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Operation good guys: HR and CSR

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CSR: Do your bit

Running a business isn’t just about making a profit anymore – it’s about making an ethical profit. Rob Lewis finds out how HR can sound the clarion call for corporate social responsibility. Isn’t it time you started doing the right thing?


Job hunters are certainly warming to firms with good corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies but do they have any real clout behind them?

Steps for CSR success

  • Benchmark where you are now and how you got there – almost all companies are doing CSR activity to some extent, even if they are not calling it that.

  • Cheer up! You will almost certainly be better than you think you are. A lot of CSR is just common sense.

  • Always approach CSR as win/win – there should be a business benefit in engagement in every area, otherwise it will not be sustainable (in other words you will stop doing it).

  • Draw up a brief gap analysis on your CSR activity – look at the potential business benefits of filling in the gaps. Environmental procedures often lead to cost savings for example.

  • Appoint a community champion – preferably from HR or the business development side of the organisation, so you can retain a business focus.

  • Appoint an environment champion – preferably from the finance team. Environmentalism often means cost savings, something finance people are passionate about.

  • Appoint a marketplace champion – preferably from procurement or marketing. Your CSR in this area should include aspects of risk reduction and/or a competitive selling edge.

  • Appoint a workplace champion – preferably from HR or operations. No surprises here, but remember operational involvement is just as important.
  • Source: Collins McHugh

    Research isn’t promising. A staggering 91 per cent of employees believe most policies are just empty promises, even though over half said the absence of CSR would make them more likely to leave a firm – something recruiters would do well to heed.

    “CSR has become a fundamental issue for candidates considering a career move,” says Debbie Hockman, director at forum3, the not-for-profit recruitment website that performed the survey.

    “Although people tend to view CSR cynically, they aren’t just looking at salary and benefit any mores. Workers, especially graduates, are searching for value-matches in their employers.”

    If it’s a recruitment and retention issue, then plainly, CSR is a HR issue. The CIPD said as much in its report on the matter last year. Effective implementation of HR policies on employee consultation, diversity, fair treatment and work-life balance are fundamental to projecting the image of a responsible employer, it argued.

    “In our view, CSR minus HR equals PR,” the report’s author, Mike Emmott, head of employee relations at the CIPD, summed up rather neatly. But do job candidates really care about CSR? Fresh Minds is a specialist recruitment agency that lands jobs for Britain’s smartest graduates. Alistair Leathwood is its managing director.

    “Does CSR make a difference in terms of recruitment?” he asks. “Well, the answer is yes, and in terms of retention too. It’s right up there with ‘how much are you paying me?’ and ‘is this going to be interesting?’ And, of course, you like to feel good about your employer.”

    Great expectations

    You’d think CSR leaders would be trumpeting their achievements from the rooftops. Instead, it seems most organisations could do with being a little less bashful. Leathwood says he knows of some companies (including a very well known coffee chain) that have very impressive CSR policies but don’t really broadcast it.

    “It’s not spoken about as often as it should be,” Leathwood explains, especially when it comes to recruitment. “You nearly always see a reference to CSR on a corporate website but you very rarely see it on the employment or recruitment pages, and that’s really odd to me. Cynically, you could say it’s done for PR, but a key part of your PR is your employee PR.”

    However, you don’t want to overdo it. Deliberately placing lots of stories about how nice you are at every opportunity is just going to make you look desperate. But nod towards it, certainly. When you’re doing presentations, annual meetings or candidate assessments, bring along the head of your CSR team to talk about what you’re doing. It should be an interesting and valued addition to the process.

    “Let’s not forget what a business is there for,” cautions Leathwood. “It’s to generate a profit and increase shareholder value. But we’re getting to a tipping point where being seen to be ethical and responsible is just the necessary cost of doing business.”

    The fact that there are so many ethical investment funds looking to back responsible businesses shows that even in the ruthless world of high finance, there’s room for doing the right thing. Window-dressing or not, it looks like CSR will be an even bigger issue in the future.

