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.

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