CSR – The Soul of the Corporation

Consider, if you will, the anatomy of a business against that of a human.

There are some simple links that can be made between different parts:

  1. The Heart:  The creative elements that drives the machine, the reason you exist in terms of your business passions, ambitions and drives.
  2. The Brain:  The management and leadership team, considering the tactical and strategic direction of the business, usually based on firm data provided to them.
  3. The Muscles:  The workforce that gets things done, the ‘heavy lifting’ part of the organisation that produces and delivers.
  4. The Skeleton:  The infrastructure that underpins the business, including key IT systems, networks and communication infrastructure.
  5. The Nervous System:  Most suitably the HR function, responsible for communicating the ‘feel’ of employees and identifying areas of concern.
  6. Skin:  Marketing, of course – the team responsible for the outward appearance of your company and brand.

Less easy to map on the human anatomy is the Soul – that internal measure of what is good, right and fair.  Of course these concepts are well understood by the brain and the heart, but the inner compass and True North does not sit in either of these places.

Aspects of Business

Even a moderate sized organisation touches many different aspects;

  1. People:  There are those that work for you, those you call customers, partners and suppliers.  Beyond this, people exist in communities – families, villages, towns and cities.  How does your business impact on this extended set of communities?  A direct measure is paying your employees, and seeing how the salary flows through to the communities; the shops, public transport, council tax, entertainment and so forth.  For your customers it may be the services you deliver.  Do your goods and services improve the wider communities, beyond the profit line of your company?
  2. Environmental:  No organisation can exist without impacting on the physical environment in some way – even if you’re full online, you’re using hosting systems that are physically located somewhere in the world, consuming resources.  Does your business knowingly account for such impact, and do you aim to have a net zero impact or are you also improving things?  Consider the simple day to day tools of your trade – your phone, laptop, transport, coffee, clothing – they all exist within a larger supply chain.  Is it important to you how the provision of these goods and services is delivered in terms of their impact on the environment?
  3. Ethical: Less obvious, but very important.  Are you proud of what you deliver, and how you deliver it?  Too often we see large organisations applying different rules, when their local controls are outside of the profit margins – such as paying workers substantially less than would be acceptable where the products or services are sold.  Producing products or delivering services that are also of questionable ethical value would also apply here.  Would you want your child involved in any part of of the production or consumption of your goods?  That seems a fair measure of whether it’s ethical or not.

Functions of a Corporate Soul

As with the ideals of a human soul, a corporate soul must exist to essentially do good.  Not just to be seeing to do good, but to actively seek to model the business around the doing of good.  A measure of doing good is how the the corporation improves the people and places with which it interacts.

Some organisations exist with a clear mandate to ‘do good’, such as charities, care organisations and many research companies.  Even though they inevitably have to make use of third party goods and services beyond their own direct control, you can evaluate that their ‘net’ contribution is a positive one.

For other organisations, the Soul sits with a management function often referred to as Corporate Social Responsibility (or CSR).  Often the Head realises that it needs to be investing more in its Soul, if only to give the Skin a more radiant glow.  Arguably, the Heart cannot actually function efficiently without a healthy Soul.

Corporate Tithing

Of course, as with your mortal human soul, there are some ways to increase your corporation Soul’s value.  For most of us there isn’t a simple way to get hold of services or products that exist in a perfect state of karma with the rest of the world – we don’t know who made our clothing, where our coffee was sourced and what the environmental cost of running the data centre is for our website.

But, we can assume we need to balance the scales.  Our options grow daily with regards to CSR and what you can do to positively influence the impact your organisation has on the planet as a whole.  You can give time, money and/ or your expertise.

  • Time:  Companies are made up of people, and many of these people are actually rather nice and would relish the opportunity to do some good.  A company has the ability to give time, which they have already purchased from these nice people in the form of a job and a salary.  Doing good work in company hours is a great way for companies to also be doing good;
  • Money:  At the end of each month, you aim to have your company turning over a profit.  Donating a portion of that profit – either directly through charity, or indirectly through beneficial goods or services – is another way to pay into the bank of your corporate Soul.  Note that this is out of the profits, and as such sits nicely in the capitalist set up that so many of us operate in;
  • Expertise:  Can you show people a better way to do something?  You probably sit in an organisation that is doing well because it knows how to build or deliver something really well.  Without damaging your own bottom line, is there a way to share that capability to other people so that they can also benefit?

Whether the Soul is guided by the Head or Heart, or whether the Soul is the guide for the body at large, is a good measure of how much good a company does to the world.  Either way, it is important to nurture and promote the activities of the Soul – the CSR function – as the long term viability of a company within the wider world will ultimately be measured in these terms.

A word on MiFile

I was inspired to write this blog post as a result of recent work at MiFile.  Our service has been designed to help people at a critical time and our business model includes a clear aim to make this service accessible to everyone.  Having recently spoken to people in some of the Fortune 500 companies, it is the CSR impact that our service can deliver that is finding so much interest.

Suddenly a multinational beverage or telecoms company can provide a direct benefit that connects people in an emergency, for a very small cost.  They get their brand associated with the good, and the communities at large benefit through the service.  We get to contribute our expertise and ensure that the offer is cost effective by focusing on value rather than profit.

We’ve just launched our focus on B2B customers, where we invite people to talk to us about how MiFile can work with their organisations to make a huge difference.

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