CSR networks and communities (Corporate Social Responsibility) are growing rapidly. But still for most companies, measuring corporate social responsibility is complex; for many it's confusing and daunting.
Key Learnings over time:
- It is essential that companies choose guidelines and standards that reflect their business, culture and stakeholder needs and that provide information that helps the company find 'meaning' in its measurement results.
- Companies should not feel under pressure to standardize their measurement systems too soon; there are so many on the market that it is important to choose those that will be able to mature in line with the measurement industry and that have applicability long-term.
- Standardized indicators cannot provide all the answers, due to differences within organisations. Core indicators can provide comparability; however, companies also need to develop their own indicators to reflect their specific business.
- When benchmarking, it is very hard to show comparability amongst companies across industries - since companies within those industries have different motivations, markets, stakeholders ... use different standards, measurement tools, guidelines and reporting frameworks ... and have different business cultures.
A review of the measurement frameworks of four leading CSR reporters:
- All four companies support a 'learning approach'.
- They are focused on identifying important issues regarding their role as influencers of sustainable development.
- They are aware that their CSR measurement influences their business strategy.
- Their measurement is a driver for accountability; three of the four mention stakeholders when outlining their reason for measuring.
- They are each focused on understanding impact and other 'meaning' to the measurement, other than simply data collection.
- All four companies have, or are developing indicators. They each use a combination, to a lesser or greater degree, of indicators, targets and objectives. The emphasis depends greatly on the business concerned.
- A company's culture and value-system can have an impact on what is measured. The Co-Operative Bank places a high emphasis on a partnership approach with its stakeholders. While Shell also emphasizes the importance of stakeholder engagement, epitomized within 'Tell Shell', they also place a high importance on their Business Principles - adding another dimension to their measurement. Ultimately, what a company measures will be what it values and what is of value to its stakeholders.
- The geographical location and size of the company has a marked impact on how it measures. The global nature of Shell's different offices leads naturally to it measuring the performance of its businesses against specific - and comparable - company objectives. RPA, with its UK-based location and 10 people is able to articulate a combination of targets, indicators, and impact areas relevant to the whole business. Global, national and local considerations lead to different measurement systems.
- Even within one location, the size of the organization has an impact on the measurement framework(s) employed. Trying to develop measurement systems in a large national company such as the Co-Operative Bank cannot be compared with a small national company, such as RPA.
- Shell's attention to verification of data from many angles, sits naturally with the potential reputational issues that can arise through perceived non-responsible environmental performance.
- It may well be that Shell has, in fact, reviewed and engaged with more guidelines and standards than I identified on their website or in their report, if only to decide to not follow them, or to take parts of the initiatives/advice and apply it to parts of their strategy.
- The small nature of RPA sits naturally with identifying and using only a few main guidelines.
- It is important not to judge a company too quickly. While some people judge a company's commitment to accountability on the breadth of standards and guidelines it refers to in it is reporting there is an opposing school of thought. A company may, in fact, be demonstrating more accountability by not 'buying in' to ready-made standards; instead developing their own systems that are of direct relevance to the company's business or focusing on those that have direct meaning to the business.