By Lisa Wirthman
Corporate social responsibility used to be considered a nice-to-have feature for organizations looking to boost their brand recognition and appease certain stakeholders.
Today, being a good corporate citizen is a requirement for any organization that cares about attracting Millennial talent and new business investment, according to Rita Mitjans, chief diversity and corporate social responsibility (CSR) officer for ADP®.
“Today, it’s more about connecting the company’s business and business strategy to a greater purpose,” Mitjans said. CSR also has a much broader focus, encompassing everything from corporate ethics and human capital to supply chains and community engagement.
A well-articulated CSR approach is especially critical to attracting and retaining Millennials, now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, according to Pew Research. Millennials are expected to make up half of the workforce by 2020.
About two-thirds of Millennials won’t take a job if an organization doesn’t have strong CSR values, according to the 2016 Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement Study.
Investors and clients also look for evidence that the organizations they invest in and do business with are doing their parts to protect the environment. In fact, CSR has become an important ante for organizations to play when bidding for projects.
“It’s become more of a sales and business imperative to be able to demonstrate to your clients and suppliers that CSR is an important element of your strategy,” Mitjans said.
No matter how far along your company is in developing a CSR strategy, “the one must-have is that every company should be able to tie its corporate social responsibility strategy to the company’s business objective,” Mitjans said. “It needs to have relevance.”
She suggests that an organization perform a materiality assessment, which gathers insights on the specific social responsibility and governance issues that are important to stakeholders such as employees, customers and investors. That information can then be used as a tool for prioritizing areas where CSR best aligns with the business.
CSR programs don’t have to be profitable, but they’ll likely produce a return on investment, Mitjans said. She points to ADP’s paperless product and solar panel initiatives, which not only help to recruit employees concerned about the environment, but also reduce energy bills and paper and printing expenses.
Still, a good CSR program doesn’t have to be measured in monetary terms to be effective and valuable to an organization, Mitjans said.
“Employee engagement, better productivity and the ability to attract the kind of talent that you want are really important business objectives, even if they don’t have a dollar savings attached to them,” she said.
Here are three essential elements for any CSR program, for any business:
- Set clear goals.
Organizations need to be clear about the goals of their CSR programs, including how they connect to business strategies. When there is no close tie between the two, it’s tough to win executive sponsorship for the program, Mitjans said. At ADP, she said, there’s “absolutely a connection to having engaged associates and having associates feeling good about the purpose of the company that they work for. That connection is so important to our executives.”
- Designate a leader.
Many times CSR programs get buried or splintered across an organization, which makes them less effective. Mitjans recommends that an organization identify a visible leader for the program, one who can work collaboratively across the organization. She said that CSR leaders must be able to articulate the vision for the CSR program and why it’s important. They also need to help gather the data and resources to track the program’s success, and then share its progress with stakeholders.
- Rely on outside expertise.
Taking advantage of external expertise to help conduct materiality assessments and to set a road map for relevant metrics that can be shared with both internal and external constituents is also a good idea. According to Mitjans, very few organizations have internal CSR expertise at a strategic level. Outside experts can help an organization get started with a CSR program and measure progress along the way.
Any organization competing for top talent should have a stated vision and purpose.
“A CSR program really helps to crystallize what things matter most to you as a company and to your business,” Mitjans said. It also provides great information that a company can use to help identify and share the news about what it considers critical to its success.
For more information and for more articles like this, visit adp.com/spark.
Lisa Wirthman is a journalist who writes about business, public policy and women’s issues.