Forget your backward-looking corporate-waffle: write a pocketbook of good business

In last month’s magazine, I outlined three first steps for revolutionary corporate responsibility reporting:

  • rethink business purpose to tell a compelling story

  • take market research to another level

  • cut superfluous box-ticking

In this article I will get down to the nuts and bolts of how to put these into a practice. For this, we need a revolutionary business that has the will to do it, has buy-in from the Executive Committee and has a real feel for its audience. Let’s imagine for a second that this is your company. Below is the reporting structure template I’d recommend – with examples of reporters who are already coming close to my ideal model.

Title/theme: this should relate to your purpose of serving society and improving the lives of your customers.

Purpose: value chain graphic showing how you deliver on your purpose. This means being totally transparent, from how much you pay in taxes and investor dividends, to the employment and infrastructure you create and the societal outcomes of your products/services.

Comes close: H&M’s “impacts along our value chain” in its Conscious Actions report.

Megatrends: how you’ve responded to megatrends such as population growth, poverty and inequality, urbanisation and climate change (what you include will depend on your business sector), linking through to case studies later in the report. A quote from the chief executive or chairman (replacing the full statement) as well as an external expert commentary will add credibility here.

Comes close: Veolia’s “talking points” in its sustainability report.

Megatrends like population growth give context

Governance: having given an insight into the impact you have had, people will want to see how you do it. Here I am talking about a drastic facelift for governance and ethics. Replace your organogram and dull headshots/biogs with a frank account (or graphic) of how you organise yourselves internally and how you hold people to account.

Again, give personal accounts and fly-on-the-wall commentaries of board meetings and tackle any media scandals head-on – for example, if excessive bonus pay-outs made the headlines, here is your chance to set things straight.

Strategy: a shake-up of strategy and targets. Focus on how you developed your strategy over the year (you can’t keep rolling out the same thing year-on-year – remember this is a report, not a manual). Reference materiality and stakeholder engagement as an appendix/evidence section.

And finally, bring philanthropy back. Yes, this may seem to be a step backwards but I have seen plenty of examples of how good, strategic philanthropy is having a positive impact on a massive scale (the Indian mineral giant Vedanta does this well). Just be sure that it dovetails with how your business model serves society.

Case study 1: a story relating to your strategy. Link back to value chain and megatrends with icons. For example, if you launched a new mobile phone that’s served farmers in emerging economies, you could cross-link back to the “societal outcomes” section of your value chain as well as the megatrend of poverty and inequality.

Viewpoint 1: a Q&A with an internal or external stakeholder. An external voice could include an issue expert (for example, Jonathon Porritt is commissioned by both the Co-op and Carillion to offer credibility to their strategy). Don’t reinvent the wheel here. If you can include a Twitter feed or real testimonials from the company blog or Facebook comments, then do so.

Performance: a highlights wall showing performance against targets with success and failure in equal measure.

Use reports as launchpads for online debates

Comes close: The Co-operative’s performance overview

Case studies and viewpoints 2-4

Looking ahead: instead of backward-looking financials, why not lure potential investors with a lucrative plan for how your products will meet untapped societal needs and tackle the megatrends, before your competitors get there? Firms are beginning to do this but even Novo Nordisk’s award-winning integrated report is dominated by historic performance, shareholder return and risk, as opposed growth opportunities via addressing one of the greatest health threats to the western world – diabetes.

This section also presents an opportunity to use the report as a launchpad for webinars, online debates, Twitter chats and Facebook campaigns.

Start a revolution

So there we have it: how to turn a backward-looking encyclopaedia of corporate-waffle into a pocketbook of good business. And don’t forget that once you’ve got the skeleton report right, you will need to think about each audience segment. For example, the value chain could become an interactive graphic for consumers while the megatrends section could easily be adapted for NGOs.

I went into corporate responsibility communications because I genuinely believe that good, honest and attention-grabbing communications can drive business and systemic change. Try it. You never know, you might start a revolution. 

reporting  CR Reporting  corporate responsibility reporting 

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