Are you a ‘responsible business’? What does it mean to be ‘responsible’? And what’s the state of responsible business in Australian SMEs? Welcome to part one of a three part series that will cover these issues.
For this instalment we’ll focus on the 3 stages of development of responsible businesses; from ‘Initiators’ to ‘Integrators’ and onwards to becoming strategically driven ‘Innovators’; and we’ll boil down the 2015 State of CSR report to the essential take-home messages for SMEs in Australia.
Harvard Business School last year presented a framework for understanding the stages of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), as well as the fast-emerging role of the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). The Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ACCSR) recently brought this into the Australian context in the 2015 edition of their State of CSR report.
Initiators – Aware of the benefits and ready to act.
As the title suggests this is the first port of call for businesses who want to start making a difference. Initiators are characterised by their desire either to mitigate risks or to make a start on some simple activities; so-called ‘low-hanging fruit’ like switching away from inefficient energy usage, instigating elements of an employee engagement programme, or making charitable donations. Everyone has to start somewhere and these simple activities can make a real difference. By setting some very simple and achievable goals, doing the groundwork and measuring progress you’ll be laying a solid foundation, and setting a baseline, for the future.
Integrators – Getting on with it, incorporating responsible actions into the business and maybe telling a few people about it.
This is where it starts to get really exciting, as a business builds on initial efforts and begins to integrate responsible business thinking into the company’s ‘everyday’ business. Strong leadership is absolutely essential at this stage. Such leadership needs to be combined with a collaborative and participatory approach with employees and customers, so that this socially responsible cultural shift can be embedded into the fibre of the business.
Innovators – Responsible business practices guide strategic decision making to new revenue streams and opportunities.
Responsible business practices are integrated into the organisation to such an extent that social responsibility is built into the overarching business strategy, and not ‘tagged on’ as some kind of afterthought or ‘soft’ sustainability agenda. The solid foundation developed from being an initiator and then an integrator enables businesses to innovate, and test new ways of driving business growth through responsible business practices. At this stage you’ll have a defined social purpose and be building your company’s business strategy, policies and culture around this very reason for being. Responsible business thinking will come very naturally and fit more or less seamlessly at all levels of the company.
Throughout this journey from the initial steps right through to a thriving, innovative responsible business, it’s important to be open with your employees and include them in the process along the way; as Tim Davies, ex-ANZ Environmental Sustainability Analyst says, ‘if you run around taking all the wooden stirrers from the tea rooms, you’ll just annoy your staff, and it becomes much harder to get their attention in the future‘.
Create a strategy, how ever rough it may be, and get started with simple actions and ongoing monitoring. Refine it as you go and build it and your commitments over time; no one expects you to become responsible business innovators overnight, but increasingly customers expect that you have at least started the journey.