Continued from Part 1 – The journey to social impact: What’s next for corporations.
As companies seek to identify a stronger purpose and achieve social impact, they face distinct tensions. Determining the roadmap for making progress under competing objectives can inhibit corporations from ever getting started. But managing and embracing these tensions can achieve incremental change that, within large, complex organizations, is reason for celebration. The journey to social impact does not have an end. It is a process, and being mindful of these tensions will inform a company’s approach and response to a changing world, address demands of employees and consumers, and derive a meaningful impact.
When starting out on the road to social impact, these are some of the most common competing objectives. Corporations should be aware of these tensions, identify whether and how they exist within their culture, and apply strategies to balance the tensions and achieve maximum impact.
Stakeholder engagement vs. corporate platform
As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series, when companies recognize the strength of their people, change is soon to follow. If your current strategy stifles local engagement, then it is impeding your ability to further social impact. It is a powerful decision to engage and bring employees and leadership along this journey. This approach requires engagement of employees at every level and location of the company, resulting in a diverse array of needs and perspectives to address and build into a company’s strategy.
Opening the door for conversations with your stakeholders acknowledges that the needs and cultures within a company will vary by country and state, or between headquarters and regional or remote teams. Listening to and addressing needs at this scale adds great complexity to any program but is a necessary part of the journey.
Therein lies the balance between generating engagement among your stakeholders while building a comprehensive strategy and impactful corporate platform.
As you seek out the voices in your company, go beyond listening to empower those who represent the various traits of your workforce to be advisors in building and implementing your social impact program. Use tools such as external assessments and technology to establish a global framework. Finally, because these tensions can derail your journey, don’t hesitate to embrace external support (i.e., Global Impact can help you!) to challenge the status quo, determine common themes in your feedback and identify a path forward for greater social impact.
Urgency vs. strategy
The world is urgent for change. Many vocal leaders are calling for fewer announcements on your commitments to social change and more reports on progress. However, developing an effective strategy takes time. It requires engaging a vast number of stakeholders, bringing leadership along on the journey and developing collaborative partnerships to tell a story to consumers.
Cybergrants uses the term “agile social impact,” which is being able to respond immediately to opportunities, to optimize and innovate around new programs while maintaining the ability to measure impact. I think it fits the bill for finding a balance between these two tensions. Create a road map, make your assessment public and a part of the process, and be humble on where you stand in creating change.
Metrics vs. storytelling
Companies must publicize their social impact; it is simply nonnegotiable in the business community with both consumers and your employees. But it’s time to move beyond the same annual corporate social responsibility report, press release or infographic on the number of volunteer hours donated. These do not address the true social impact that is achieved. Measurement and metrics are necessary to assess program effectiveness and to benchmark performance, but the real power is in the story of what these metrics are producing and how you are achieving them.
Effective storytelling is key to demonstrating the true social impact of your program. Use people to tell your story — the people you employ, the people you serve, the communities where you live and work. These are your ambassadors and can tell your story through their own experience. Focus on your actions, and the story about the effectiveness of your program will follow.
Signature program vs. collaboration
Achieving true, authentic and sustainable social impact is incredibly hard, and it is a fluid process. It also isn’t something achieved alone. Yet, there is a strong draw to make corporate programs stand out from competitors. Although signature programs can be effective when designed with a strategic purpose, leaving room for collaboration can strengthen outcomes and build a path to success.
Collaboration requires transparency, commitment and a shared value in the outcome. True collaboration brings all the stakeholders to the table — affected communities, companies, nonprofits and governments.
One way to promote collaboration is by being transparent. Stories of success should be backed with the process used, challenges encountered and what progress you still hope to achieve. Collaboration will be achieved through the identification of shared struggles; it gives us the ability to teach and learn from one another. As with any group effort, each partner can bring a unique strength, draw business alignment and evoke a new innovative approach. Let that be where you stand out and be a part of the broader effort to bring about social impact! (More on collaboration in my next post.)
2020 brings us into a new decade – one that will only continue to demand that companies work to address social issues. By acknowledging and balancing these tensions, progress and action will be soon to follow. These tensions help us to grow, they challenge us to do better and they prepare us for what is to come in the future.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of the social impact journey series …
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