Last month, Greg Hills of FSG published, “Five Lessons from Walmart’s CSR Strategy Efforts.” The third lesson really resonated: “Employ humility and authentic listening.” Understand the landscape. Who are the players? Is there territorialism – and why? What have been the successes – and the failures? Who else is investing, and how can you complement those efforts? What are the risks? What are the unmet needs, and where are the gaps in service? Talking with those who we are trying to serve (as well as really listening) is critical. Don’t just talk to the nonprofits and funders. Talk with the homeless, or the jobseekers, or with those in recovery. Even those of us who have been “on the ground” need a reminder of what it is really like out there. Every stakeholder has a different perspective. Ask them questions and listen to them – and ask them more questions. Only then can you really determine how you can make a smart investment that will have a lasting impact.
It’s also critical to be flexible. Once you start investing, you’ll learn more and your perspective will change. Thus, your strategy will have to change, as well. Pay attention to the data and periodically stop to understand what is working and what is not – and why. Know that you will have to make course corrections along the way.
Finally – if you’re trying to change the system, it’s unlikely that you can do it alone. Walmart – the company at the top of the Fortune 500 list – has recognized that it can’t transform the retail sector on its own. It is implementing a multi-sector effort. Others would be wise to do the same.