Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Convenience of CSR

A good friend of mine once said about being an employer…” We don’t support people only when it is convenient for us to do so”.  I have used this statement repeatedly in numerous contexts since it was introduced to me many years ago. And, I hope I have practiced it.
Responsibility and Relationship
In my mind it goes to the center of the connection between the concepts of relationship and responsibility. Let’s separate these two for a moment. Within the context of corporate social responsibility I have heard responsibility described as the moral commitment to do what is expected.  This is fine starting place and many companies would do well just to meet this standard. My concern is that this kind of standard is less a ceiling for high achievement but rather a floor of minimal expectations – essentially compliance to societal norms or industrial regulations.  If however, we add the concept of relationship, that is, something that matters, does this start to elevate the behavior associated with responsibility to something that is of a higher measure?
A blog by Aman Singh questions the role of CSR officers within large corporations.  She argues that while the role is still being established the immaturity of it means that officers from elsewhere within the organization are being shoehorned into the positions because of their talent shown elsewhere, not because of some understanding  or even passion for CSR objectives and outcomes.  This approach is in danger of supporting an activity because “it is convenient to do so”.
Aman goes on to state “In a knee jerk reaction, we are instituting them (the uninformed CSR officer) as our green spokespersons but not demanding that they embed sustainability in the company’s long term strategy and all operations. Until regulation and stakeholders support us, achieving corporate social responsibility remains an elusive goal, titles notwithstanding.”
So…what if we found a way to bring in the second element in the connection?...the relationship? What if we found a way to not only discover the long term strategic touchpoints between traditional corporate strategy and long term CSR, but we did so by actually embedding the emerging leaders within CSR programs and services(relationships that matter) and then used those actual activities as levers for understanding themselves, their roles and responsibilities within their company, the communities in which they do business and ultimately leadership itself.
From a corporate perspective would this be inconvenient?  Probably, yet it would demonstrate a  pivotal shift from CSR as an adjunctive program to one of true strategic differentiation and long term commitment

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