Wednesday, May 19, 2010

CSR & Stakeholder Engagement - What's your metaphor

In the world of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) the importance of stakeholder or community engagement is recognized. This can, however, be a large learning curve for any organization regardless of its size or industry. The journey into CSR for an organization may be initiated from a range of imperatives including: defense against a negative event that has occurred (think BP); compliance to imposed regulations; or an opportunity and desire to contribute to a just and civil society. Depending on where the organization is currently, their openness to engaging with stakeholders and communities may vary. I am struck by the potential for a disconnection between corporations and the communities with whom they need to engage so to explore this further I thought it might be interesting to juxtaposition two frameworks – one for CSR and the other for Community Engagement (CE).

Corporate Social ResponsibilityAccountAbility five stage model by Simon Zadok

Community EngagementIAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation

Defensive – somebody has exposed poor behavior or practices and the company is being pushed to improve

Compliance – company leaders know they need to comply with external requirements – preferably in a way that requires minimum investment of precious resources

Management – CSR begins to be internally driven as management structures and roles are formalized for the business function of CSR

Strategic – CSR is beginning to be viewed as part of the value and opportunity creating opportunity for the business.

Civil – is when the organization is fully mature in its CSR role and the company chooses to change the rules of the game, raises the civil foundation and indelibly changes society

Inform – when an organization needs to inform the public and stakeholders with balanced and objective information to assist them (the public and stakeholders?) in understanding the problem, alternatives and opportunities/ or solutions

Consult – to obtain public feedback on analysis, alternatives and or decisions (We will keep you informed and acknowledge your concerns)

Involve – to work with the publicly (directly) throughout the process to ensure that public concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered

Collaborate – to partner with the public in each aspect of the decision making including the identification of alternatives and the identification of preferred solutions. We will look to you for innovation in formulating solutions.

Empower – to place final decision making in the hands of stakeholders. We will implement what you decide.

I suspect that as leaders integrate CSR as a strategic and civil initiative into their corporate and personal thinking and value structure, the openness to collaborate and empower stakeholders would increase. Think of a new seedling emerging from the ground to seek the nutrients it needs to thrive.
And vice versa – the more defensive an organization and its leaders are the more closed they will be to hearing from their stakeholders. It is hard for any organism to `hear’ from the external environment when a defensive stance is being held. Think of a turtle with its head tucked inside its shell or a medieval castle with thick and high walls.

As a company becomes confident of its role as a contributor to a healthy planet and a just society, the ability of its leaders to be open and curious about the perspectives of their partners and stakeholders will increase. The language used and the nature of the conversations will shift from ‘announce and defend’ to `share and explore’.

The stance an organization takes with its stakeholders may provide a helpful diagnostic tool for assessing its evolution in CSR and the capacity of its leaders to engage with partners, stakeholders and communities. All three – CSR strategy, stakeholder engagement and leadership capacity - may need to align for the full potential of an organizations social responsibility to emerge.

The Acacia Group’s mission is to offer transformative and unique leadership development for organizations seeking to live out their global citizenship. To do this we blend knowledge from Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Development and Leadership Development and Learning to emerge new opportunities for excellence for our clients.

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