“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”… right?

I used to believe that the right plan would always yield the right result. Just follow the steps, stay the course, and celebrate the win. I then learned that people are unwieldy; if they don’t have a say in the plan, they won’t see how it pertains to them, and they don’t follow through. Easy solution: start with an environmental scan, adjust the plan to the people, and then you’re back on track – stay the course, celebrate the win.

But even after all that, my plans seemed to fail. And still, the problem seemed to be the people. I gave them a great plan, so why couldn’t they just fall in line?

Failure of a businessman due to crisis

By Angela Parker

3 (Supposed) Reasons CSR Strategies Fail

1. Senior Leadership

In a 2010 McKinsey survey of approximately 1800 respondents, more than 50% of the executives considered sustainable CSR to be “very” or “extremely” important. However, only 25% agree that it is a top priority for their CEOs and only 30% say their companies invest in sustainability or embed it in their business practices. – McKinsey Quarterly, March 2010

It’s true, if senior leadership is not supportive, strategic plans are likely to fail. I spoke recently to a large electronics company whose CEO is such an advocate of their CSR program that he sends personal, all-company emails asking employees to participate (he even shows up to events in a t-shirt, not a suit and tie!). Participation must be off the charts, right? Sadly, no. Employees feel strongly that the program “belongs to the company” and has nothing to do with them. In fact, one manager even hit “reply all” to the CEO’s email and asked to be removed from the list.

So is senior leadership really the problem?

2. Communications

If not senior leadership, then perhaps poor communications is the culprit. According to a recent study by the Project Management Institute, ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time. 

For better or worse, CSR, in this case referred to as community involvement programs, tend to be event-based. Events require an extra measure of communications support, i.e., posters, email campaigns, website banners, and so on. Recently, I was excited to interview a selection of employees from an international corporation that had just completed a stellar communications campaign for their newly launched community involvement program. In the elevator on the way to interview number one, I asked the woman riding with me, “What do you think of [the company’s] new volunteering and giving program?” She looked at me blankly for a moment before exclaiming, “Wow, we do volunteering? That’s great!”

Do even excellent communications plans fail to make the connection?

3. Resources

Even when senior leadership and communications don’t present problems, lack of resources is a barrier faced by nearly every community involvement strategy. The 2013 Cone Communications Global CSR Study states:

Companies are looking at how they can leverage their resources into volunteerism and community engagement in ways that make sense for the business and yield maximum impact. The return on that investment is essential.

Existing programs that are highly impactful, such as international volunteering led by organizations like those listed here, typically engage a very small percentage of employees. While the strategy is good, the engagement is narrow.

Does applying the bulk of resources to a narrow strategy ultimately limit impact?

(As a side note, I want to make it clear that applying core capacities to addressing social or environmental concerns is always preferred. What we are emphasizing here is that one massive program for a small number of people may be worth broadening.)

What Really Works

Without question, a solid strategy that aligns with business initiatives while empowering employee choice is essential. But introducing a new strategy implies change. And change is hard. There’s a reason why Peter Drucker said culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Corporate social responsibility in particular implies a peculiar type of change. Companies were not created to “do good” but rather, to make money for their stakeholders. Thankfully, humans are creatures with souls and we have required our companies to evolve. CSR and community involvement strategies are good and they’re getting better every day. What needs attention now is corporate culture, and culture begins with the heart of the individual.

Together, the community, the company, and the employee make up the elements of a complete three-dimensional logic model. By focusing on a combination of strategy and culture, never sacrificing one for the other, community involvement programs will achieve impacts that will catapult the industry to a new and necessary level. Click here for ideas and resources on how to integrate culture change with your strategy.

Want to continue the conversation?

Join our webinar to learn why creating a sound strategy goes hand-in-hand with addressing your internal culture. Corporate Citizenship’s Megan DeYoung and our very own Chris Jarvis will show you how aligning your community and business strategies will reignite your community program, creating a mobilized workforce and maximum community impact.

Questions? Leave a comment below or email us at contact@realizedworth.com. Also be sure to connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
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