Advancing CSR Without a Corporate Responsibility Officer
3 September 2013 at 10:00 pm
Less than half of the companies in the US have a Corporate Responsibility Officer and the latest White Paper by the Not for Profit LBG Research Institute considers ways in which a company can advance its CSR without a CRO.
Based on the experiences of the members of the LBG Research Institute Thought Leader Forum, the Not for Profit organisation says companies with a CRO are frequently relying on the corporate citizenship leader to guide the company into greater overall social responsibility.
The Institute’s White Paper says that in the decades since the cheque-book defined the citizenship of a company, the Corporate Citizenship professional has evolved from grantmaker to the social conscience of the company.
“From the beginnings of corporate philanthropy, the individuals charged with writing the cheques have possessed a sensibility for the needs of the community.
“Over the years, the qualifications for a corporate citizenship job have gone far beyond the desire to help other people. With the addition of employee engagement programs and a focus on strategic philanthropy, the qualifications of a corporate citizenship professional have changed as the field has changed,” it says.
As part of the White Paper the Thought Leader Forum members have delivered a list of what they consider essential for success in their roles as corporate citizenship leaders:
• Be an excellent communicator. Corporate citizenship professionals have to be able to talk to the Board of Directors, the executive team, their peers in other areas of the company, employees at all levels, regulators, elected officials, community and nonprofit leaders—all stakeholders—in appropriate language with a consistent message. That requires the ability to understand the concerns and viewpoints of the different stakeholders and tailor the corporate message accordingly.
• Be a charismatic, persuasive figure in the corporation. Besides communicating a message, CC practitioners are often called upon to gain cooperation from stakeholders (that includes the CEO!) for important programs to be implemented. That takes more than excellent communication skills. Great leaders exude confidence without arrogance and are able to persuade reluctant stakeholders by educating them and listening to their concerns.
• Be able to deal with complex situations. Because there are so many stakeholders in a corporation, the leader will often find him- or herself in situations that are difficult or politically charged. Great leaders are able to see different points of view, think on their feet, defuse the landmines and gain cooperation.
• Be comfortable in the for-profit and Not for Profit environments. An understanding of NFPs —preferably experience in them—is critical to be able to speak their language and work with them effectively.
• Understand the business and current issues in your industry and the world. In order to understand different internal stakeholders’ points-of-view, you have to really understand the business, what drives revenue, what the risks are, the issues in the industry and world trends and events that impact your industry. Otherwise, you cannot speak the language of the executives and communicate with them effectively. You cannot design a strategic citizenship program that serves your company without knowing what makes the business tick.
• Understand your communities, their issues and needs. Like with the business, if you do not know what is happening in your communities, you cannot be an effective, responsible citizen of those communities.
The paper says these qualities add up to a person able to fill the role of the CRO regardless of his or her title or position in the company.
“Based on the experiences of the Thought Leader Forum members, many are already filling that role. Corporate citizenship leaders are frequently the touchstone for all issues related to corporate responsibility–the go-to person for advice on how to handle sensitive situations and for insights on how stakeholders might react to certain corporate news.
“Within the Forum, the corporate citizenship professionals have been involved in crucial business issues, such as opening and closing facilities, labor relations, strategy execution, and government relations. They are valued for their experience interacting with all nature of stakeholders–particularly employees and the community. They have been, in these situations, an important voice for the company's overall social responsibility.
“And at companies with less developed social responsibility programs, the corporate citizenship leader is the driving force behind the movement toward greater CSR awareness and action,” the paper says.
“We are not suggesting that the corporate citizenship leader should be promoted and given the title of corporate responsibility officer. We are saying, however, that the corporate citizenship leader is the de facto CRO in the absence of an executive with that title.
“In company’s without clear leadership, the corporate citizenship professional needs to have a seat at the table whenever the topic touches on corporate social responsibility and the business strategy. It doesn't matter which part of the business is being discussed.
“The operational leaders should be responsible for the social impacts of their departments, while the corporate citizenship leader runs his or her department. But the CC leader should be available for advice–that touchstone others need to do their part effectively.
“Together, the department or functional leaders, including the CC leader, create a formal or informal CSR committee, reporting to the CEO. A formal committee is a good idea–with CC chairing it.
The CC leader has experience with social impact metrics that make him or her a good choice to choose and communicate success and opportunity to the CEO. He or she is also likely most tied into the latest trends and issues in Corporate Social Responsibility and best to inform and advise the committee on the topic.
As the company’s CSR program matures, the different functional leaders can then rotate the chairmanship of the committee. We believe that the CEO is ultimately responsible for any company’s social impact, its triple bottom line.
“Realistically, CEOs are too busy running the company to manage social impact the way a CRO or a CSR committee would. And some CEOs just don’t get it. But the corporate citizenship professional gets it, and can become an advocate for CSR in the entire company, not just his or her own department.
“So, do we really need CROs–an individual at the top of the CSR food chain? The 42% of companies that have one would say yes. But for the others, there are alternatives.
“A CSR committee can function quite well for smaller companies or those just getting their feet wet in CSR. And there is already someone in the company with the knowledge, skills and attributes to advise on CSR strategy and execution–the corporate citizenship leader.”
Download the White Paper at http://www.lbgresearch.org/AdvancingCSR.php