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HR Leaders, It's Time to Shape the Future of CSR

Carol Anderson

Founder, Anderson Performance Partners

Like so many buzzwords, corporate social responsibility—or helping the environment and society beyond what regulators require—has come of age. A study from Harvard Law found that Fortune 500 organizations now spend an average of $15 billion a year on corporate philanthropy.

In fact, being a socially-conscious organization has become so popular companies are willing to spend more money advertising their practices than doing the practices themselves—a term called greenwashing. But when done right, CSR isn't just advertising. It's a compelling business strategy. CECP, a coalition of CEOs for good, found that companies with robust environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts financially outperformed other companies in 2015. And a 2014 study found that a company's corporate volunteerism program ranked third in importance to millennials.

What does this mean for HR professionals? CSR is not only a differentiator for top talent, but it also has an impact on your company's bottom line. While the profession of human resources may seems at first glance to be removed from CSR, it's a role that undoubtedly impacts society—and should be equally involved in determining how the company approaches their social giving strategy.

HR Should Have a Hand In CSR

2007 article in a business ethics journal studied the impact of employee actions on the effectiveness of CSR, concluding that "companies will fail to convince stakeholders that they are serious about CSR unless they can demonstrate that their policies consistently achieve the desired social, environmental and ethical outcomes."

The report concludes that since it is the employees—not the board or consulting firms—who are in charge of implementing ethical corporate behavior, the achievement of those outcomes depends on your employees' willingness to collaborate.

It's no surprise then that experts advise the "HR profession to move out of the shadows" and take a lead role in CSR. In a 2014 Forbes article, author and HR expert Karen Higginbottom argues that HR is uniquely positioned to influence all aspects of the ethical and responsible behavior of employees.

How? Here are some ways that HR can influence and even nurture CSR.

Define Values, Competencies, and Behaviors

Bringing an initiative like CSR to life requires employee and leader behaviors that "walk the talk." If CSR is important, and not just greenwash, then incorporate the appropriate behaviors into your values.

Introduce the expectations for CSR in employee orientations, and provide employees with a "why." They need context to understand how they can impact CSR and help bring those corporate values to life. If CSR is important to the organization, invite an executive champion to share their stories, making the issue real.

You should also integrate competencies and behaviors into job descriptions, performance standards and employee surveys. You can share stories about successful CSR activities, particularly on the part of leaders, to demonstrate impact and dedication.

Improve Employer Brand

We have heard far too many stories about the ethical violations of corporations—so it makes sense that employees are wary. By being an outstanding corporate citizen as a company, you'll attract employees who share similar values.

A 2010 research study concluded that CSR could be helpful in attracting employees because of the perceived prestige of the organization when the CSR activities are, in fact, socially responsible. But if the commitment to CSR is not evident in the actions of the employees, leaders and organization, beware. The same employees attracted to your conscious values may just turn around and walk out.

Improve leaderships skills and growth opportunities

CSR offers a terrific opportunity to enhance your organization's talent development program. You can help place future leaders on local Boards or in community project groups to broaden their perspective and skillset.

By joining a Board of a local not-for-profit or professional organization, top talent will gain experience they might not get at your company: they'll see an organization as a whole. As a board member, they'll get a taste for how operations, finance, marketing, legal and HR have to work together for the benefit of the whole organization. If HR is involved in CSR, the process of finding opportunities that complement your future leaders' learning needs will be much easier.

For HR, CSR offers a chance to influence the organization's success by drawing a line between the stated values and behavior. From hiring and selection to performance management to talent development, carrying the message of CSR to the leaders and employees increases the chance that your values are, in fact, part of your culture.

Photo: Twenty20

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