Robin Deliso is an associate director in APCO’s corporate responsibility practice.
In a recent Bloomberg Businessweek column, Steve McKee presents a rather simplistic view of corporate social responsibility. Given how muddled his argument is, it seems necessary to remind the online world that CSR: a) does NOT equal nonprofit and b) is not an all-or-nothing proposition. I fundamentally disagree with his premise that for a company to be “known for CSR,” it has to trade away things like profit, optimal business performance and remaining as competitive as possible.
Good CSR strategy aligns company interests with societal ones. Bad CSR does not; McKee doesn’t make this distinction. Good CSR is good business strategy, and can and should result in better business performance.
McKee also neglects to cite any companies who have struck the balance between shareholder and stakeholder management: Starbucks, IBM, GE* Nestlé…the list goes on. Instead, he cites a couple of poor examples in an effort to make his argument.
TOMS, for example, is a social enterprise. It is not what I would call CSR since the company has a social mission at its core. And the Pepsi Refresh Project was a cause marketing campaign with a heavy crowdsourced element and a light CSR halo. To be sure, PepsiCo*is heavily invested in sustainability and CSR efforts, but Refresh was a novel and feel-good way of engaging consumers, not a corporate effort driven by the issues that matter most to stakeholders.
In the end, CSR done right is not a distraction, and if Mr. McKee had done a little more homework before putting pen to paper, he’d know that.