One challenge with CSR, equally important to having a clear strategy, is making sure that strategy is embedded into the business processes and workflow of the organization. As Communications executives, we face two hurdles in achieving this: 1) we don’t have intimate knowledge of the business’ day to day operations, and 2) even if we do, we can’t directly influence the business’ behavior.
With limited resources we can’t (and shouldn’t) be everywhere, so how do we make it easier for business colleagues to see how they need to do their jobs differently to become more sustainable? Communication is a key part of getting the business to implement new approaches, but in many organizations this just means communicating CSR goals without doing the extra work to understand implications on the business (and, thus running the risk of rejection at the business unit-level as they see just another thing added to an already loaded plate).
One company that takes a different approach is Ford, the American automotive manufacturer, who has achieved good results in getting the organization aligned around CSR. John Viera, Director of Sustainability at Ford, takes a bottom up approach to gaining buy-in from the business: he and his team start by reaching out to middle managers –understanding direct from the frontline what implications a CSR initiative will have on work processes and gathering informal support. This helps Ford make a stronger business case in formal conversations with senior leadership.
There are three essential steps to how Ford gathers support and buy-in from the business bottom-up:
- Understand Implications for the Business: Engaging in informal conversations with middle managers helps Communications understand potential implications of a CSR initiative (e.g. improving fuel efficiency) on the day to day operations, and determine the right people to involve and convince. Informality is key – rather than simply forcing the initiative on managers (e.g. fuel efficiency), Ford consults them beforehand to hear their concerns.
- Secure Business Buy-In: By coupling frontline feedback with data around why the initiative is important to business success and best practices around implementation, Communications can illustrate for managers what’s in it for them. A broader meeting with those most impacted by the change (identified through the informal conversations) allows a further opportunity for dialogue and partnership between Comms and the business, and helps Comms secure buy-in from the line.
- Present Plan to Business Leaders: Now that it has the blessing of the business around an initiative, Ford’s team can bring the plan in front of senior management with a more tailored and relevant business case that speaks the language of the business – not of communicators. By doing the legwork with the frontline to understand implications and secure buy-in, Comms makes it much easier for business leaders to just review and agree rather than cause panic about having to implement one more change on top of long to-do list.
Executing CSR at the frontline is certainly not easy. How have you managed to get buy-in from the line in your organization? What do you find hard in executing? Please share your stories with our team.