Get to ‘better’. How using data drives success in corporate citizenship.

“In God we trust. All others bring data”
―W. Edwards Deming

Data Drives Corporate CitizenshipThrough corporate citizenship, we can improve our companies—and our world.  But how do others know what we are doing?

We can create a healthier planet through more sustainable operations and green innovations. We can foster a society that welcomes the contributions of all of its members and works to ensure the health and safety of its communities. We can drive financial performance. How do we know we’re getting to “better”? We set goals and report on progress towards them.

In order to achieve big goals, we need teams of people who understand the objectives and what their parts are in the plan to reach them. After creating the vision for our desired future state comes the hard work of mapping out the time-bound playbook to achieve it. Everyone must understand their parts and deadlines. Creating a vivid image of success is critical to keeping the team focused on the jobs to be done.

Recent research shows that data are crucial to successful corporate citizenship programs. In the 2014 State of Corporate Citizenship report, conducted by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, findings from earlier studies are reinforced. Findings point to three crucial elements for corporate citizenship programs that create more business and social value—selection, integration, and duration. Each of these are best achieved if informed by data.

Selecting the most relevant issues with which to engage and the most appropriate tactics through which to engage them is critically important to success. Assessing data about which issues are most relevant to your industry and operating context is a crucial first step.

On average, companies that integrate their corporate citizenship with their business strategy are twice as likely to report success in achieving important business objectives. Integration at this level requires a real understanding of how everyone involved will make a contribution and how progress will be measured in numbers.

Similarly, programs that invested in their corporate citizenship programs for at least four years reported success in significantly higher numbers. Making a decision about an investment of that duration means requires data up front in order to make the best decisions about which plays are most likely to yield the best results—which issues and which program tactics.

If vision is the engine of change, data is the fuel. People love stories—and they need facts. Facts help make a vision concrete and believable. Heath and Heath write about this in their book Made to Stick and W. Edwards Deming proved this many times over. He was an American statistician who worked In Japan from 1950 teaching companies how to improve their businesses through the application of statistics. He is widely credited with influencing Japan’s industrial ascendance from the ashes of war and the founding the quality movement.  Deming is known for creating discipline around measurement, but many of his texts are about developing leaders who have the skills to inspire workers to continually improve performance. Part of his recipe for success was to set the right measures—and communicate them.

Data should provide insights about motivation. Corporate citizenship operations can only make lasting impact if we dare to set audacious goals complete with targets, milestones, and consequences that push us to achieve success.  In order to take this step, we must ask ourselves: in what way can my company make the greatest impact and how will we demonstrate that impact? Can I paint a detailed enough picture of success so that others can see the same vision I see?

In an age that demands immediate results and service to long-term goals concurrently; innovative corporate citizens have the opportunity to create the vision and the measures of success. So many of the Center’s members are doing tremendous work not only to use their firms’ capabilities to improve the world, but to inform and inspire others about how each of us has a role to play.

It is easy in this field to focus on the obstacles rather than the possibilities. We can allow ourselves to become daunted by what is ahead of us, or we can return to our vision for the future, and use data to help us make decisions about how to tackle them and measure and communicate progress. Want to learn more about how to select the right data? Consider taking one of the Center’s measurement and evaluation courses.