We are obviously thrilled that you decided to subscribe to the Social Value Files and join our monthly conversation about how and why organisations should be reducing their negative impact on the society and maximising the positive. But this month, we want to push you beyond just reading about social value and challenge each and every one of you to take action in your place of work – today, not tomorrow.
Even if your day job has nothing to do with creating social value, it’s likely you will have ideas about how to make things better in your workplace. We want 2021 to be the year that you take ownership of these ideas and find ways to put them into practice. And if social value is part of your day job – lucky you! We hope you find some of the following ideas useful in persuading colleagues that it needs to be integrated across all functions, rather than simply funnelled through CSR.
It’s easy to assume that ‘change’ can only be implemented by decision-makers in the boardroom or legislated in Parliament. In fact, each and every one of us has a sphere of influence that can nudge organisations to change. We are all cogs in the machine and we have the power to move things along.
Companies are not heartless or faceless organisations. They are made up of individuals. You and I; members of the general public who increasingly say they want organisations to be ‘doing the right thing’ and are not afraid to hold companies to account. You are as much a stakeholder in the workplace as investors, customers and local communities, and in this day and age, stakeholder capital matters.
Finding the solution to the problem
It can be hard to move from talking about something to actually doing it and this is especially true when you work for a large or complex organisation. Depending on your workplace culture and hierarchy, your passion and drive to create more social value might be leading more to frustration than action. But there are things that you can be doing, however small, that could influence genuine change.
The first step is getting your employer to see that social value is a growth driver. If your bosses are generally reluctant to look up from the bottom line, it’s time to show them how social value and economic value are inextricably linked and that there are tangible business benefits to be had from ‘doing the right thing’. These include, but are not limited to:
Where to start?
So how are you going to put your ideas into practice in 2021. Here are some practical ways that you can push for change.
1. Spread the word. There are so many interesting people talking and writing about how companies can and should maximise their positive impact on society. If you spot any interesting articles or examples send them to colleagues or share on LinkedIn. Our blog is a great place to start with perspectives on social value in lots of different sectors, or you could set up a Google Alert for ‘Social Value’ to get a daily dose of inspiration in your inbox.
2. Start from where you are. Social value can be a really vague term but if you think about it in terms of the people you are actually working with and impacting it becomes much more tangible. Understanding your stakeholders, and how you can deliver value for them, is key to effective social value. Map out all the stakeholder that you connect with – customers, the environment, shareholders, communities, suppliers, and think about what they really need. Take a step back and think about how you can tweak what you do to deliver more for them. What can you do, no matter how small, that will really add value to those groups? You may think that you can’t make that much of a difference, but all action starts somewhere, and making small differences is a really good way to test ideas and gain support. This can be a great exercise to demonstrate that creating social value can be a byproduct of doing the things you want to do as a business anyway.
3. Step outside your department. Organisational change cannot happen in a vacuum and the more you understand about the breadth of your organisation the more likely you are to identify solutions that could not only solve problems but make your overall business stronger. Do you understand how all the different parts of your workplace fit together? Are there conversations you can have with colleagues to better understand their pressures and goals?
4. Read PPN06: If ‘social value’ still seems a bit vague, or you wanted to understand what it can look like on a practical level, check out the government’s latest policy procurement note on social value, PPN06. It’s essential reading for those working in or for the public sector, but even if you don’t, it provides a useful list of topics to focus on including supporting Covid-19 recovery, tackling economic inequality, fighting climate change, equal opportunity and wellbeing.
5. Look beyond social value. By now you’ll have a better understanding of what you might like to change in your sphere of influence, and what that might look like. In order to move to the next stage – action – it’s important to identify the commercial benefit of making this change and map-out what you think the solution would be, and any risks or unintended consequences. Your employer is much more likely to listen to the problem if you can help them to see the commercial benefit of change and offer up a suggested solution to make it happen. It can help to look at your company’s strategic aims too. We’re not aware of any company who says they goals is only to make money (at least out loud!) and your company will likely have a mission statement and strategic aims which that can be a useful lodestone when thinking about what social value means to your company, and the language you need to use to get buy in.
6. Approach your employer. You’ve identified what you’d like to change, you’ve spoken to colleagues in other departments, gathered a portfolio of best practice, listed your commercial benefits and outlined your suggested solutions. Now’s the time to approach your employer. This might be in a formal letter or meeting. Whatever your approach, encourage colleagues to support you and do the same. Don’t forget that decision-makers will probably only pull the lever if you help them to see the personal and commercial benefits of doing so.
7. Offer to start a Social Value Working Group or Network. Take your internal networking a step further by formalising it as a working group or network. Effective social value requires cooperation from across a business. It doesn’t usually work as an add on, or if it’s all funnelled through CSR. It might be that your company isn’t ready to embrace the concept, but bringing together a group of likeminded people from across the business can be really empowering, and as long as you are clear on your remit (initially it could be simply bringing together research on what you currently do in your company, and what competitors are doing) then it can be a useful indication to Senior Management that there is appetite to explore further.
Making a difference
Once your ideas are being listened to, there are plenty of ways you can continue to take ownership of the issue and drive change forward.
We started the Social Value Files back in May 2020 because we get really excited talking about social value, community benefit and seeing the impact generative (as opposed to extractive) businesses can have on communities. Whatever your role within your organisation, we really hope that you are inspired to take a new step in your social value journey and encourage others in your company to join you. We’d love to hear about what you decide to do and if you ever need advice or more information then please do get in touch.