Are Legacy Processes Limiting Your Impact?
How many times have you heard somebody say “I’m not sure, we’ve just always done it like that”?
Countless times, I bet.
In business generally, this approach is detrimental. Without constantly trying to change and improve things, how can you ever make progress?
However, both CSR and Sustainability are fields where this mindset is particularly harmful.
This post not only explains why, but offers some guidance on how to avoid the ‘trap of tradition’.
To get to the crux of the issue, let’s look at what we mean by ‘legacy processes’.
Derived from the computing term ‘legacy systems’, which referenced outdated programs and software, legacy processes are defined as processes or methods that are no longer applicable to the current commercial context/environment, yet are still used.
Now, the truth is, every business has them.
Even state of the art new start-ups will still be doing things that are somewhat outdated. It’s unavoidable.
All you can do therefore, is work out what your legacy processes are, and find ways to replace them with more innovative, efficient alternatives.
For example, I once coordinated a nationwide grant program for charities and non-profits. Until I got involved, the company had been paying successful applicants by cheque.
A cheque. Who even uses those anymore?
What’s funny is that it had been doing so for a number of years, never taking a step back to debate whether or not it could do better.
In my short time overseeing the project, I redesigned the process to pay applicants by direct bank transfer, a process they are still using nearly 18 months later.
Not only did it make life much easier for us in terms of admin, it meant that the whole application process went from 4 weeks on average to around 5 working days. Everybody ‘won’.
Why CSR/Sustainability Specifically?
One thing I would say is that the fields of CSR and Sustainability are particularly susceptible to legacy processes.
The main reason being is that it’s a pretty new concept that is constantly evolving.
Now, you might think that being a new concept is an advantage. After all, how can you have legacy processes within CSR when CSR itself is still pretty new?
Well, it’s more to do with the second part of the above statement; it’s constantly changing.
When CSR first gained traction, it was little more than the idea that companies should benefit society. This was largely taken to mean that firms should engage in some sort of philanthropic activity.
Next thing you know, it’s about complex initiatives and 80 page annual reports.
A few years later, it’s all about transparency and openness in communication.
Now it’s about deeply integrating social and environmental issues into your core business values.
This is the problem.
In essence, CSR started as something that was an add-on to traditional business ideas. As the bar continued to rise and expectations grew more and more challenging, businesses just kept on ‘adding’ and ‘adding’ so that they didn’t leave a hypothetical, and sometimes literal, box ‘unticked’.
Spotting Legacy Processes
So what does this actually look like?
Well, sadly, it’s far more severe than my simple cheque example.
Often, legacy processes within CSR take the form of entire projects and work streams. Before you know it, a company’s CSR and sustainability efforts are painfully fragmented, lacking any real sense of strategic purpose or value creation.
Sure, at the time they made perfect sense, they helped the company tick the latest CSR box.
Now however, they’re little more than an inefficient drain on resources, resources that you could allocate much more effectively elsewhere.
So how do you spot these processes?
Chances are you know exactly what your legacy processes are, you just might not want to admit it. Maybe it’s a project that you worked really hard on, or an initiative you have a particular soft spot for.
However, if you’re struggling to highlight them, you can follow this basic method to help flush them out.
Using a similar logic to the one I used in my post about learning to say no, legacy processes prove that choosing not to do something is often just as powerful as choosing to do it.
Of course, if the project or initiative is just not being implemented as well as it could be, there’s no need to abandon it.
However, if you started doing something to solve a problem or tick a box that now doesn’t really exist (or could be solved more effectively) then let it go!
Cutting Dead Weight
What this really comes down to is an efficient allocation of resources.
Are you doing something because you’ve always done it that way?
What solutions are you spending time on that address an outdated problem?
These are the questions you should be asking yourself.
Truthfully, you can’t really do this type of questioning without a solid strategy at your disposal.
Once you’ve got that, you can use it as a a key tool to analyse the effectiveness of your work. Is everything you’re doing still contributing to your overall strategic aims?
If the answer is no, think about what that really means. After all, legacy processes might sound negative, but once you have identified them, they’re actually opportunities to do something better.
- Legacy processes are methods or projects that are outdated and no longer relevant.
- CSR attracts these type of processes because the benchmark for ‘great CSR’ is constantly changing.
- To identify them, follow the flowchart pictured above.
- Provided you have a solid strategy at your disposal, it’s very easy to identify when something is no longer valuable.
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Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.