10 Ways To Become A More Socially Responsible Business

There is growing appreciation for the idea that social responsibility is core to a good business. But there are many old mindsets and practi
March 24, 2011

There is growing appreciation for the idea that social responsibility is core to a good business. But there are many old mindsets and practices that make it hard to move away from old, irresponsible ways of doing business—and it’s not always clear what the new approaches need to be.


I asked Carol Sanford, author of a brand new book called The Responsible Business: Reimagining Sustainability and Success, for a list of the 10 most important changes any business needs to consider.


1. Reimagine responsibility. 

Move the business from a position approach to a pervasive approach. That is, move the effort to become responsible away from the purview of a corporate responsibility officer or department to the whole business and all of its work. It is no longer appropriate to focus on responsibility when making some decisions, while allowing whole arenas where it is not even discussed. Everyone in a business must develop a "responsible ethic."


2. Reimagine effectiveness. 

Shift work from the incidental to the consequential. Often businesses work on practices they think are related to what matters; for example, fair trade, which has a great image and often a great outcome. But many certified fair-trade businesses are not viable and do not create economic viability for local communities. They simply avoid unfair labor practices and often don’t even attempt to foster good ecological practices.


3. Reimagine success. 

Move the business from measuring efforts to measuring effects. The Responsible Business no longer measures and reports activities or practices as progress. Instead it measures and works on how decisions and actions affect its stakeholders’ lives.


4. Reimagine giving. 

Think less about giving back and more about ensuring that the business is giving as. It's not about what the business does after the money is earned (donations of time and resources) or as part of their efforts (supply chain sustainability) or even in addition to what is not responsible at all (wasteful practices). A healthy philanthropic and community function is laudable but real giving is in how people do business every day.


5. Reimagine impact. 

Move the business from decreasing harm to increasing benefits—contributions to ecosystems, communities, customers’ lives, suppliers’ successes, employees’ sense of personal and professional meaning and their contributions to stakeholders and investors’ roles in pervasive responsibility.


6. Reimagine corporation. 

Corporation means the "body of the whole," not a sum of the parts. Move toward incorporating responsibility into the business and assessing it by real benefits achieved in the system of which the business is a part—shift from fragmentation or integration of responsibility efforts toincorporation of responsibility into how all work is done by everyone.


7. Reimagine management. 

Shift from building management systems for a workforce of employees to building them for a workforce of CEOs. A workforce of CEOs is one in which every person in a value network—employees, suppliers, partners, contractors—thinks like a CEO and feels responsibility for the success of the whole, including the financials, in their everyday decisions and actions. It fosters engagement and purpose.


8. Reimagine talent. 

Shift the business from buying talent to building talent. Developing potential is easier, more profitable, fulfilling and strategic than seeking and hiring new talent. Responsible business leaders know that all people are capable of endless personal and professional development and that their businesses have not yet come close to realizing the true potential of people.


9. Reimagine organization. 

Move the business from delegation to initiation. Hierarchical ladders of responsibility remove the demand for human agency, which is the real source of innovation. In the Responsible Business, everyone is connected to product and service offerings and takes personal responsibility for stakeholders’ success, based on the business’ strategic direction. Self-directed responsibility is built into development plans, where people make promises to better serve stakeholders. These commitments require them to grow personally and professionally.


10. Reimagine work design. 

Move the business from orchestration to improvisation. Work should look less like a symphony orchestra and more like an improvisational jazz ensemble, where people collaborate seamlessly and improvise their own renditions in the context of an agreed upon rhythm and progression, moved by the immediate context, audience, or moment.