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Corporate Reputation Management in the 21st Century

By 3p Contributor

By Debra Belluomini

A CEO’s decision to engage in corporate citizenship inevitably revolves around the question of ROI and the development and execution of a plan that will have impact. For some organizations the “why” may be easier to grasp. The “how,” on the other hand, is a challenge that can derail even the most well intentioned CSR staff.

The good news: There are well-defined steps that CEOs and CSR practitioners can take to create their organization’s corporate citizenship roadmap, according to co-authors Dave Stangis, vice president, Corporate Responsibility and chief sustainability officer of Campbell Soup Company, and Katherine Smith, executive director of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship. They shared highlights of their new book, The Executive’s Guide to 21st Century Corporate Citizenship: How Your Company Can Win the Battle for Reputation and Impact, as speakers at the 2017 Commit!Forum.

The Executive’s Guide can be described as a best-practices handbook for integrating sustainability practices in an organization. It identifies, step-by-step, the strategies and tools needed to create and execute a high-performance corporate citizenship plan.

On store shelves among many corporate citizenship books, Smith and Stangis said their collaborative publication effort is unique because it presents a practical approach to a complex and difficult undertaking. Defining – and viscerally describing – clear expectations of the organization’s future is a first step in developing a solid corporate citizenship goal and strategy that can differentiate it in a crowded field of competitors.

“Work for corporate citizenship is harder and more demanding than ever before,” said Smith. “You really have to start with the core purpose of the company and think about what it is you deliver better than any other company in the world, and peel back the layers of the onion.”

Stangis described the approach outlined in the book as a set of inquiry where every facet of a company is examined and dismantled. “You start to connect the dots of something that’s very unique,” he said. “That’s what companies are competing against.”

He described the process as both visual and sensory. “Oftentimes [organizations] talk about activities. We talk about what we’re doing in the community, but we’re not able to paint a clear picture of what the future looks like for that company,” Smith said. “So, what does it look like if all of this [corporate citizenship] is true for the employee? What does it feel like for the employee? What does it look like to the investor, or to the customer, or to the consumer?”

Smith and Stangis assert that to succeed, a company must approach the process as an organization-wide effort. “Corporate citizenship means leadership from every seat,” Smith said. “It’s not only looking to the CEO to deliver the vision, it’s also helping the CEO develop the vision, making it real and tangible and helping people understand what that alternative future really looks like and feels like.”

The ultimate goal of The Executive’s Guide, Smith said to CSR professionals in attendance, was creating clarity about a subject that is gaining ground in an increasingly competitive landscape. “We just both felt it (corporate citizenship) shouldn’t be as hard to do the work as it sometimes is. There are lots of books out there that tell stories of success, but very few of them actually reveal the secret sauce.”

All proceeds from the book will go toward the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship.

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