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CSR and Sustainability

Eight self-serving steps to creating a CSR Program

Wayne Dunn offers some thoughts to becoming successful in driving responsible business inside a company

Self-interest. What’s in it for me? This is the true heart of CSR and stakeholder engagement. How could it be otherwise?

Why would companies, individuals, communities and others not act in their own interest? CSR is simply about finding ways to align those self-interests.

CSR is about finding ways that you win by helping other stakeholders to win too. It is about aligning interests so that others win when you win. So that you win when others win.

CSR:  Simple, but far from easy.

Here are eight steps to creating a CSR program. They are far from the whole answer and each could be discussed in much more detail than I do here.

As you read it you may find yourself thinking of additional steps, or disagreeing with some of these.

That is perfect! Make it your own. Take what you like and leave the rest.

The main purpose of this article is to stimulate thinking and, hopefully action.

Wayne Dunn

Many of the answers lie within us and if this or any other article helps you to find them, that serves my self-interest!

1. Admit that it is all about self-interest.  What’s in it for me?

Sure, this is uncomfortable. Many of us are working in this space because we truly care about others and want the world to be a better place. It is those other people who are just in it for themselves.

Perhaps your self-interest is that you want things to be better.  For others to benefit.   For the world to be a better and fairer place.

If that makes you feel good then there is your self-interest. Feeling good about yourself and the outcome is what is in it for you.

But, I suspect if we are honest we have more self-interest than that. But, it doesn’t matter. The simple truth is nobody and no company is going to do CSR if it isn’t somehow in their self-interest.  Why would they?

The essence of CSR and stakeholder engagement is really quite simple.  It is what’s in it for me.

2. Find out who else cares. Or should or could care. Make a list.

Start by identifying who might win or lose if your business or project is successful. Who is effected?  Who might be effected? Who could be effected?

This step is critical.  Don’t just limit yourself to the obvious.

When identifying stakeholders boldly go far beyond where others stop. Your most perfect and influential ally might be lurking way out there.

And, just because you list them at this step doesn’t mean you need to engage with them.  You just want to make your list as broad as possible at this point.

3. What’s in it for them?

Go through your list asking “What’s in it for them?” Good or bad. Make a list of how your success, or failure, would affect the stakeholders on the list.

Go back over the list again and push the boundaries. Ask “What might be in it for them?  What could be in it for them?” Be crazy, be creative.

No idea is wrong at this point. Push the horizons. The gem may lay on the far horizon and you’ll miss it and leave a lot of value on the table if you don’t push.

4. What are their biggest wants/needs?

Go through your list again and try to make a list of the biggest wants and needs of each stakeholder.  Don’t confine yourself to whether or not the want or the need is related to your business.

5. Where does What’s in it for me? meet What’s in it for them?

Go through your list, stakeholder by stakeholder and look to see where/if your interests meet theirs.  Positively or negatively. Even tangentially.

6. Group, arrange and re-arrange the stakeholder interests

There is no magic here. Some of the stakeholders will have the same or similar interests. Some will have complimentary interests. Some will have opposing interests.

Sometimes two stakeholders may have common, complimentary and opposing interests, all at the same time.

The point is that by analyzing stakeholder interests you will get an understanding of the interest landscape as it relates to your business.

Remember, much of the success of CSR and stakeholder engagement rests on efficient and effective alignment of interests. The better you understand the interest landscape the better your chances of success.

7. What’s in it for me?  (Again!)

Look through the interest landscape you have created and see where there are natural intersections, positive and negative and ask yourself some questions and take a few actions.

• What are the stakeholder interests that will be naturally supported by the success of your venture?

• What are the stakeholder interests that, no matter how hard or creatively you try, just have nothing to do with your business?

• What are the stakeholder interests that, at first glance, are harmed by your business?

Set aside those interests that have nothing to do with your business.

Put your creative hat on and go through those interests that would seem to be harmed by your business. See if there is any way that you might do things differently, or the stakeholders may do things differently that would eliminate or mitigate the negative impact.

Prioritize those interests that are naturally supported by your business. When prioritizing be sure to keep value in mind. The value of the interest to society at large. The value to the stakeholder(s) and the value of the affected stakeholders to your business (how much can they support or hinder your social license and business operations.)

Do the same for those interests that, at first glance, are negatively affected by your business.

Working from the highest priorities of both the negative and positive impacts look for opportunities to accentuate the positive and mitigate the negative. What does it take to make the positive impacts stronger and the negative impacts less?

When doing this, think about natural partners.

Repeat the above steps often.  Do it alone, do it with internal partners, involve external partners and stakeholders. Bring in fresh sets of eyes (yes, consultants can be very helpful here!).

The more work you do on understanding the interest landscape the more value you will find, for you and for the stakeholders.

As you review and analyze the interest landscape the basic elements in a CSR plan will emerge.

Use this as the basis for developing your CSR and stakeholder plans, programs and activities.

8. CSR and stakeholder engagement are about business efficiency and value too!

Successful businesses are those that, amongst other things, are able to optimize the value of output in relation to the cost of input. In other words, they are the most efficient at getting things done effectively.

CSR and stakeholder engagement is no different. This isn’t a do-gooders game. This is about the interests of the business and the shareholders. It is about creating value. Creating value for shareholders. Creating value for society. And doing both efficiently and simultaneously.

Be efficient. Look for those activities and leverage points that create the most value for stakeholders at the least cost of time and money for the business.

Look for ways to have more positive impacts with less resources. Hint: Partners are great for this.

In another article I’ve written about the CSR Value Continuum and how all CSR activities can be looked at along a continuum from value distribution to value creation.

This and other tools can help you to analyze your CSR and stakeholder engagement in terms of value efficiency.  And, believe me, value efficiency in CSR is in your self-interest!

The steps in this list won’t give you all of the answers.  But, hopefully it stimulates you to think creatively and find some new and exciting answers.

The reality is that this space we call CSR and Stakeholder Engagement is an emerging space and is evolving rapidly.

There are no experts.  We are all learning.  Learning from and with each other.  Learning from our own mistakes and the mistakes of others.

I’ve learnt a lot from the feedback I’ve gotten from readers of my CSR Thoughtpiece series.  Please do me the favour of giving me any feedback or insights you have.  Feel free to do it privately or publicly.

Our self-interest is served if we can help ourselves and help others to make the doing of CSR more effective.

Wayne Dunn
President, CSR Training Institute
Professor of Practice in CSR (McGill) 

Further practical reading from Wayne Dunn:

Also see:

The top five mistakes companies make in engaging stakeholders

Stakeholder engagement: Six best practices and one critical principle for success

Seven proven ways to get colleagues on board with sustainability and corporate responsibility



Three focused, detailed and practical sustainable business events for your diary

How to get beyond policy, manage risk and build relationships

10 November, 2014, London. More details here. (In Association with the Institute of Human Rights and Business)

With: John Lewis, Nestle, First State Investments, Aviva, RBS, New Look, ABB, Ericsson, Novartis, PUMA, the Economist, Oxfam and many others.

An exclusive two-day executive training workshop, certified by the CSR Training Institute

30-31 October, 2014, London. More details here.

With direct experience from: Arcelor Mittal, BP, Anglo American, Rexam, Golden Star, BHP Billiton, Shell, and many others 

Collaborate effectively with suppliers and NGOs, understand policy and enforcement trends
28th-29th October, 2014, London. More details here.

With: Unilever, Lord Mandelson, Greenpeace, Nestle, Wilmar, TFT, ADM, Mondelez, M&S, Waitrose, APP, Golden Agri, and many others