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Starting strong in corporate societal engagement leadership: your first 90 days

Congratulations! You’ve earned a senior role in your company’s societal engagement function. You’ve been tapped for your leadership and your ability to collaborate, influence, inspire, and creatively and resiliently navigate the unique complexities of your organization to drive business and social impact. Well done.

Now, bolster up! Grab that espresso and protect your exercise regimen — or whatever it is that fuels and grounds you — because the passion, entrepreneurial spirit, and resilience that landed you this role are essential to driving progress in this area of your company.

Through CECP’s work with more than 250 Fortune 500 companies over the last 16 years, we’ve put together a few tips for your first 90 days that can help you start strong:

Month 1: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Know your CEO’s priorities. Meet with your CEO, or if you can’t immediately, a member of your C-Suite. Know what your senior leaders, investors, analysts, customers, and employees say about your company and know the issues facing your business. How will CSR success be measured? Where does your company want to be when it comes to rankings and reporting standards?

Take stock and benchmark trends. Interview peers in your role (see case studies). Develop your network and attend the CECP Summit and Roundtables. If you participate in the CECP Giving in Numbers Survey, customized benchmarking is available as is our Valuation Guidance.

Go on a listening tour with key stakeholders. Don’t skip this step! Whether internal business partners and employees, or customers, nonprofit partners, and government, learn the issues they care about most. Build relationships and identify your advisors and internal cross-functional teams.

Month 2: Build some go-to allies (inside and out) and identify any barriers

Cultivate meaningful relationships with core partners. Ask about their needs and how corporate societal engagement can help. Share a preliminary framework and ask them to react and challenge.

Connect your social goals with known business strategies — make it a win-win. What are business priorities, initiatives and core assets unique to your business that can be unlocked for societal impact? Build the vision, with your business partners.

Take a look at Simplifying Strategy, a brand new roadmap to help you keep it simple and focused as you set your way forward, developed by FSG in partnership with CECP, and see Shaping the Future Exhibit 11, page 22 for help.

Month 3: Put some early wins on the board

Operationalize with focus. Ensure societal engagement is being leveraged at the corporate level by branding, finance, investor relations, government affairs, corporate communications, HR, value creation, and value delivery. Pilot/activate with a strong internal business partner, helping you learn organizational capabilities, barriers, and stressors.

Prove with early metrics, and build trust and business case. Expand and go big when the organization is ready and your CEO sets the tone! Embrace your change agent role. Educate segments, inspire pride, recognize people, and celebrate impact.

Develop a plan with data, storytelling, engagement events, video, and social media to develop business case understanding and to create a culture of pride in your company’s community leadership. Represent your CEO — and her/his top priorities — always.

Set a monthly or quarterly meeting cadence with a C-suite member to do this well. Identify preferred channels for highlighting your CEO’s and your company’s leadership and commitments. Never lose a chance to help your CEO help employees to know that they are the inspiration, and the drivers of impact, each and every day.

- article by Barb Short, CECP's Director of Strategic Engagement

A version of this article was previously published on CECP's site on November 4, 2015.

Founded in 1999 by actor and philanthropist Paul Newman and other business leaders to create a better world through business, CECP has grown to a movement of more than 200 of the world’s largest companies. CECP is a CEO-led coalition that believes that a company’s social strategy — how it engages with key stakeholders including employees, communities, investors, and customers — determines company success.

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