Saturday 23 January 2016

Social Value Brand

Social Value Brand (SVB)

Businesses today are increasingly expected to deliver some sort of social value in addition to shareholder value, or, at the very least, to not create harm to society.

Whether they realize it or not, whether they actively manage it or not, pretty much all companies with market, financial or human resource connections to Europe and North America have a Social Value Brand or SVB

This is true whether they are a mining company operating in remote jungles, a high performing Consumer Goods Company, a globally recognized service sector brand or even a professional sports league.  It is also true for entire industries.

You might ask, what is a Social Value Brand?  It is simply how your company or industry is perceived in relation to creating value for society as well as value for shareholders.

You might also ask, how important is a Social Value Brand?  For some it is quite important actually.

For all it is more important today than it was ten years ago, and will be more important in five years than it is today.

If attracting top talent to your company is important, the fact that 73% of Americans want to work for a company that is doing social good should move SVB up your priority list.

If you are a mining company your SVB can be the difference between being able to operate and being shut down through loss of permits, or even by direct community activism.  Some jurisdictions actually require a community vote to support development of a mine.  Are you ready for that?

If you are a consumer goods company your global supply chain is likely fraught with labour force, human rights, environment, health and safety and other potential issues that you are working hard to manage. Complex issues in long and complex supply chains. 

Sudden events like fires, factory collapses, sub-contractor screw-ups, or something out of the blue can suddenly put negative pressure on your SVB and impact sales and relationships.  A carefully nurtured SVB can provide a reputational capital reserve that can give your market facing brand some resilience to these inevitable situations.

If you are a globally recognized service brand your Social Value Brand can give you a strategic edge in attracting and retaining talent.  And, SVB development activities can provide valuable professional development opportunities for your team.

And professional sports leagues?  Yes, social value brand is an emerging issue there too.  Look at the heat football has taken over how it managed domestic violence issues with players, or how concussions and other safety issues are becoming increasingly important, or violence in hockey, or environmental impact of sporting events.  SVB issues are increasing in importance, and catching the attention of key leaders and decision makers.

With the growing importance of social value brands you would think that management of them would also be of increasing importance.  You would be right, but you would likely be surprised at some low-hanging opportunities that are there for the taking.

Here are some examples that I think are ripe for action…

Nike’s SVB Opportunity
Take a company like Nike, a clear global leader in athletic apparel and athletic performance gear.  Nike actually creates a lot of social value every day.

Nike is a huge supporter of community sports and youth sports.  Nike also supports aspiring and accomplished athletes who themselves provide incredible amounts of volunteer support to youth and sports and charitable causes.

Together these actions create a lot of latent social brand value, but little seems to be invested in developing it so that Nike’s publics and constituencies recognize the social value that Nike helps foster.

You may ask, why is this important?  People buy Nike for athletic performance and the star power of its athletes.  True.  On the margins a strong SVB may help drive some sales, but likely not much.

But, what about when a supply chain issue develops and suddenly global attention is focused on labour, or safety or human rights practices of some obscure contractor in Nike’s supply chain (remember Nike and the child labour issues of the 90s). When the sh*t hits the fan a strong SVB can provide the reputational capital that will limit market impact and facilitate speedy recovery.

What is ironic is that with all the social good that Nike is creating already it would likely take little additional effort and cost to develop a robust SVB.

NHL’s SVB Opportunity
The National Hockey League has taken a global leadership position in sustainability management and reporting.  The league and its franchises are actively and progressively managing their environmental footprint.  The league recently produced a strong sustainability report. (see a short analysis of it here)

At the same time the league, its franchises and players are producing social value in many ways. 

Whether it is the league’s work with Cancer, LGT issues or a range of other important social causes and issues, or the individual franchises support to a range of community causes and charities, or the work of individual players and their support to youth, minor hockey, charity and development, there are many valuable social impacts emanating from the NHL and its teams and players.

