You can’t be the best at everything, so how should you choose?
To be impactful and effective CSR, sustainability, responsible business, reputation strategy or whatever form it takes in your business must be fundamentally intertwined with your primary corporate strategy. There are a host of reasons for this, starting with the fact that both strands will be more effective if they are self-reinforcing, noting also that it is far easier to communicate social impact projects if they relate to your core business, and never forgetting the point I want to make today: you cannot be good at everything.
Concentrating on your ‘core’ business, customer or voter are time-honoured strategies that bear fruit because they emphasise your strengths. Yes, to grow you may need to stretch, improve your more marginal expertise, create new products, but you are never going to be great at everything and the more you try to achieve that, the less successful you will be at everything. The same thing is true for your environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies. I am not saying that you should just pick one area to care about – reducing plastic, say – and then ignore the rest but there are inevitably some factors that are more relevant to your industry, where you can have a bigger impact or that chime with the culture and brand personality of your organisation.
Fitch Ratings recently published an ‘ESG heatmap’ designed to “help users understand how relevant individual ESG topics are to credit ratings across different sectors”. This approach acknowledges that concerns over air quality, for example, are a bigger risk for auto manufacturers than for the hotel industry, which instead might focus on labour practices and privacy concerns around customer data. Other sources to get you thinking are, of course, the Sustainable Development Goals; or perhaps your organisation is interested in the B Corp movement.
These frameworks, and the many others that exist, overlap and reinforce one another and this can seem a little overwhelming, so try this approach: where is there a risk of harm? Next, what are we good at? Here you are assessing your best opportunities to make an impact. Then, what am I (and my team!) interested in? This ensures authenticity and commitment. At the nexus of these categories will be a place to focus your efforts and perhaps become a leader in your industry or country.
And what about the rest, the things you don't choose to focus on? Listen to your stakeholders; try not to be an a**hole; and take cues from your team, conscience and the organisations who do lead in that area.