CSR: Finding the “Why” in Business

The international survey we recently released, “Where’s your business heading?,”  identified the three top strategy challenges for business leaders today.  The first two are heavily technology enabled – the accelerating pace of business and the challenge of vanishing boundaries.  The third is not native to the business environment but is rapidly becoming its most important issue.

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, is a recent phenomenon, as in an extraordinary occurrence. It is only 50 or so years old and is already pronounced dead by contrarian thinkers, a sure sign that it is hugely influential. Known also in some circles as Responsible Business Conduct, it focuses on how business can pursue wealth creation in harmony with the environment and society.

It is no coincidence that CSR has become a major factor in recruitment as we transit younger, more educated and more self-aware generations of workers.  Today’s candidates are more socially selective throughout their job hunt.

They place heavy emphasis on an organization’s reputation and commitment to the community and want to ensure their future employer engages in CSR practices that align with their own beliefs.

CSR, in effect, is the Why of business.  If you are not familiar with the Why movement, Google Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why”, or a companion book “Find your Why”.  Here’s a quick introduction.

Sinek’s uses a simple model he calls the Golden Circle, shown above.

It describes how every organization operates on three levels.  Everyone knows WHAT they do.  Many of them know HOW they do it.  Very few know WHY they do it.  Sinek does not mean “making money” which he considers a result. He is looking for a cause, a belief, the reason why you get up in the morning.

Sinek believes that when a customer’s personal beliefs align with your values, he/she is not only more likely to do business with you but become a regular.  This is why he feels that, while everyone else is marketing from the outside of the circle in, exceptional people such as a Steve Jobs or a Martin Luther King worked from the inside circle out.

The challenge of the traditional elevator pitch is to explain, within 10 floors, what your company does, how it does it and how good it is. In the elevator pitch of today, the components become what, how and why you feel a purpose, a belief that what you do is worthwhile.

The person speaking wants you to know that what he or she does is a benefit to society, is respectful of the planet and sustainable. In other words, the true goal of Corporate Social Responsibility.

CSR, and finding the Why in what you do, are important new influences. It is not long ago that CEOs proclaimed their mission was to earn money for the shareholders; Milton Friedman believed that a business focused on CSR “revealed a suicidal impulse”.

But, without changing the profit-based model, over 13,500 companies have signed the UN Global Compact, a promise to uphold social responsibility in human rights, labour standards and environmental protection.

That’s a worthwhile “Why”.

Read what leaders say about Corporate Social Responsibility in our survey “Where’s Your Business Heading?”

Or you can go here to watch Simon Sinek give a TED talk on Finding the Why.

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