Monday, March 8, 2010

The Ratings Game

Last week I had the chance to meet with several corporate CSR leaders and in many conversations, the CRO's annual list of "100 Best Corporate Citizens" came up. Like every other list that purports to rank companies based on CSR, differing viewpoints and minor controversy always arise.

When I mentioned the list last week (usually to congratulate a colleague whose company earned recognition on it), I heard several comments, including:

  • "You know how it is. It's a game you've got to play and hope to influence."

  • "When [company name] is in the top 25, you have to wonder how credible the list is."

  • "Well, it means something only if you agree with the methodology, which I really don't."

Usually, these comments were accompanied by a roll of the eyes, a shrug or a dismissive noise.

In my last two CSR positions, I worked at companies that appeared on the list and part of my job was to furnish SRI investment firms with information that would help them provide accurate and timely information about our company's CSR practices to their clients. Since the CRO list gathers its research from such an SRI firm, I served as the point of contact to provide them with information about our company's efforts.

And while I agree with my fellow CSR practitioners who feel that these rankings create unnatural competition and cannot possibly provide an apples-to-apples comparison of companies' CSR programs, I do believe they can have value.

As one of my colleagues said last week, "At least it gets our CEO talking. He's mentioned it to investors and other business partners." It's a clear and easy proof point for executives to drop in a conversation. It can serve as a "measurable" way to validate the hard work of a CSR team. It can also serve as a framework for a company to organize, build and communicate a CSR program. (Although I wouldn't recommend using the last bit as a driving force for a CSR strategy.)

In the end, I truly do congratulate CSR leaders whose companies appear on this and other CSR rankings list, but I always remain skeptical of where companies are placed in relation to each other, especially when a company can jump 20 spots in either direction in the course of a year. But as long as they encourage companies to continuously improve upon their stated missions to help people, communities and the planet, I'm all for it. Even if it may be an artificial motivator.

1 comment: