21st Century Corporate Citizenship: A Practical Conversation

Last month, during the 2017 International Corporate Citizenship Conference, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Richard Pearl, vice president and global corporate responsibility officer of State Street Corporation, and Dave Stangis, vice president of corporate responsibility and chief sustainability officer for the Campbell Soup Company, to discuss the book I co-authored with Dave—21st Century Corporate Citizenship: A Practical Guide to Delivering Value to Society and Your Business. Together, we touched on the writing process, the terrific contributions of our colleagues in the Executive Forum, and our expectations for our field’s future. Below you can find a video excerpting a portion of the discussion and a transcript of our complete remarks:


Pearl: Good morning. I'm Rick Pearl. Welcome to Boston. I'm with State Street as Katherine mentioned and I'm really happy to be up here with Dave and Katherine—two of my closest allies in this profession. I think I've worked with you for about nine years on the Executive Forum and it's been entertaining as well as informative over the course of those years.

It's very exciting for me to see this book come together, because as Katherine mentioned, there really is no “how-to guide” on what we actually do every day, so I think that this is a great illustration of the practical usage for anyone in the profession. So I'm going to help them now in the next few minutes to introduce the book and talk a little bit about the processes that they went through to deliver it in its form here, and—as Katherine said—it's in all your bags, and I hope you do get a chance to read it because it is a good read.

Dave, I'm going to start with you as a fellow practitioner. I barely have enough time to write a birthday card to my mother, so I can’t imagine the amount of work that you put into this effort. What made you commit to such a project this size and how did you keep your job?

Stangis: Well, I had a very persuasive co-author and if you know Katherine—not only does she want the best for the profession—I think she knows when she approached me how reluctant I may have been to take it on, but I have to say—we split it up, we divided and conquered. It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be and I thought it was going to be pretty bad. I do think we both felt—after years of being in the profession—it was something we wanted to do. It was just a matter of how to carve it up and how to get it done. I think if you're in a business and you're trying to run a corporate citizenship team or program, you know how to prioritize. You know how to get work done, and I don't know how it worked for Katherine, but that's what I did. I kind of broke it up into chunks of time and set personal deadlines to deliver pieces of the content and there was a lot of iteration, but it didn't take up as much time as I thought because we had it in our heads. I think it was more about translating what was in our heads in a way that we could get it down on paper and translate it to be useful.

Smith: I would just add that, because I had asked Dave especially—so it was something for you to think about if you're working on a big project—I felt very accountable to him. If we set a deadline to deliver a chapter, I was going to be darn sure that I delivered the chapter by that deadline, because I knew we had this much time to review it and we really did iterate back and forth. I think having an accountability partner is important.

Stangis: And she kept me honest.

Pearl: Katherine, I noticed when I read through the book that a lot of it is focused on management processes and it's almost like a corporate citizenship cookbook—but you also have some great stories and sidebars. What was your process for selecting those components that fit in to the chapters that you and David liked?

Smith: Well I’ll give Dave credit for that one. We were struggling a little bit with sidebars, with thinking about how we would incorporate stories because we really did want this to be a practical guide. Dave actually said: “You know, you have all these people besides me in the Executive Forum.” Most of our Executive Forum members actually did contribute content to the book. I'd like everybody who is either a reader or a content contributor to please stand so everybody can see the village that it took to write this book.

Stangis: There must be a lot of them that aren't here this morning then, because the Forum is really some of the best minds in the field. We meet a couple times a year and they're similar to me, they all have books in their heads. I've had conversations with them. Rick and I were talking a little bit before—there are things that people want to share and this was a way to let them share really key content throughout the course of the book. It gives a bunch of different voices. It helps make the book a little richer in terms of case studies.

Smith: Yes, we also use content from our magazine. We had some great stories that we were able to repurpose for this publication. Thank you to everybody for all your contributions because it would not have happened without the group effort.

Pearl: Were there specific needs of corporate responsibility or citizenship professionals that you were most trying to address during the process? Or did it just evolve? Or did you have a framework that you worked on and there were surprising ways that it diverged?

Stangis: I think so. I don't want to speak for Katherine, but I think that in my mind Katherine brings an art to the management of corporate citizenship to our conversation and it's a different approach than I bring.

I bring an approach to how to get it done. How do you actually get something done inside of a company, and how do you find value in parts you may not think about? I think it's this melding of the art of management and the practicality of getting things done.

In the corporate citizenship profession, for most of the people that I know, this is the only career where there's so much passion among individuals to change the organizations they work for—and there’s so much resistance inside the organizations to some of the things they want to do. But it doesn't happen in HR. It doesn't happen in marketing. It doesn't happen in finance. It doesn't happen in production. This is a group of people that are trying to change the world in their companies. It's hard because either we don't have the language right, or we're trying to translate it, and I think that's what we're trying to get through in the book.

