Priorities, vision, and back-casting: Keys to CSR strategy

iStock_50165150.jpgCorporate citizenship professionals from across the United States and Canada will be traveling to the Boston College campus to attend our Management Intensive and Leadership Academy courses. These groups explore business and management approaches and tools that can be applied to their corporate citizenship, CSR, employee engagement, and sustainability jobs. Each year, one of the most popular questions we field is: "How do you create a corporate citizenship strategy?"

 To address this question, participants work with Carroll School of Management faculty and Center staff to explore three key tactics:

  1. Think of your citizenship strategy as another tool that can help your company achieve your business goals and priorities.
  2. Create a compelling vision of what will happen if you achieve your goals.
  3. Plan how you will get there by back-casting your progress.

Align with your business strategy, goals, and priorities

Understanding your company’s business strategy is essential if your corporate citizenship programs are to be more than a "nice to have" and your C-suite is going to commit. Corporate citizenship programs that connect directly to business priorities, such as access to a new market, engaging emerging leaders, or using fewer natural resources, make sense and are more likely to gain the appropriate resources and recognition. You will also be able to demonstrate the tangible impacts and value of your programs better.

Here's a quick assessment to see how aligned your corporate citizenship approach is with your business strategy. Grab a piece of paper and, across the top, write down your business priorities over the next couple of years. If you don't know what they are, you will likely find them on your intranet, in a recent CEO speech, or in your company's annual report. Now, underneath each of the priorities, list the corporate citizenship programs that are contributing to these priorities. 

Are most of your programs accounted for? Are there clear business reasons for the large majority of the corporate citizenship work you are doing? If the answer is no, re-assessment of corporate citizenship strategy may be necessary.

Create a compelling vision

People have to know where they are going in order to be convinced to get onboard.  A compelling vision is necessary to help them understand the future you are seeking to create and how they can contribute to making it happen. By sharing this sense of purpose with colleagues, customers, and community partners, you mobilize your stakeholders.

Vision is not an implementation plan. As Mary Ann Glynn, PhD, a professor at Boston College Carroll School of Management, is fond of saying, “Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘I have a dream,’ not ‘I have a five point plan.’”

Strong vision statements describe the future, are aspirational, and are unique to the company. Examples of strong corporate citizenship vision statements are:

  • Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. The company furthers that everybody is an athlete, based on Nike founder Bill Bowerman's statement: “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
  • AT&T: To connect people with their world, everywhere they live, work and play … and do it better than anyone else.

Back-cast your progress

Back-casting is a planning approach that shifts the starting point of the plan from “where we are now” to the “where we will be.” If we start from where we are now, the tendency is to plan that our performance will be a little better or a little worse and/or that our context will be a little better or a little worse. Backcasting starts from the desired outcome and forces us to ask: How does our context and performance need to change in order for us to achieve this goal? Back-casting begins by your future state. For example, you may want to eliminate childhood hunger in your state, be the most ethical company in the world, or power your company by 100 percent renewable energy. Based on this vision, you then move backwards to determine what needs to change, the scope and scale of activities that need to happen, and the financial and human resources needed to make your vision happen. 

This process is not about predicting the future, but rather creating it. The process also allows you to manage stakeholder expectations and provides a framework for creating metrics to demonstrate success.


Getting corporate strategy on the right track is a key focus for our one-week Management Intensive and our Leadership Academy. It is also a topic we explore in our Corporate Citizenship Strategy: Connect to Your Business and Community course and advisory work. If you are interested in refreshing your corporate citizenship strategy, or envisioning the future of your programs through back-casting, then contact the Center at