Yet, despite the success of its sustainability report and the significant societal impacts, the League and its franchises are doing little to develop a strong social value brand from all the social value creation work it is doing.

Extractive sector SVB opportunities
The mining and petroleum industries were actually early achievers in social value creation! 

Yes, they do have a legacy of negative social value impacts (and some continue to this day).  But, today companies and major industry associations are making major progress on social value creation.

Examples abound of progressive community engagement and development, whether it is Uranium emining giant Cameco and it’s leadership to facilitate a half billion dollar annual business activity Indigenous Peoples in northern Saskatchewan, or Golden Star’s efforts to support family level palm oil businesses in Ghana, or Placer Dome’s leadership that ‘changed the social face of the South African mining industry’ (see Analysis and Stanford Case Study here).

For the most part the extractive sector is quite accomplished at maximizing local/project level social value brand impacts from its investments and operations.  On an industry level organizations like ICMM (website), CIM, PDAC and others are working to create industry wide SVB.

A closer examination though will reveal that few companies are proactively building their SVB at the corporate level where it could provide increasing value in financing, employee recruitment and retention and other key areas.

Similar stories can be told for other industries.  There are many social value brand opportunities where much of the work is already done and paid for.

As societal pressure for social value creation increases you can expect businesses and industries to pay increasing attention to their Social Value Brand. 

Some will use it as a differentiator in markets, others for employee recruitment and retention and others will use it more like an insurance against impacts of mistakes that are pretty much inevitable.

However it is used, Social Value Brand is something that tomorrow’s leaders will pay more attention to than today’s, and today’s leaders that do pay attention and get their SVB right will have improved paths to success, today and tomorrow.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

CSR Skills: What you need and why

CSR Skills: What you need and why

What skills and attributes are most helpful for someone working in (or wanting to work in) the growing field of corporate social responsibility?

I’m asked this question often so thought I would share some thoughts in a post. 

As always, these are my thoughts.  Don’t expect them to be comprehensive and do expect some to be surprising and maybe even controversial.   

Some might suggest that there is another set of more traditional skills that are important.  I wouldn’t disagree, but would argue vehemently that the skills below are as or more important.

For all my writings, teachings and doings the whole idea (always) is to facilitate change by conveying information and stimulating thinking and doing.  

You have more answers inside you than you realize.  And you won’t find them if you just read, nod and agree.  Think.  If you agree, why?  If you disagree, why?  And, most importantly, what will you do differently?

Most of the skills below are not just good for CSR. They apply across business and in life generally.

1.       Value-think
CSR is all about value (so is business!).  Always.  Knowing how to think about value in all its dimensions is key.  Understanding and differentiating value will help you to create value-alignment across interests.

Click here for slides and video on stakeholder engagement from a recent CSR Masterclass

2.       Stakeholder-think
CSR is all about stakeholders (so is business!).  Always.  Knowing how to identify stakeholders and think about their interests (value) in all its dimensions is key.  Understanding and differentiating stakeholders and their value will help you to create value-alignment across interests.

Click here for slides and video on stakeholder engagement from a recent CSR Masterclass

3.       Alignment-think
CSR is all about meeting the interests (value) of others, in a way that also meets the interests of your business and/or project.   This skill is sort of like strategic empathy, knowing how to understand the position and interests of key stakeholders (the what’s in it for them part) and being creative in looking at ways that your business/project can help them and serve your own interests at the same time.

4.       Communication
Communication is a critical skill for CSR (and so many other areas).  Clear, concise, other-interest focused (and interesting!) communications can be invaluable in developing, implementing and managing CSR projects.  This applies to speaking, writing, social media and all other forms of communications.

*other-interest focused – make sure to practice communication that connects with the interests of those you are communicating with.  Communicate about the self-interest of others and their ears will perk up and their minds will engage.  Communicate about your interests and their minds will likely wander to their own interests.

Ask yourself, ‘why would they listen/read/engage your communication’.  If you don’t have a clear answer your communication is likely ineffective.

