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Corporate Responsibility

What’s your yardstick? In corporate responsibility, how and what you measure matters.


By Cheryl Robinson, APR

As PR pros, we look at measuring the success of our efforts using pretty clear criteria. But for companies trying to measure the impact of their corporate responsibility efforts, the formula, historically, has been much less clear. In our industry, measurement has evolved beyond just the numbers to include things like tone, share of voice and message delivery, to name a few. But in corporate responsibility, one could argue that measurement is going the opposite way, looking beyond just the qualitative to hard numbers and quantifiable results in order to demonstrate the value of these initiatives in corporate America.

So, what are the criteria companies are using to measure the impact of their community involvement and corporate responsibility initiatives? For environmental and sustainability efforts, success is based on complex but measurable criteria: “Did we reduce waste by X tons year over year?” “Did we reduce water consumption in our manufacturing facility by implementing more efficient processing methods?” Those results take time to gather, but are pretty straightforward. And, companies validate the impact of these types of actions by working with organizations such as the Global Reporting Initiative or the Carbon Disclosure Project to guide how and what they report. But how are companies capturing the impact of their philanthropic or community investment efforts? And who is guiding the reporting of those efforts?

Outcome over output

To assess corporate responsibility efforts, successful companies start with the end in mind, with a focus on impact and outcomes rather than outputs. This isn’t just a one-off or a box to check. These companies figure out what they are trying to accomplish, and design programs that can demonstrate meaningful and measurable impact.

Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come

Companies that sell products and services that no one wants or needs don’t last long. Similarly, corporate responsibility initiatives that aren’t rooted in research often fall flat. How can one assess whether a community need is being effectively met if the need was never clearly identified or validated? The best programs are rooted in a thorough understanding of the needs of their communities and stakeholders – internal and external – and designed to address those needs AND achieve business goals.

Vacuums are for cleaning

Successful corporate responsibility initiatives and programs cannot be developed in a vacuum. In fact, they should be developed with input from many different stakeholders, internal and external. A program targeting at-risk youth, for example, will not succeed unless external partners that bring the unique perspective of this population are at the table during the development of the program. If a company’s future workforce depends on graduates with a heavy concentration on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), it makes sense to sit down with educators (external) and your own engineers (internal) when designing a program that will address this need.

Ask the right questions

Developing a program based on well-defined goals is not as difficult as it may seem. The hard part is asking the right questions to evaluate success. In its recent study on determining the value of corporate community involvement, the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College suggested that companies should ask questions that lead to measures that “make sense, are manageable, and help the department do its work.” Basically, ask the questions that will give you the information you want, and use the tools that will deliver that information, including surveys, interviews, a review of purchasing trends, employee retention, and others, as appropriate.

Finally, keep in mind that measurement doesn’t have to be cumbersome or unwieldy. At its core, it must demonstrate to all of a company’s stakeholders that corporate responsibility is not nice to do, but is a cultural and business imperative. Design an approach with results in mind, and you’ll measure up.

About Emily Valentine:

Emily is fascinated by every aspect of food: How it’s grown, how it’s prepared and how it impacts our perceptions and behaviors. Described by her colleagues as a voracious learner and energetic worker, she thrives on helping companies achieve their purpose through strategic communications and creative executions. Emily’s home base is in Washington, DC, where you’ll find her running, writing, biking, planning her next trip and shopping at Whole Foods whenever she has the chance.

3 Comments on “What’s your yardstick? In corporate responsibility, how and what you measure matters.

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