Lessons from a Corporate Idealist

CorpIdealistPostAfter reading Christine Bader’s book, “The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist” this summer, it was a great thrill to hear her in person at Emory University last week. I won’t give away the book, but Christine  (@christinebader) has fantastic front-line insights on the people, pressures, and stakeholders involved in navigating a company to do what outsiders would simply call, “the right thing.” It’s been one of my favorite reads in the CSR arena because it’s baked in reality, not theory, and offers hope for the budding ecosystem of leaders striving to make business for good, simply good business.

Christine shared some powerful lessons learned from her 10 years at BP. Yep, that BP! Reason enough to read the book, right? Here are some gems from her talk:

1. Nobody gets rewarded for what doesn’t happen.
Think about it. Your company’s not having industrial accidents. Your supply chain’s clean. Your community partnerships are strong, but kind of on autopilot. The annual CSR report is slick, again.

The downside of well-run CSR efforts can be no “fires” or clear crises where leadership goes on display. Suddenly, your budget & head count get difficult to defend. “Nothing’s happened” after all. Maybe you once had great support and mandate from the top, but through a series of CEOs and executive succession, everyone starts to forget the resolve and wonders, “What is it you do exactly?”

This is actually a huge reason why we started Authentity. In many ways, it’s a corporate emotional intelligence system for CSR and embeds functionally as a powerful employee engagement tool.

2. Very few execs bear witness to CSR work. They just don’t see the impact or know the story. 
This is a great exhortation for CSR practitioners to focus on great storytelling (and source it from your partners too), commit to measures of impact, and be mindful of internal advocacy efforts, as much as the external ones. Slapping a T-shirt on the CEO during the “adult field trip” and getting a picture of them spreading mulch is not going to prove your business case! Learn the language and operational realities of those within the company. Illuminate how your work contributes, and do it through their lens, not yours.

3. Incrementalism. Moving in the right direction is worthwhile, even if it’s slower than we’d desire.
This was a powerful point for why CSR professionals need a strong community of peers. So far, none of us have been given a magic wand to re-invent business. The bulk of business processes and thought existed long before CSR emerged, or we were even mindful that it needed to. We’re in the influence business. And, progress is being made! A growing CSR field, the increasing mindfulness of customers and other stakeholders creates… demand. Something business knows a thing or two about. Think back 10 years and how many people even knew of, much less were employed in, CSR. It’s advancing and positively affecting more lives every year. You are doing good work!

What else? What are you learning? 

Posted on September 25, 2014 in CSR

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