Indeed, the public expectations of your company have never been greater. Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.
— Larry Fink’s Annual Letter to CEOs
Corporations as global citizens
Our world today is asking more of corporations than ever before. Many companies are feeling the call — both an internal desire and external pressure — to rise up and embrace a greater societal role. Aware of their substantial power within society, corporations are using their influence to improve the world around them. They’re choosing to make significant, positive contributions to global concerns — shaping programs that address issues ranging from climate change and housing to hunger and water.
The best companies bring their own unique flair and sense of higher purpose to the role of global citizenship. For instance, take the fast-growing salad chain Sweetgreen and its mission “to inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.” The company lives out this commitment through tangible business practices (e.g. transparent food sourcing, sustainable store design, etc), and, on top of that, the team has created a program called Sweetgreen in Schools. Through this program, Sweetgreen teaches students about healthy eating within public schools in the communities in which the business operates.
Patagonia is another corporation that has operated with a strong sense of societal contribution since its early days. As part of its commitment to be a responsible company and “do no harm,” Patagonia has taken an active role in confronting today’s environmental crisis. Through critical evaluation of its own products and business practices, ongoing financial support for grassroots environmental organizations, intentional corporate partnerships, programs for employee activism and investment in environmental campaigns Patagonia takes to heart its global citizenship.
These are just a couple of examples — the tip of the iceberg. There’s an increasing emphasis on societal contribution within companies and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is now a mainstream business practice. 92% of the largest 250 companies in the world having produced a CSR report in 2015, and Fortune Global 500 firms spend around $20 billion a year on CSR activities (see HBR).
69% of talent report that they would not take a job with a company that has a bad corporate reputation, even if unemployed. (Glassdoor)
CSR: a piece of your corporate narrative
Substantial investment in CSR is fitting because it is a big part of your overall corporate narrative. CSR tells the why, how and what of your global citizenship. An outpouring of the authentic purpose and values of your organization, it’s the story of your company’s efforts in doing good.
In its current state, your CSR report plays an important role, serving a large general audience. It’s typically written to adhere to the standards of GRI and allow regulators to better evaluate your sustainability efforts.
A question worth considering is — are you getting the greatest mileage you could out of your CSR efforts? Likely not. Most efforts speak to a variety of audiences, with emphasis on regulators and shareholders. While these groups are important in their own right, they have differing needs from another critical audience — your employees. Given today’s increasingly competitive talent market and associated labor shortages, you can and should also evolve your CSR efforts to strike a chord with current and potential employees.
Why CSR matters to your employees
Your CSR story is a tremendous asset in connecting with employees because it helps illuminate the caring side of your company. It demonstrates what your organization’s purpose looks like in action and highlights programs and initiatives that you are pursuing for social betterment. It demonstrates your focus beyond financial performance — your concern for social responsibility.
Employees crave — well really, demand — that sense of humanity from their employers today. They want to contribute to a higher purpose through their work, and they flock to workplaces that offer those opportunities. Your CSR story taps into much of this momentum. It’s a narrative that’s highly relevant for potential employees — a story that connects to their deeper, human needs. This can endear talent to your company — helping you retain top talent and recruit the best candidates too.
67% of job seekers say they would accept a lower salary if a company has exceptional online reviews and corporate reputation. (Gallup)
How to tailor your CSR message specifically for employees
As it stands, most CSR messaging needs to be shaped into a more accessible story for employees. To get greater mileage out of it, take your story and look at it through the lens of current and potential employees. Adapt it to their needs, concerns and desires. Break it into easily digestible chunks and tell real stories that meet potential employees where they are. These pointers can help guide you:
Incorporate employee stories
Focus on sharing true employee stories related to CSR. This is hands-down one of the best ways to engage talent. When you let actual employees’ stories drive your narrative, you give all employees the chance to see themselves in the stories you tell. And, you spark a spirit of participation, giving rise to employee ambassadors. These individuals naturally help spread the message, multiplying your efforts. This can be a major asset in retention and attraction as well as motivation and performance.
Abbreviate your content
It’s highly unlikely that a potential employee will sit down and read a typical CSR report. Thus, streamlining the content for easier consumption is essential. Draw out the points that are most important to your existing employees and future candidates. Make those few elements your focus.
Create community in their channels of choice
Instead of simply proclaiming your story, look for ways to create community among current and potential employees. Meet them within their channels of choice (whether online or in-person), and get creative in the ways you draw them together around the social issues inherent to your organization’s purpose.
Use human language
When you intentionally shift the language to match the way current and potential employees talk, your messages become far more accessible. You’re able to create deeper connections by striking a chord of humanity. Drop any corporate speak. Have a real conversation.
Leverage visual design
We live in an increasingly visual culture. Get potential employees’ attention by leveraging visual elements within your storytelling. Let graphics and multimedia formats powerfully communicate your message instead of relying on words alone.
Why evolve your CSR message to speak to employees?
If you’re a leading corporation, it’s likely you’re already spending significant resources on CSR each year. And, you know quite well the challenges of attracting and retaining the best and brightest talent for your team. Taking your CSR story — a narrative that’s highly relevant for employees — and adapting it to connect deeply to their needs and desires can bear great results. By telling that story with clarity and relevance, you bolster your corporate reputation and make your organization more appealing to attract and retain top talent.