5.       Know business
CSR is all business, so you need to Know Business to be effective.  Too often CSR is done as no-business and all philanthropy.  Not good.

In the same way as you need to be able to understand and meet the needs of stakeholders, you also need to know how to understand and meet the needs of your business or project.

And, while you are at it

6.       Know business-speak
Know how to communicate to your internal colleagues and stakeholders (and then do it!).  If you can’t make a strong internal business case for your CSR plan and project how do you expect to develop a strong internal support base.

And, if you don’t have a strong internal support base be prepared to be isolated, marginalized and the first funding to be cut when things get tough.

Build your business case and learn how to communicate it to key internal stakeholders and constituents.  You must be able to clearly define and communicate the internal business case (often by department – e.g., what’s in it for Human Resources?  For Finance?  For operations?, etc.).

If you can’t, then you either haven’t thought about it hard enough, or you are pursuing sub-optimal projects and priorities.  In either case you are not effectively optimizing value.

7.       Zero-sum Be Gone
CSR is about creating and increasing value, not simply redistributing value.  One of the most valuable skills you can develop is to learn to systematically think beyond zero-sum.

Learn how to win by helping others to win too.

8.       Innovation
Innovation is critical.  Put on a value lens and learn to think inside, outside and around the box.  Ask yourself questions that start with; What if? Would this? What about? Could we?

Better than asking yourself, surround yourself with colleagues and stakeholders who can ask you those questions, and be open enough to hear them and know that these questions may help to unlock new value.

Creative alignment and value creation is often found through innovation.

9.       Think Pain Points
What are the pain points?  What does that have to do with CSR?  Pain points are just that.  It is what keeps your CEO awake at night.  Threats, weaknesses, obstacles, challenges, the sorts of things that business has to address to survive and thrive.

CSR should be one of your business’s strategic tools for addressing pain points.  Not that CSR will solve all pain points, but that it may solve some.

A key skill for a successful CSR practitioner is to know and understand the pain points that are keeping your C-Suite team awake at nights, and to think strategically about how CSR may help address some of them.

And then have the communication and know-business skills to be able to use CSR to address key pain points.

I did a keynote at the CSR Saudi Arabia Summit recently that discusses CSR and Pain Points as part of integrating societal value in your core business.  You can see the slides here


There are many other skills that will help you to break into CSR work or to be better at it.  You can find many lists (much more traditional than my nine-point list).

But, I think you will do well to think about and try and master these nine.  They will help to make you more effective and more valuable, at CSR and in other areas.

Thursday 7 January 2016

What makes a CSR Strategy Strong?

I recently did a short interview on What makes a CSR Strategy strong and thought the transcript below might be interesting.   It has a few thoughts and comments along with links to other articles and posts that I have authored.
CSR is all about value.  Value for shareholders and society.  The closer a CSR Strategy sticks to that principle the stronger the strategy is.  And, the more value it produces for both

  1. What makes a CSR strategy strong?
Alignment of interests.  Sharing of value created and responsibility for creating it. 
The real key to a successful strategy is that it drives a process that will consistently and systematically identify, nurture and develop those areas where shareholder and stakeholder interests can align.  It must also do it in a way that doesn’t put all the responsibility on the company.  If there is to be shared value there must be shared responsibility for it to be sustainable
For more on this see:
  1. What do most companies consider business-wise and customer-wise when creating a CSR strategy?
I’m hesitant to comment on what most consider.  I’d rather comment on what I think they should consider.
Unfortunately, companies often take a paternalistic approach and execute CSR in a way that suggests it is about giving and transferring value from the company to other stakeholders rather than finding the spaces where collective self-interest can create aligned interests and giving shareholders and stakeholders direct and personal motivation
CSR = creating, capturing & sharing value in the space where business meets society. Here is a link to a blog post that expands on this a bit  
  1. What are main challenges to creating a strong CSR strategy?