Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Short reports, big messages

Some of the best reports are the shortest. Writing a short report doesn't mean you lose the big message. On the contrary, short reports focus the mind on the right information for the right stakeholders. So, when Liberty Global decided to prepare the Group's 2014 annual G4 core Corporate Responsibility Report at 32 pages (excluding covers), this immediately caused the adrenaline to flow and the brain-cells to gravitate to a different approach to reporting that is much more focused and strategic than the intuitive approach of "let's gather everything we can and report on that". Heaven forbid that a company should forget to include the $1,500 donation that operators in the packing plant collected for Oxfam, or the Christmas party held for local schoolkids, or the color of the plant manager's new socks. All of these things are great, but when you tune yourself in to reporting strategically on the most important things - what I call relevant transparency - then you end up with an immensely readable, compact and relevantly transparent report. 

That's not to say that Liberty Global doesn't pack a punch with this report. Partially, this is because this strategic approach is not new. Liberty Global adopted a clear CR framework in 2012 and has empowered this framework to guide the global corporate approach and activities, improving in focus and sharpness with each successive year.

Promoting a digital society is at the heart of the strategy and represents one of the group's most material impacts. Liberty Global is the largest international cable company with 27 million customers subscribing to 56 million television, broadband internet and telephony services, operating in 14 countries and employing more than 38,000 people. Consumer brands owned by Liberty Global that you might recognize include Virgin Media, Ziggo, Telenet and UPC. The Liberty Global report covers activity driven at corporate level and provides a framework and direction for the companies in the group, most of whom report separately in their own markets. The digital society is Liberty Global's core business and advancing access and skills to take advantage of the digital society is both a social good and a business benefit. Strategically, Liberty Global has aligned business, sustainability and materiality. This forms the basis for reporting and enables the possibility of an extremely focused report.

Keeping the report short is then a four pronged affair: First, get the strategic framework right. Check. Second, be completely selective about what to include and what to exclude. Adding in loads more case studies - and there are plenty in a company the size of Liberty Global - is not an advantage. Selecting specific stories that illustrate performance and are representative of material impacts is what you aim for. Exclude the non-critical stories. Check. Third, once you have selected the content and stories, keep the narrative compact, minimal, and avoid repetition. Check. Fourth, where you can, use visuals to tell the story and save on words while getting the message across. Check.

Example of a visual used to present a lot of information about Liberty Global's digital society initiatives.

One of the impressive features of Liberty Global's reporting is the consistency of alignment to a set of multi-year commitments. As with prior reports, in 2014, Liberty Global clearly updates us on progress made against these commitments and advises new ones. Commitments (or targets) are available for each material impact area -  a total of 14 targets in all. Just a couple didn't progress as planned, and these are communicated transparently.

Each of the report's main sections starts with an explanation of why it matters and what Liberty Global is doing.

Aside from the presentation, Liberty Global has made impressive headway in its Corporate Responsibility performance over the past few years, and in 2015, was named the RobecoSAM Industry Mover, achieving the largest proportional performance improvement among industry peers. Liberty Global has improved energy and carbon efficiency against 2020 targets, and has advanced a program of supply chain assessment of key suppliers based on self-assessments against 21 environmental and social indicators. And as for promoting a digital society, Liberty Global has been a consistent support and key player in the Digital Agenda for Europe , investing in programs such as YouRock’s employability platform and CoderDojo, a not-for-profit coding club across Europe with 60 sessions that reached 2,000 young people.

Here is the press release that gives some more highlights of the report.

For a short report, that is aligned with GRI G4 Guidelines, Liberty Global's 2014 Corporate Responsibility Report gets the message across. I recommend you take a look. And give feedback!

Disclosure: I assisted Liberty Global in preparing the 2014 Corporate Responsibility Report.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website www.b-yond.biz   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: info@b-yond.biz   

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