The role of HR in corporate social responsibility programmes is not dissimilar to that in any other company initiative.
But given widespread confusion as to what CSR actually comprises, HR personnel could be forgiven for wondering exactly how they fit into the broader picture.
A common definition of CSR is a corporate programme that deals with the social, ethical and environmental impact of business activities on the organisation’s stakeholders. But while not incorrect, this description does not quite encapsulate the value-added business case that CSR can generate.
One of the problems is that, all too often, companies misconstrue the CSR concept, which results in it becoming ‘green wash’, that is it takes on the shape of a primarily philanthropic initiative, a basic reporting/communications exercise, an annual environmental management programme or whatever.
So what would constitute ‘good’ CSR? Its ultimate goal is to ensure that organisations take responsibility for their actions and, in doing so, have a positive impact on the environment, society and the economy.
This means that CSR can be employed as a business management tool and could be considered an investment that offers both a payback and return. But like any other programme, it is crucial that employees buy into it and the necessary resources to execute it are made available.
Such initiatives must also be implemented with integrity and both complement and be aligned with the core business strategy as well as policies in functions such as HR, operations, marketing, sales, product development and procurement.
As for HR’s role, it includes, among other things, a commitment to:
- Enable change and guide transformation
- Manage recruitment processes
- Oversee employee training and development
- Implement effective HR policies on issues such as diversity, work-life balance, gender equality, hiring and firing, fair rewards and the like
- Embed a clear and strong company-based value system and workplace ethics
- Deal positively with conflict and anti-social behaviour.
CSR is not about reinventing the wheel, however, and it is certainly not about reinventing HR.
But what is different is that the goal of HR strategies, policies and activities from a CSR perspective is to manage and optimise employee and stakeholder relationships.
This means not only optimising communications and engagement among people inside the business, but also with those outside too, whether they are investors, the public, government or any other stakeholder.
The idea is that employees are the number one stakeholder because they are ultimately responsible for every relationship that the business develops and maintains.
But why does it matter for employers that staff members nurture their professional relationships? The answer is that, if personnel take full responsibility for their actions, the business by default does the same which, in turn, enhances its brand and reputation.
Moreover, the potential for these relationships to add value is very high, which is ultimately the true business focus behind CSR.
Integrating CSR into HR
What this all means in practice is that HR functions can fulfill their CSR obligations if they focus on:
- Aligning the HR strategy with the business objectives of the CSR programme in order to develop and nurture professional relationships within the business and with stakeholders outside the business, thus adding value
- Facilitating the key communications required to ensure that CSR programmes are effective
- Communicating core CSR-related company values such as collaboration, cooperation and creativity as part of a move to encourage strong workplace ethics
- Employing performance management tools to measure relationships/stakeholder reaction and use salary and bonus schemes to reward positive outcomes
- Reporting based on key performance indicators that genuinely reflect how well HR programmes have fulfilled CSR objectives.
But why is it important whether employers get CSR right or not?
- The saying ‘CSR-HR = PR!’ may be familiar by now, but the reverse also applies: Good HR + good CSR = sustainable business management. This equals a business case that all too many people appear to overlook.
- Employees want to work for responsible companies that commit to CSR goals so recruitment and engagement should become easier
- The public and wider community now require that companies demonstrate a social conscience, which is evidenced, increasingly, by their CSR programmes
- CSR presents market opportunities if organisations are entrepreneurial and technology-savvy enough.
Sadly, however, CSR still appears to be of little interest to many HR professionals – despite there being a clear stakeholder model and business case for aligning the two disciplines.
But to really make the proposition work, it means that companies must fully integrate CSR into their business model, business strategy, HR practices and functional policies.
It also means that every employee has to take responsibility for their own actions, and every relationship that they develop (both internally and externally) has to deliver business benefits and enhance the firm’s brand and reputation.
While there are currently very few organisations – beyond Innocent Drinks
or smaller firms such as Whole Foods Market
and The Container Store
– that have managed to fully integrate CSR into their business models, the desire for this kind of ‘conscious capitalist’ approach is, and will, nonetheless, continue to grow.