Smith: Yeah, I think just to add a little bit to that, Dave is a very natural manager. A lot of what he does intuitively, there are actually frameworks and models built for it. That’s what people struggle with. All sustainability work is change management. All corporate citizenship work is change management, to Dave's point. What we see people struggle with at the Center is where to get started and how to initiate that change. The book is intended to give you a roadmap. It's by no means comprehensive, but for each dimension of the work there is at least a starting point where you can get a process on paper and know what to do as a starting point.

Stangis: That's the goal anyway.

Smith: You’ll tell us whether it is.

Pearl: During this process were there things that you learned—unexpected lessons from the whole writing process? Because you’ve got a pretty comprehensive book here.

Smith: One thing the book highlighted for me was the importance of carving out time to think. I think that's something that as professionals we tend not to do. We are so busy doing, that we tend to be focused on the doing and not on the planning to be doing. Having to spend concerted time and effort in carving out the time, reserving the time, to be thinking and writing was a gift and something that I think more of us should be doing more of.

Stangis: I think the thing that I didn't realize is how much interaction there was back and forth. There was a lot of back and forth. I don't think you could write a book like this—again I don't know because I'm not an author, I’m no expert—but I don't think I could have written a book without somebody that was giving critical advice. It would have been like two pieces of junk that came together, but Katherine would give me very critical, constructive advice about what we wanted to do. I tried to do the same thing. We were trying to translate each other's language into something that came together with one voice. It was a lot more back and forth than I thought. I thought we would just write five chapters, put them together, and out it would go. But it's a little bit more than that.

Pearl: So you've got the book in print and there are a lot of great and words of advice and practical approaches to this. Where do you see the challenges going forward? I mean this probably would have been a lot different book five years ago, especially ten years ago. Where do you see the challenges going forward, and then what's the next project—is there a next project?

Stangis: I can take on the first piece. As fast as you have to learn in this profession to be effective in your organizations, that pace of change, and what we have to learn to be effective, is going to be challenging. It's going to be complex. It's going to be mind-boggling in some cases. I think just to catch up with what we're trying to drive inside of our companies is a technology challenge. It's a societal challenge. The last few months it's been a political and a positioning challenge. How do you actually communicate? There's really no standing still.

Hopefully this helps people plan. We created the context of the framework so that you are forced to do a little bit of work. But if you do the work, you've got the chassis. That's great, but it's not going to help you keep up to speed with everything that's going on in the world. So I think that the biggest challenge for this kind of audience is—and you see it in the agenda—it’s technology, it's reporting, it's digital, it's social, it's storytelling. And it's all the content that you need to know inside your company. I don't know where it's going, but I think the challenges are not going to go away, and I think they’re going to ramp up.

Smith: Right, they're going to change. I would echo that. It's persistence. I think I’ve heard at the Center that a lot of people are very discouraged, feeling like their work is going to be undervalued or devalued because the political context has changed in this country. And I would say two things. One, we live in a global world, and while there are disagreements—differences of opinion—about what companies should be doing in our current political context, in the E.U. they're moving forward with more disclosure requirements and more environmental and social investment requirements. So we don't just operate here, we operate everywhere. And once you're having to disclose in the European economy, you’re disclosing everywhere. So don't be discouraged, be persistent. Disruptions come, disruptions go. You have to be the constant in your company. Figuring out if you can't get to disclosure, for example, as your priority, what can you be working on? At the end of every chapter there are ten questions to answer, and I think if you work through the questions you will find something that you can be productively engaged with that will move your program forward. And just keep going. It's very important what you do. I'm so privileged to be able to be a small part of it, so anything we can do to help.

Pearl: Was there more material than you anticipated that it might lead to a follow up at some point?

Smith: So we do have a second book scheduled for next year which is the Executive Guide.

Stangis: Yeah, this was one big piece of work that when we put it all together, we saw it was targeted to two different audiences. Some of you may be in one audience or another. This book is clearly for people that are building the program, executing it, and working through the strategy. But we found when we put everything together that the other voice that was missing is the CEO, the C-suite, the executive—that's running the team. A different view, at a little bit of different content, but answering the questions about what I should be asking of my corporate citizenship team. How do I know that they know what they're doing?

And really, it's a business book. I think it's hard to tell from the title, I mean, we try to be very clear in the title—the other one is a little bit more about what we're trying to do for the business. But it's not only corporate citizenship in the book. It's basically how to find value in your business and how to drive strategic value across the board from philanthropy, to volunteerism, to reporting, to operations, to procurement. So hopefully the two pieces come together quite well.

Smith: Yes, the Executive Guide is focused on—to Dave’s point—impact and reputation corporate citizenship.

Pearl: Well I think we're about out of time. Please help me give Dave and Katherine a round of applause.

Smith: Thank you.

Stangis: Thank you.

Catch up on all the Highlights from the 2017 International Corporate Citizenship Conference, where you can view general session videos, presentation materials, photos, and more.