Just Good Business
Kellie McElhaney shares her work with the world's largest companies in a new book that connects CSR strategy and brand
After helping more than 150 companies develop corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies, Kellie McElhaney, founder of the Haas Center for Responsible Business, decided to encapsulate her advice in a new book, Just Good Business: The Strategic Guide To Aligning Corporate Responsibility and Brand (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.).
"I hope this book inspires business leaders. You read news stories about companies' greed and lack of contribution to society. I wanted some balance out there, McElhaney says. "Some companies are doing wonderful things, but there is no textbook."
In a recent interview with Pamela Tom, Haas School Marketing & Communications, McElhaney shared some highlights from her book.
You believed writing this book was important. Why?
It was time for a book not just about developing effective strategies, but about teaching companies how to talk about their corporate social responsibilities, their CSR story.
Fifteen years ago we had never heard of "corporate responsibility." What does it mean today?
A strategy that is aligned with companies' core competencies and helps
solve some of the world's most intractable problems.
How does a company strategically implement CSR?
An example in the book is the partnership between eBay and World of Good,
started by Priya Haji, a Haas graduate (MBA 03). World of Good brings artwork
from Haiti or necklaces from Africa to buyers in the developed world, paying
a fair wage to the products' producers. eBay decided to sell the products
after realizing one of its objectives is to create new markets.
How do companies ensure the element of "doing good" doesn’t get lost in the shuffle?
We tend to think the person in Africa should benefit first and eBay shouldn't benefit at all. My premise is the company has to benefit because that's how the company exists.
Your book talks about seven principles for developing an effective CSR strategy.
First, know your company. Take eBay. What are its objectives besides growth
or increasing sales? eBay was experiencing over 80 percent employee turnover.
Its CSR strategy needed to address the fact it is only going to grow so much
if it doesn't solve the problem of retaining employees. Creating new markets
answered both objectives.
The second rule is determining core competencies. eBay was focused on climate
change but is not a heavy environmental carbon user or emitter. It needed
a better fit. Pick a cause for which you actually own part of the solution.
The third principle is be consistent. Stick with a strategy for multiple years.
Communicate consistently, unlike Nike. Nike’s advertising is fierce and edgy. However, around its supply chain or corporate responsibility, it uses a different set of brand attributes: soft, smiling people.
The fourth principle is "simplify."
Nobody reads 90-page CSR reports. Pedigree has a partnership with the ASPCA around pet adoption, and its message is brilliantly simple: "Help us help dogs."
Working from the inside out is the fifth rule.
Companies tend to communicate externally first. Dow employees had no
idea about a water purification system created by their company for the developing
world. Dow could have 156,000 brand ambassadors by talking about it internally
The sixth rule is know your customer. For most companies, women control upwards of 80% of the purse strings and are much more likely to purchase a product if they know that a percentage of that profit is earmarked towards a cause they care about. Customers between the age of eight and 28 are also incredibly cause-focused.
The last CSR rule comes back to telling a story.
I begin each chapter with a company story. We work in a business school around numbers and facts. Research suggests stories trump facts ten times out of ten.
How do you measure success and its evolution? The African artist sells a thousand necklaces. Is that success?
Pick three good metrics: measure the company, the society, and the employees.
For example, eBay measured growth, employee satisfaction, and the economic
development of the artists.
Give us another example of a success story.
HP [Hewlett-Packard] was in India, where crop blight could destroy an entire
food source. HP developed a solar-powered digital camera. Farmers could take
a picture of the blighted leaf, go to a village kiosk set up by HP, and send
a picture of the leaf to the UC Davis Botany Lab. Scientists could look at
the leaf and say, "Too much alkaline in your soil. Here's how you treat
it." The farmer could treat the crop and save people's lives.
How do you think your book will influence your students?
This generation is going to carry us ahead in a much more sustainable fashion. They just get this. They understand the power companies have on creating a better world.