Alignment and Authenticity: How Healthcare Organizations Can Define and Advance Corporate Responsibility Strategies

Updated on September 6, 2022
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Expectations for organizations have changed. Consumers, employees and communities increasingly want to engage with businesses that share their values and act accordingly. Smart leaders are responding by setting ambitious commitments to make a positive impact focused on social, environmental and/or community issues.

However, creating positive impact is easier said than done. This can be particularly challenging in healthcare, where regulations and stakeholder groups differ greatly from more consumer-focused industries.

To develop a healthy, actionable corporate responsibility strategy, healthcare teams can align commitments to strategy and growth, identify a compatible framework and tell a transparent story grounded in data.

Align commitments to strategy and growth

Ideally, corporate responsibility strategies are embedded into a brand’s identity and overall business strategy. Investments in social, environmental and community-focused initiatives may seem optional, but when they are aligned to purpose and values, they become deeply connected to reputation and growth. According to an HRI consumer survey conducted in 2020, 62% of US consumers surveyed said they would view an organization more positively if it was taking action to address social determinants of health. 

Your healthcare system’s purpose or mission is a great starting point when deciding where to focus corporate responsibility efforts. For example, a healthcare organization that aims to make healthcare accessible to all may focus more on issues related to equity and inclusion or access to care. A healthcare system with a purpose to foster healthy communities may focus on access to care while also addressing environmental issues that may negatively impact health. 

Commitments aligned to your system’s existing purpose or mission help ensure a corporate responsibility strategy is authentic and leverages its existing expertise or resources—making progress and growth far more achievable. 

Identify a compatible framework

Healthcare teams can choose from a variety of methods to structure and measure progress on their corporate responsibility and impact initiatives. These can range in formality and financial investment. Healthcare systems may decide to begin with a broad corporate social responsibility program, they may align their focuses to environmental, social or governance issues (or ESG), or they may pursue certification, whether as a B Corp. These frameworks involve the following: 

CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) – CSR activities tend to be self-regulated and reported on through an annual CSR report. CSR focuses on using resources to make a positive impact. There are no formal certifications or categories associated with CSR, therefore there’s a lot of flexibility when determining what qualifies as a CSR activity, whether it’s volunteer events, donations or recycling initiatives.

ESG – ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance and outlines demonstrated progress related to environmental issues, like water usage, carbon emissions and plastic waste; social issues, like treatment of employees, diversity, equity and inclusion, or alignment to human rights issues; and governance issues, like transparent reporting and ethical decision-making. Evaluating and reporting on ESG performance can be difficult since there is not currently a formal or standard ESG-specific certification.  

B Corp Certification – Typically a less common structure for healthcare organizations to pursue, B Corp certification evaluates the overall impact of a for-profit company. Certified B Corps are legally required to balance profit and purpose by altering their governance structure to support decisions and practices that impact stakeholders, including employees, customers, society and the environment. Certified B Corps meet the most rigorous standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. B Corps are required to report on company activities and performance to achieve re-certification every three years. 

Tell a transparent story grounded in data

Informing and including key stakeholders helps bring this work to life. Whether a program is in its infancy or has years of investment behind it, two grounding principles will foster transparency: Sharing an honest ‘why’ and ‘where’ and measuring and reporting your progress: 

Share an honest ‘why’ and ‘where’ – Be clear and honest about why your organization has focused its time and resources where it has. And be equally honest about the program’s status. As mentioned above, authenticity is critical to the longevity and impact of a corporate responsibility strategy. In an age of greenwashing – a term for when organizations overstate their social or environmental impact to curry favor with their audiences – building trust with key audiences enhances reputation and fosters the emotional buy-in needed to advance complicated initiatives that span multiple groups. 

Measure and report As the old saying goes, “what gets measured, gets done.” Data helps hold everyone accountable. Setting measurable targets and investing in processes to analyze the performance of social, environmental and community commitments will keep core teams and employees informed on what’s working and opportunities to improve performance. Annual or quarterly reporting documents are useful resources to compile and track data over time. These also serve as opportunities to share progress with internal and external audiences. 

Investing time and energy into a corporate responsibility strategy can feel overwhelming as healthcare systems grapple with the effects of a yearslong pandemic on systems and team members. Taking the time to develop an approach that’s aligned to your business’ strategy and purpose will help you activate and share impactful work that strengthens reputation, advances growth and supports communities.  

Nicki Gibbs
Chief Strategy Officer at  Beehive Strategic Communication

Nicki Gibbs is chief strategy officer for Beehive Strategic Communication.