Last year I hosted a workshop at the Danish Business Authority’s summit Driving Sustainable Growth, where a number of Denmark’s largest companies were gathered to discuss how to build social responsibility into the heart of both business and organisations.
If there was one thing that became clear during the workshop, it was that the current mantra in CSR circles is: “There needs to be a business case”.
But what is a business case?
To many people a business case is about presenting quantitative data. It’s a technique to build credibility around a business idea by calculating and visualising the benefits and risks related to the costs of a decision.
Therefore, a crucial part of the business case for CSR obviously includes collecting data, estimating and performing a cost-benefit analysis to determine the feasibility and desirability of the company’s responsibility and sustainability initiatives.
But a business case is more than that. It is also a technique to build credibility around an idea by appealing to both the heart and the mind.
Why? Because a merely quantitative approach to the business case – in my experience – has two main challenges:
1. If you want to focus on CSR-driven innovation and business development, it very often requires you to move into unknown territory with all the uncertainties associated with this. Therefore mobilizing courage, faith and a common vision is often just as important as a thoroughly prepared spreadsheet.
2. You can have very rational arguments for why the company’s social responsibility benefits the bottom line. Decision makers, however, often still make their decisions based on their emotions and gut feelings.
Therefore, you need a more integrated approach to the business case, where you use both rational and emotional arguments that can appeal to both the left and right brain.
So how do you speak to both heart and mind?
In the report “Making the Business Case” by the League of Intrapreneurs – an international movement of internal change agents, who have put social responsibility on the agenda in their respective companies – you can find good advice that I have boiled down to the following three points:
2. Have facts and figures to back up the emotional story.
3. Do not only describe your CSR activity, but also describe the results. Which kind of commercial and social value are your CSR efforts already creating or expected to create?
It is that simple – and it is that difficult!
Tania Ellis is an international award-winning social business expert and founder of communications and consulting company, The Social Business Company. Author of Cambridge Top 40 Sustainability Book, The New Pioneers (Wiley). For more news from Tania Ellis, sign up to newsletter here, follow her on LinkedIn here, on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.