the village hall once a year, or weeding the grounds of the local old people’s home. It is not to say that volunteering in this way does not have a place - it certainly does - but surely this is not always the most effective way for corporations to contribute? Volunteering should be targeted, deliberate, and skills-led. Not as random and ephemeral as those proverbial splashes of paint.
Corporate volunteering should be about professionals using their core skill-sets to make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time - Doctors giving medical assistance, accountants providing financial advice, vets administering care. So at North Highland we have applied this approach to consulting. The model we have developed uses professionals who have skills and experience in a certain area, and combines them with causes that need those specific, specialist skills. When our consultants are not on billable client engagements, we allocate individuals or teams to work on meaningful consulting projects for the charity we are supporting at that time. These are full consulting engagements, and treated with exactly the same rigour, professionalism and enthusiasm as any other assignment. The only difference being is that the firm is not paid.
But we are not donating our time to this charity. We are not ‘giving’. This is a conscious decision, and one we have assessed and taken based on the benefit it will bring for the charity, and for us. We are incredibly excited about the difference we feel we can make to the cause we are supporting. And we are similarly enthused about the benefits this relationship can bring for us as a firm. We are supporting an extraordinary organisation this year, Regenerate, and their irrepressible social enterprise – The Feel Good Bakery (TFGB). TFGB is a fledgling business, with all the hope, expectation and trepidation that this entails. We are determined to use our consulting expertise to support TFGB in developing their strategy, growing their business and delivering what this is ultimately all about - better outcomes for the vulnerable young people Regenerate supports.
This is real, raw consulting. It brings with it enticing, motivating, stimulating experience for our consultants. It builds experience, it deepens skills, it nurtures and strengthens their sense of purpose at work. We think we can build a business where social conscience isn't an add-on, an after-thought, but is fully integrated into the way we work. And we think we can deliver meaningful, lasting impacts for our partner charity.
If my DIY skills are representative of the Consulting population, then as a profession we should never be allowed within 100 metres of a drill or a bandsaw. So although my shelves at home remain gratingly mis-aligned and my drawers, infuriatingly, don’t quite shut, we hope that our support will help our charitable partners to achieve even more than they already do.
Now, has anyone seen my hammer?
Doug Flynn is a consultant in North Highland’s London office with experience in the retail, travel and public sectors. Doug is working with his team at North Highland to build up the portfolio of pro bono consulting to support charities and small businesses.