Friday, February 19, 2010

Cleaning Up After the Elephant

While some organizations are embracing new and exciting ways of engaging in CSR, others are still are using it as an “after the fact” intervention. A conversation with an oil exec from Calgary illustrates this. While interested in the potential for good that CSR can create, he reported that for his company the CSR department was only used after the elephant had left the room…and the room now needed cleaning.

First of all, to be clear, this is not social responsibility. This is reputation management and misses the mark of the basic assumptions of doing the right thing. I would be surprised if this approach can be sustained for much longer. Consumer interest demands greater transparency, news stories of CSR are on the increase and ultimately these collective activities will start to impact shareholder opinion and investment.

CSR is about looking into the business environment now and the future…and understanding how to create leverage by engaging with public interests and contributing to solutions in advance of problems. For larger organizations this is no easy task as they look up down the value chain and understand that they are susceptible throughout and therefore must be vigilant and deliberate in their intentions. This task is made easier by the embedding of CSR into the strategy to go forward, it is not a communications device, and it is more than a extension of the HR portfolio.

The challenge is to effectively weave the CSR strategy into the corporate DNA and to intertwine the performance and metrics of this practice with the larger or broader goals of the organization. This kind of approach supports the embedding of CSR into the longer term strategic plan of the organization and then reporting out on progress and adjusting accordingly.

Are companies getting this? Are there companies in the energy sector that are showing new and novel ways to engage and add value to the communities in which they do business? Finally, and this may be a discussion for another day, even if the energy sector (fossil fuel based) is trying to clean up its act….and does some good, can it ever stop itself from being an elephant?

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