Strategy, Leadership & Development

Setting CSR Targets: How Long Is Long Term?

4 months ago


Setting CSR Targets: How Long Is Long Term?

When it comes to setting CSR targets, we generally recognise that they’ll take longer than a few weeks to achieve.

Broadly speaking, CSR by nature relies on a fundamental shift from a short-term mindset to a long-term focus.

Instead of only caring about next month’s financials, or the quarter, or the fiscal year, CSR forces us to look further ahead.

The problem however, is the phrase ‘long-term’.

If you’re in a fast moving sales environment, long term could mean a month. For some of you it may mean a year. For many it may mean a decade. So what’s the magic number?

Of course, there isn’t one, but that doesn’t mean you must resort to picking a random date out of a hat and creating all your CSR targets around it.

There’s a very simple way to be strategic. 

Setting CSR Targets

The 3 Dimensional Approach

When it comes to setting CSR targets, the priority is understanding that they can’t possibly succeed with a singular, repeatable time frame.

What I mean by that is you can’t just say that 10 years is your target period and every 10 years you’ll evaluate your performance and start again.

It simply can’t work like that.

Instead, a multidimensional approach is the better option, with 3 specific time frames occurring simultaneously.

Here’s what that looks like.

Setting CSR Targets

Let’s look at the three time periods in more detail.


As the name suggests, the ‘Purpose’ is your longest time frame. After all, it’s why you’re bothering with CSR in the first place.

It’s super long term, and it acts more as an ‘ultimate solution’ that you one day hope to reach.

It’s crazy ambitious, very high level, and even slightly scary.

For me, the ‘Purpose’ timeframe should be for targets that you don’t even know how you’re going to achieve. A really good example of this is Toyota’s Challenge 2050.

By 2050, Toyota hope to have a car that has a net positive effect on the environment, across it’s entire lifecycle.

Of course, chances are the technology for doing so hasn’t even been created yet, let alone made cost effective.

But it doesn’t matter.

That’s the very point of the Purpose. It’s about removing the deeply engrained filter of rationality and being brave enough to present an ultimate situation, regardless of whether or not you think you can achieve it.

Nobody changed the world with a S.M.A.R.T. target.

Be braver.

In terms of how far this timeframe should span depends on the business. I’d say 2050 is a reasonable period for most companies.

Generally speaking, it needs to be far enough away to allow you to be super ambitious, but close enough to avoid complacency.


The Pledge is a significantly shorter timeframe, probably around 3-5 years for the majority of companies.

Unlike the Purpose, the Pledge is where you start to put a bit more meat on the bone and come up with some actual deliverables.

For example, Toyota may want to make an environmentally positive car by 2050, but their 5 year plan will be much more achievable. For example, reducing CO2 emissions by a certain percentage.

The crucial lesson here is that the Pledge must be created by working backwards from the Purpose.

It’s astounding how many companies work in the wrong direction.

When your Purpose is in place, you can then ask yourselves ‘what must the next 5 years look like for us to be on track for fulfilling it?’.

That’s your Pledge.

Ideally, you shouldn’t change your Pledge as you go along. At the end of the five year period, you can review your performance and put in a new one. By ‘locking it in’ at the start of the 5 years, you give yourself something more tangible to work with, which will help when it comes to producing another.

Remember, companies that start with a Pledge and try to scale it up to a Purpose will nearly almost achieve notably less. They’ll lack the incentive to push their boundaries and reach their potential, and they’ll forever stay firmly rooted to their comfort zone.

For CSR targets, the Purpose should be what companies constantly chase and the Pledge is what they must use to keep up.


The shortest of the 3 timeframes is the Plan.

Of course, the Plan is the most urgent, most pressing set of CSR targets.

For most companies it should be a year, and it should, as you may expect, be derived from the longer term Pledge.

If your Pledge is 5 years, your Plan is what you must do to deliver year 1.

By nature, the targets are going to be more achievable and smaller scale, but they’re equally important.

As the saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

Because the Plan is linked to the Pledge, and the Pledge is linked to the Purpose, even the smallest of targets for the year can be traced back to a far greater ultimate ambition.

As such, it is this principle that makes the framework so powerful.

All too often, KPIs are created left right and centre, for no real reason other than to populate an annual report.

When you adopt a more holistic approach, even the most seemingly insignificant of activities becomes crucial.

Ideally, the Plan will be done at the start of the year, as opposed to created and altered as you go along. Once you get to the end, any over achievements or under achievements can be managed accordingly, and they can help dictate the targets for the next annual cycle.

CSR Targets

Setting CSR Targets – A Summary

Nobody has ever changed the world in 3-5 working days.

We know that achieving CSR targets takes time.

What we don’t do enough of, is putting the necessary timeframes in place.

On their own, a Plan, a Pledge and a Purpose are all arbitrary. They will literally have next to no impact.

Together though, they become extraordinarily powerful.

Use this framework for outlining your CSR strategy and you’ll no doubt be amazed at what you’re able to achieve.

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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.

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