Corporate responsibility (CR) reporting has reached
critical mass: the number and size of reports increase each year,
but few CR reports get further than the desks of competitors, analysts
and journalists. With such a closed community utilizing these mines
of information, your company must make its CR reporting stand out
and take the time to properly use and disseminate the valuable information
within these documents.
Since the CRs heyday at the start of the millennium, the novelty
has worn off. However, despite continued public skepticism and purported
poor readership, CR reports are evolving to perform ever more important
functions. CR reporting often drives valuable internal change that
would not be achieved otherwise. The very act of reporting can encourage
employee engagement in both process and outcome, building brand
loyalty and awareness. Because reports touch on every part of the
business, they can comprehensively educate employees about the company,
including its policies, ethos and even the scope of work. Many companies
have instituted cross-reporting committees where staff from disparate
and often previously anonymous departments come together to develop
the report. This provides not only a balanced, representative document,
but a sense of cohesion within the company that may have been absent
beforehand. While external buy-in is desirable, internal engagement
has very tangible benefits.
Reporting also performs an important role in urging improved performance.
By measuring key performance indicators, companies challenge themselves
to improve on last year’s results, from decreasing carbon
outputs and improving staff retention rates to boosting health and
safety records. When the CR data is charted, documented and analyzed,
progress is made. When benchmarked, these improvements can create
a sense of achievement within the company, an accomplishment beyond
increasing profits or productivity. CR does, however, also affect
those all-important areas by reducing energy consumption through
conservation policies, which often leads to significant cost savings
on the financial bottom line.
Companies often have the misconception that CR reporting is a standalone
endeavor. But a corporate responsibility report is quite the opposite—it’s
all about managing responsibly and should be integrated with other
corporate communications. To go to the expense of collecting and
analyzing company data for a CR report and then not use the material
to bolster other projects and communications is a waste of money
and a dereliction of duty by the company. A company with a good
record of information integration will give people the opportunity
to look at their CR record beyond the publication of a single report.
Another way to improve the readership of this information is to
forgo the big, blockbuster reports and make way for new shorter,
sharper and simpler reports. Materiality matrices are increasingly
being used to determine core issues that must be included in a printed
report. Sector specific publications and issue-driven reports, covering
themes such as climate change or human rights, are also on the rise,
and regional, country specific reports are emerging. These are much
more accessible and finely tuned to the interests of specific audiences.
The key to CR reporting is all in the communication. Companies must
consider who their audiences are and break away from generic CR
reports. Be clear and concise, avoid jargon, know the audience and
ensure the content needs to be seen. These steps will prevent important
CR reports from gathering dust on a shelf or slipping too easily
from desk to waste bin.
Rob Cameron is a director at Flag, a design agency specialising
in corporate responsibility reporting.