“Be a surfer. Watch the ocean. Figure out where the big waves are breaking and adjust accordingly,” wrote Jason Fried and David Hansson, founders of internet company 37 Signals, when asked to describe their approach to strategy.As you scan the corporate citizenship ocean, what big waves do you see? Below, I have sketched out three questions and actions to help identify your company’s big corporate citizenship “waves.”
1. Why is your company doing corporate citizenship?
Of course it is, “the right thing to do,” but specifically, why is your company focused on that issue, program, or community event. How do your efforts contribute business, as well as social, value? In the case of oil, gas, and mineral companies, corporate citizenship may help establish a license to operate in the communities in which they operate. For professional services companies, pro-bono volunteer opportunities can provide professional development opportunities for emerging leaders. In these cases, corporate citizenship is addressing a specific business need. Are your sustainability, corporate giving, and volunteer programs addressing your company’s needs?
Action Step: Take a moment and list your company’s business goals. Ask yourself which programs connect to these priorities? Which ones don’t? Which could? Which business priorities could be addressed with your next initiative?
2. Who are your key stakeholders?
We have a tendency to react to our inbox, voicemail, or loudest voice. This is necessary, but not always strategic. As you think about the colleagues, nonprofits, regulatory bodies, customers, and consumers with whom you interact, you should assess them based on their influence, urgency, and legitimacy.
Influence is the capability of a stakeholder of carrying out its will despite resistance. Urgency is the degree to which the claims of the stakeholder call for immediate attention. Legitimacy is how desirable, proper, and appropriate the arguments and actions of this stakeholder are.
Action Step: List all of your stakeholders. Now assess their influence, urgency, and legitimacy using a low, medium, and high scale. Now, assess your programs. Who do you reach with your efforts? Are you targeting the right stakeholders to achieve the maximum impact? Is there a way you can broaden your efforts to reach a wider audience?
3. How is your corporate citizenship unique?
Industries often focus on similar issues and the communities you work in may have specific needs that all companies must address. When searching for what makes your work unique, look in two places: your people and your program outcomes and impact.
A senior Fortune 50 executive once said to me, “Our competitors can replicate any product or service we roll out within six months. It’s our people that make us unique.” Corporate citizenship is relationship heavy, so as you look to identify what makes your work unique, take a close look at the people you are working with. Maybe what makes your company’s citizenship unique is the support of the CEO, the membership and decision-making process of your Foundation, or the environmental nonprofit partner you are working with.
A second place to find uniqueness is within your program measurement. What you measure can help show the environmental, social, governance, and business value of the corporate citizenship work and demonstrate how your company’s work is unique. Metrics that show change over time are metrics that separate your citizenship programs from the pack.
Action Step: Benchmark the corporate citizenship work of your competitors and those who are in the communities in which you have the biggest footprint. Focus on their people, processes, and program metrics.
These aren’t the only waves in corporate citizenship to watch, but focusing on tracking your company’s larger business goals and objectives, closely listening to your key stakeholders, and measuring the change your programs create are important drivers for shaping your corporate citizenship strategy.
For greater insight into how you can create and advance your corporate citizenship strategy, consider joining us for the Center’s Corporate Citizenship Strategy class.
 Mitchell et al. (1997). Toward a theory of stakeholder identification and salience: defining the principle of what and what really counts. Academy of Management Review, 22(4), 853-886.
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