IBM's Study on Corporate Social Responsibility: It's a New World

Last Updated Mar 18, 2008 5:36 PM EDT

IBM is out with an interesting new study that I think speaks volumes about what top managements should be thinking about these days. Essentially, IBM is arguing, based on a survey of 250 companies globally, that we have crossed from one world--in which chief executive officers worry only about shareholders--into a world where CEOs have to worry about a variety of "stakeholders," particularly customers and activist groups who organize themselves using Internet-based tools.

Only 17 percent of these companies have asked their customers about what their Corporate Social Responsibility concerns are; 83 percent had not. By "customers," they mean both suppliers and individual consumers.

Interestly, IBM believes that by asking customers about their CSR concerns, companies can actually uncover new sales opportunities. Cemex in Mexico did that by creating new ways for lower-income Mexicans to buy its cement; Starbucks did it by creating a product called "fair trade" coffee.

One clear implication of the study for top management is this: it no longer suffices to have one office dedicated to CSR, handing out a few community grants. CSR needs to be built into the business units and into the business strategy. That will require a real shift of thinking inside lots of companies.

Read the study and tell me what you think. Thanks.