Saturday, May 22, 2010

We Are the World

Everyone talks about the "global economy" and how business is linked with the various countries around the world - either as commercial markets or as sourcing markets. In all my CSR positions, I've had the opportunity to consider the world beyond my own country borders, but never have I had to dig as deeply into country information before my current position.

I sit squarely in our supply chain organization and am focused on helping the company consider entry into and exit out of different countries from a sourcing perspective. And I'm now in the middle of a "country risk assessment" project where I've been tasked with assessing the risks of doing business in those countries where we're currently sourcing and those under consideration.

It's an interesting project and I get to learn about countries like Mauritius and Jordan, but it's been a laborious piece of work as well. Each country requires several hours of research and of course there are many other pressing demands on my time. I've started to engage external purveyors of country risk analysis to see if I can streamline the research process and am now in the position of receiving approximately 20 e-mail newsletters a week that alert me to macroeconomic shifts in different countries around the world.

The problem with these research and information sources is that I simply don't have time to filter through the wealth of information out there. And most of these sources don't do a good job of narrowing down available information to make it easily digestible or relevant to my industry. My full-time job could be to sift through information about China, but unfortunately, I have other things to do.

As I pull these country profiles together for an upcoming meeting (one that's far too close on the horizon), a growing concern is how I'm ever going to keep these profiles current and how I will be able to manage ongoing communication of their contents to my colleagues. It's a weird responsibility, being the keeper of country risk information - and one that I'm not totally convinced plays to my strengths.

After all, how does one person stay abreast of all the economic and political developments in several dozen countries, while considering all the potential implications on our supply chain and business? There has to be an easier way!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Holy Grail?

I've spent the past few weeks tweaking a new tool to rate our suppliers on social performance. It's never going to be "perfect," but it's at a point where I think it's workable.

Ever since before I started working in CSR, I'd heard social performance metrics described as "the holy grail." Professors grandly alluded to the possibilities of tying "hard social metrics" to financial performance and building a stronger business case for CSR. Of course, no one suggested that social metrics would demonstrate that CSR does not have business value. That outcome would simply mean the metrics were "wrong."

In any case, I don't know whether or not we'll ever get to the social metrics that hard-core CSR professionals and academics seek. What I do know, however, is that people in other parts of my company need an easy way to understand CSR performance and I need to develop something that gives us directional insight into social performance. As it stands, my metrics system doesn't provide an absolute grade. The important part is that it serves as a springboard for discussion.

And my point in introducing these metrics into our company vocabulary isn't to help our contract factories strive for perfection. When it comes to social performance, it's about continuous improvement and metrics can help describe relative performance between entities or over time. I just hope my business partners understand that I want to provide these metrics in a certain spirit - to cultivate ongoing feedback, dialogue and improvement.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Writer's Block

It's my own fault, really. In my previous companies, we've had robust Corporate Communications teams who managed the corporate website. In order to make any changes (large or small), requests had to funnel through this department and much strategic thinking went into whether or not the change(s) could be made and how it would impact the company's overall messaging and positioning.

In my current company, we simply don't have the same resources and making changes to our corporate website happens much more quickly and without the same level of thought or bureaucracy.

In the two years I spent in my last position, I joined a battle to elevate the "Corporate Citizenship" section of the website to the main navigation, arguing that today's customers and potential employees expect to see this information front-and-center. It's a debate that predated me joining the company and, to my knowledge, it continues after my departure.

So, I started campaigning early. I'm almost three months into my job and there's now a "Corporate Responsibility" tab in the main navigation of our company's website. It was a much easier and quicker response than I could have ever imagined. Now I have a bigger problem: there's no content!

Without resources to hire a writer, I've been trying to draft content for our website - something that authentically, yet succinctly describes our approach to CSR. I'm stretching to find verbiage that illustrates our genuine commitment without overstating our progress to date. I'm quickly reaching out to other parts of the business to get a fuller picture of initiatives that have been underway for years, before I joined the company. I'm trying to emulate our corporate voice and bring in elements that make this story unique to my company. And most of all, I'm trying to avoid writing the same thing I've written for my past two companies' websites and CSR reports!

So, naturally, I've taken a break from the drafting and turned to blogging for a bit. Hopefully, this little exercise will clear the cobwebs from my brain and allow me to tell our story (quickly!), so that visitors to our corporate website won't see the "under construction" message for much longer.