Corporate Eye

Three tips to develop CSR Redwood

Once in a while you come across a company name which is just sooooo apposite for their business you find it hard to believe some kind of legal name change hasn’t been involved.

The best example of this I’ve ever come across dates back to my early childhood and travelling into Oxford on the Park & Ride.  As the double decker rattled its way along the Abingdon Road we passed by a funeral directors, called Reeves and Pain.  I kid you not, and so far as I know the company is still going to this day.

You may have already come across an interesting little video from The Big Think project entitled “Companies Can’t Be Parasites Anymore”; it was released last month but I’ve only just watched it.

The video is of a brief interview with Stephen Miles, VC of Heidrick and Struggles, one of the oldest executive consulting firms in the US.  A video with that title from a company called “Struggles” .. I’m sorry, it somehow seems apposite once again.

All that aside though, the video is well worth watching.  It’s only three minutes long and in a quiet yet forceful way Stephen Miles outlines exactly the changes needed in corporate culture post-financial crisis.

Here are some bullet points I’ve taken out of it as tips to enhance the approach to communicating corporate CSR.  The redwood reference comes from this quote at the start of the interview:

“[corporate statements on CSR can’t be a veneer] You can’t just sort of poke through the veneer and find out that actually what you’re talking about is not what your company is really about, so there has to be this redwood behind all the statements that you make around your corporate image.”

  • create value for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.  Sounds like an old mantra, but understanding this is key.  It’s not creating shareholder value and then being able to point to the positive stakeholder spin offs.  Its about having a business model which creates value for all stakeholders.  One is veneer, the other is redwood.
  • there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between a corporation and all its stakeholders, not a parasitic one.  In the parasitic version a corporation exists as a means for shareholders to extract financial value from other stakeholders.  In a symbiotic one all extract value from the corporate, shareholders happen to take that away in financial terms.  Needless to say, the parasitic relationship is veneer and the symbiotic relationship redwood.
  • technology has changed how business is done.  Everyone is connected, everything is recorded, access is worldwide and often in real time.  Companies have to get used to being transparent and examined.  This is the new expectation of corporate behaviour, and is the fundamental difference between veneer and redwood.

This shouldn’t be mistaken for trying to turn all businesses into social enterprises or charities.  Rather, it’s recognising  that any corporate body has a number of stakeholders all of whom have a number of inputs and outputs.  Certain types of stakeholders measure those inputs and outputs financially, but a business should not allow itself to be defined or directed by these alone.

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.