The consolidation in the professional services market is experiencing more unusual mergers to disrupt the market. An example is the innovative merger of partnership Drivers Jonas and the real estate arm of accountants Deloitte in 2010.
Clients and Corporate Social Responsibility
Over recent years, many professional services firms have realised the importance and benefits of corporate social responsibility (CSR or CR) - how the firm behaves in its localities. Sponsoring good causes is now a part of many professional services firms' corporate strategy as local presence increases.
Many firms have created innovative CSR policies and programmes to engage local people and schools and to support national charities. These include providing reading tuition in local schools, charity fundraising and related activities. Some firms provide short internships for aspiring accountants or lawyers. Some CSR initiatives can significantly raise a firm's profile in the community and beyond. Some Clients will resonate positively with CSR initiatives, especially if they too are involved in similar programmes.
Successful CSR programmes have objectives covering such factors as:
• commercial benefits;
• competitive advantage;
• employee engagement;
• environmental considerations;
• stakeholder management;
• strategic advantage.
The question arises as to who should take responsibility for a firm's CSR activities. The driving force behind CSR programmes often starts in one part of the firm - for example, it is often the responsibility of the human resources department. This appears logical since the people aspect of CSR is clearly a key component. Given the potential for the external exposure and commercial outcomes from CSR activities, marketing and branding often guide the programme, so it is logical for a marketing input. Other firms expect the managing partner to play an important role. The most effective CSR programmes are usually those which are managed by cross-functional teams within a firm.
As with any other resourced activity, effective CSR requires key performance indicators or success measures to be put in place. These can cover such factors as:
• altruistic outcomes for the firm and individuals;
• the amount of time given to CSR activities;
• carbon footprint change over time;
• commercial outcomes;
• employee engagement and satisfaction;
• the level of employee participation;
• reputational benefits.
It is important to clarify the aims of a CSR programme so that everyone knows how to play their part. As with any initiative, the introduction of a CSR programme has significant challenges and requires careful thought and planning. Whoever is charged with the creation of a CSR programme will need to obtain management support from the outset. In many firms, CSR is considered important enough to be part of the firm's strategy. It will require funding and measurable objectives. Effective and regular internal communication is a vital part of employee engagement. Many firms forge strategic alliances with charities over a period and focus their fundraising in support of CSR activities. Some firms create a dedicated intranet site for CSR and also feature their activities for all to see on their website. As firms reach out into their communities, opportunities to sponsor local projects emerge, raising the firm's profile. National firms also use CSR to raise their profile.
EXAMPLE OF A SUCCESSFUL CSR PROGRAMME
An accounting firm created a CSR programme; a small multi-disciplinary team was formed to suggest, select and manage the activities.
These ranged from:
• local initiatives with schools;
• national fundraising schemes in partnership with national charities;
• local fundraising involving office teams;
• sponsorship of local task forces;
• taking on students with an interest in the firm's activities.
Each of the firm's offices had progress charts showing the results of fundraising and over time, targets were set. As a result, the firm was nominated for its CSR activities and achieved considerable recognition in the media.
Many Clients and prospects may be involved in CSR programmes. Evidence of these may arise when pitching for new work. The fact that both parties may have strong, and similar, CSR beliefs could be a deciding factor when firms are selected as suppliers.
Reporting CSR activities
A CSR forum now exists which supports recent changes implemented by the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC). This requires organisations to measure and report on environmental and social, as well as the financial impact of their business. The IIRC is a global coalition of regulators, investors, companies, standard-setters, the accounting profession and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Together, this coalition shares the view that communication about value creation should be the next step in the evolution of corporate reporting.