Are You a CSV Change Agent?

As a CSR professional, you are nervous. When your CEO asks about how your company is Creating Shared Value (CSV), what will you say? How are you navigating this sea change from traditional CSR approaches to CSV? How might your role change and how do you position yourself and your company as a leader and not a follower of this paradigm shift?

Creating Shared Value, as articulated in FSG’s 2011 Harvard Business Review article, outlines a company’s ability to drive profitability and competitive advantage while simultaneously creating value for society. However, as a CSR professional, CSV represents as much uncertainty as opportunity for you and your role in the company. It’s clear that CSV requires a dramatic shift in mindset, approach, expertise, and potential impact for a CSR professional. But how?

To launch and steer a CSV journey, a CSR professional needs to make a fundamental shift from program manager to change agent – to do that requires wearing the following six different hats:

  • The Teacher: CSV is not a universally known concept in the business world. This knowledge gap represents a significant barrier but also an opportunity for CSR professionals to educate colleagues and build broad awareness of the benefits of CSV and how it differs from traditional CSR approaches. For example, Nestle has launched a CSV training program aimed at educating all 280,000 employees worldwide so they can recognize and act on CSV opportunities. In meetings, workshops, and other communications, CSR professionals must convey the fundamental differences between traditional CSR and CSV approaches in order to reinforce the paradigm shift and encourage new mindsets and behaviors.
  • The Business Strategist: Developing a CSV strategy is not the same as getting executive approval for a signature initiative or a grantmaking budget. You can’t just create a theory of change and an impact framework and start executing toward your goals. In fact, tackling CSV opportunities requires strong integration with business strategy development. For example, a multinational chocolate company’s investments in cocoa sustainability efforts in West Africa were driven by the commercial need to ensure a viable supply of quality, affordable cocoa, not by pure social impact objectives.
  • The Innovator: Fostering CSV innovation requires companies to think differently about the business they are in and how that can benefit society. It suggests changing from a typical business mindset of selling products and services to delivering endurable solutions. For example, Syngenta positions itself as a sustainable agriculture and food security company, not a company that sells seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers.
  • The Facilitator: CSV initiatives by definition require cross-functional involvement from design through execution. Shifting from having authority and ownership for a program area to needing to influence a range of colleagues in other commercial divisions represents a significant leadership shift for CSR professionals. At the publishing company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the CSR team recognized the ultimate measure of its success was CSV adoption by the business units and therefore sought to accommodate and meet the needs of the market-facing teams.
  • The Collaborator: CSV solutions cannot be solved solely within the four walls of a company. As companies evolve to problem solving mindsets with a range of social issues, effective multi-stakeholder engagement is required, including partnering with government, nonprofits, and other private sector actors. Often the CSR professionals are the best positioned within companies to lead these efforts given their existing relationships and backgrounds. However, CSV will represent a different flavor of collaboration, as external partnerships will not be solely altruistic in nature, but motivated by business growth and profitability.
  • The Knowledge Agent: For CSV to take root in companies, it requires robust tracking and measurement of both the business benefits and social impact of CSV initiatives. Proper measurement of CSV outcomes will inform and guide future internal capital allocation decisions and will allow for transparent communication of CSV to shareholders and stakeholders. CSR professionals can provide strong stewardship of these knowledge needs by championing an integrated approach to measurement – conducting a side-by-side assessment of business and social value. Leading companies such as Nestle, Intel, and InterContinental Hotels Group are currently piloting CSV measurement approaches with an eye toward ultimately making CSV measurement more institutionalized throughout their companies. 

To play the above roles, today’s CSR professionals will need to draw on their previous business experience and/or fill gaps in their capabilities. In short, CSV leaders will need to speak both the language of business and social value creation – an exciting yet challenging opportunity for CSR professionals to foster scalable, sustainable solutions to social problems and to contribute to a company’s growth and competitive advantage.

If any of these ideas resonate with you and your experiences, please feel free to share any reactions or insights you might have. 

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