    “When we have a CSR role to fill, we can fill it in about nine seconds,” Leathwood reveals. “You can take your pick of the good people to do those roles, which is interesting because they’re not particularly well paid but they are very attractive.”

    Fresh Minds’ smart young things are falling over each other in the chance to be the CSR directors of tomorrow. By then, of course, it may well be called something else. Leathwood and others believe that we are still in the first phase of CSR, where it still has something like a special project status in many companies but remains somewhat divorced form the rest of the organisation. The next stage, they argue, will see it seep into a company’s daily working practice. However, in some businesses, it looks like second generation CSR is already here.

    Innocent until proven guilty

    “We focus on a lot of the small things,” says Karen Callaghan, head of people at popular UK smoothie-maker innocent drinks, a company that enjoys an enviable reputation for CSR. “We make 100 per cent natural drinks, we source ingredients ethically, we’ve made giant strides on sustainable packaging, and we’re monitoring the carbon footprint of our whole supply chain. And we give 10 per cent of our profits to charities in the countries where we source our fruit. So it’s not just one or two things that bolt-on, it’s just the way we do business. And no, we don’t call it CSR.”

    It’s all commendable stuff but as a real, honest-to-goodness CSR-type employer, is it working as a staff attractor? Callaghan says it’s often “an element” at interview level. While explaining retention rates are far from an exact science, she adds that innocent’s bi-annual staff surveys show their workforce really do believe in the company’s values. Retention rates at the company are described as being “pretty strong”.

    What they said – corporate titans on CSR

    “Stakeholders want companies to make a profit but not at the expense of their staff and the wider community.” Brian Gosschalk, CEO, MORI.

    “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Billionaire businessman Warren Buffet.

    “Corporate social responsibility is a hard-edged business decision. Not because it is a nice thing to do or because people are forcing us to do it… because it is good for our business.” Niall Fitzerald, former CEO, Unilever.

    “CSR does make a big difference to our brand as an employer,” Callaghan admits. “The sort of people who are in the first five, 10 or even 15 years of their career are very, very tuned into it.”

    So what advice does innocent’s head of people have for other HR professionals eager to advance the CSR-cause? Sincerity, it appears, is the key. “At the end of the day, I think it’s better people do something rather than nothing,” says Callaghan. “Given the essence of CSR work is about credibility and authentic behaviour, you’re just setting yourself up to fail if it’s not true.”

    There is one person who specifically deals with sustainability issues (innocent are the first drinks manufacturer to use an entirely recycled bottle), but other than that, the CSR burden is shared by all. Breaking CSR out of a functional silo means everyone can get involved. Many initiatives simply wouldn’t survive without this sort of staff participation and empowerment – even something as minor as getting employees to recycle their waste paper.

    Sure, recycling paper, energy-friendly-light bulbs, turning lights out in unused offices, these baby steps are infinitely small compared to the changes some FTSE corporation can make to the world at the stroke of a pen. But with CSR, that ancient Chinese proverb about the longest part of the journey being the first step seems to be about right. “The stuff that makes change,” says Callaghan, “is the stuff that happens every day.”

    One Response

    1. Get staff involved in shaping CSR policies
      Getting staff involved in drawing up CSR policies – from the clerk to the chairman – is one of the most important steps a company can take to becoming more socially responsible.

      This is the route we took when we embarked on our social audit and it was surprising how many different views there were. It generated a lot of discussion, ideas that initially seemed attractive were thrown out when it became evident we could do little more than pay them lipservice, and more workable alternatives were introduced. Although there were areas of disagreement – and confusion – everyone was very professional and no one came away from the audit upset.

      Two key rules: (1) ensure a level playing field where people are not afraid to disagree with one another and (2) ensure that everyone realises that CSR strategies have to be affordable – bankrupting the company is anything but socially responsible.

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