When we talk about responsible companies reshaping the future, when we rejoice in the thought that responsible companies will in fact reshape the future, we are unknowingly reinforcing the idea that the face of responsible companies will change as time passes. Without change, whether for good or for worse, there
is no progress and progress is what we need if we want to see a better future. Fortunately, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one of the most rapidly evolving areas in the business world. What was hot just two years ago is now a fauxe paus or worse, a green wash.
In this relentless journey of transformation, a number of trends have gone the way of the dodo, trends which by their mere adoption gave a bad name to those with good intentions. In losing these trends, businesses have become more cognizant and conscientious of doing the “right” thing not just the “in” thing. This post is a celebration of this change.
CSR as a closely guarded secret: Not too long ago, companies shied away from sharing anything about their good work (could it be that there were no good works!). From strategy to the findings to the actual method, everything related to their CSR process was a closely guarded secret. While this was their way of trying to remain a step ahead of competition, it only raised suspicions in the minds of stakeholders regarding their intentions. More and more companies are now accepting transparency as a core business value. Whether it is because of a surge in CSR reports or because informative corporate websites and blogs are becoming a norm, this secrecy trend has finally breathed its last.
CSR as an afterthought: When I hear people say how great it is that businesses have finally accepted CSR as a business priority, my not-so-secret thought is that it is only the first step but it is a big one we should thank God for that. Till about 5 years ago, CSR had the status of that embarrassing cousin who no one wants to meet because of his irritating habit of sleeping on the couch with his mouth open and snoring through his nose. Well, maybe not that bad, but close. Things have obviously changed and CSR is neither an afterthought nor a tag-along anymore, it is being given the status of a business imperative and very soon it will be THE way to do business.
CSR as differentiation strategy: While it is still true in my neck of the woods, I am thrilled to see that CSR has gone from something that gave your business an edge over other players in the market to a must-have. When everyone in the market has adopted responsible practices as the way to do business (or at least claim to do so), the real differentiation comes from addressing issues that are real, in ways that are practical and with results that are palpable.
CSR reports that are a mile long: I am embarrassed to admit that the first CSR report that I prepared had 120 pages of solid text (that was many years ago so cut me some slack). After the client put in the graphs and pictures and the nifty bits, it turned into a hefty 150 pages. I can guarantee that I am the only person on this whole earth who read the whole report and lived to see the next day. The concept of materiality is so widely misunderstood that every small incident warrants a disclosure and the need to showcase all achievements often results in too much irrelevant information finding its way into the report. With web based, interactive reports becoming more common, reading these reports has actually become more fun. I can hope to see less of the mile-long CSR reports of yester-years and more of the fun and inspiring reports that have become the norm.
Legal compliance masked as CSR: This trend is one I am most pleased to see the backside of. For me, it is common sense that you don’t become a CSR superhero by doing what you are legally obliged to do. Sadly, I have seen too many websites that showcase compliance with Code of Corporate Governance and local regulations under CSR achievements. The good news is that such spottings have become few and far in between. Companies have somewhat accepted that they need to do much more than just the bare minimum to earn the much-coveted consumer accolades.
What are some of the trends you have seen going the way of the dodo in the past few years?