Corporate social opportunity!

August 01, 2004

Briefing reviews ‘Corporate Social Opportunity: Seven Steps to Make Corporate Social Responsibility Work for your Business’, by David Grayson and Adrian Hodges.

To quote the flysheet, this is a book that sets out to show how to improve corporate performance and gain competitive advantage through a more creative and positive application of CSR, and I would say it largely succeeds in its mission. The authors’ core proposition is that business leaders should stop regarding CSR as synonymous only with cost, burden, obligation and duty, but start to also associate it with possibilities of market growth, product or service differentiation, and new business opportunities.

Part 1 is a 264-page walk through the seven-stage cyclical process, from identifying the triggers that impact change in business thinking in this area, through making the case, committing to action, and measuring and reporting.

It’s a bit of a long read, and the model is perhaps unnecessarily complicated. but the book is rich in good and useable examples which support the thesis: Unilever’s development of low cost body care and food products in India, Hewlett-Packard’s village digital photographers initiative, Centrica’sHere to help scheme, Coca-Cola’sEntrepreneurs development programme, and B&Q’s development of improved services for disabled customers, to name but a few.

Part 2 is a 100-page practical demonstration of how to apply the process, using the example of a fictional company-a snack food producer, ‘Advent Foods’.

The scenario is a day-long Management Retreat involving the Chairman and the senior management team, and is documented complete with a full ‘invented’ script of the discussions – some of it, I have to say, toe-curlingly over the top, and hopefully intentionally so. If you can suspend your disbelief that a senior team would come together for a whole day on this topic, collaborate so politely and enthusiastically and emerge fully committed to an “integrated action plan”, then Part 2 would be well worth the trouble to read.

The danger is, of course, that aspirational business fiction of this kind (not a well-read genre at the best of times) could undermine the book’s otherwise excellent focus on mainstreaming CSR into core business activities. Let’s hope not.

I enjoyed this book. The arguments are sound, supported by well laid-out and presented tables, charts, and checklists. The case-studies and illustrations are well researched, contemporary and relevant, and the suggested seven stage process logical and probably workable, though I’m already finding it very useful just to ‘dip’ into for background material. The worked-through case study does provide valuable practical insight and guidance, and the downloadable process forms and explanatory notes are well put together. There is a comprehensive Signpost section at the end (which, of course, includes Briefing).

I emerged from the read with renewed optimism and increased confidence that CSR can and should be more than an exercise in risk management, and I hope and expect others will have a similar experience.

Corporate Social Opportunity! was published by Greenleaf in July 2004, 390 pp, hardback: ISBN 1 874719 84 5, £40.00; paperback: ISBN 1 874719 83 7, £19.95To purchase: call 0114 282 3475

Jerry is a director of The Corporate Citizenship Company and currently community investment director at Whitbread.