Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why HR needs CSR- sneak peek preview

I think there is cause for celebration! After several months with the publishers, CSR for HR : A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices is now in fully fledged edited and typeset draft form. My task now is to proofread and make sure everything hangs together and collect endorsements (you know, all really serious books have those :-)) from a select number of thought leaders around the globe. Over the next couple of months, all the details will fall into place and hopefully a really interesing and informative book will emerge. But as we have reached a milestone in this exciting process, I thought I would offer you a little bonus! haha. Here it is. The (almost) unabridged introduction as it will appear in CSR for HR. A little sneak peek preview.


Corporate social responsibility (CSR), a (largely) voluntary business approach that goes beyond the letter of the law and accepts accountability and transparency with regard to a business organisation’s impacts on people, society and the environment, has now become one of the main preoccupations of corporate leaders. Based on the fundamentals of good governance, ethics and compliance with the law, CSR offers additional opportunities for businesses to mitigate business risk, enhance business reputation and take advantage of new business developments. In adopting a CSR strategy, businesses can contribute not only to the sustainability of the planet, but also to their own sustainability as businesses. This approach is changing the way businesses develop strategy, take decisions, execute processes, engage with employers, consumers, external pressure groups and communities and respond not only to shareholders, but also to all stakeholders in different ways and through new channels of communication. Indeed, excellence in stakeholder engagement has become a key driver for sustainable business.

CSR has a role to play in response to huge global issues such as climate change and poverty and is transforming organisations, their professional capabilities and the skills needed to lead or even develop an adequate response. The low-carbon economy, for example, is just one area in which a host of new job functions requiring new expertise have mushroomed in businesses around the world. Job titles such as vice president for corporate sustainability, CSR director, corporate responsibility officer and many others are now a feature of most leading companies. Just ten years ago, these roles did not exist. There is now growing evidence that this is not a fad and that CSR is mainstream and not just something that companies do to look good. It is a fundamental cornerstone of long-term success, highly visible to a wider range of stakeholders than ever before, expected and rewarded by stakeholders if done well and punished by stakeholders if fake or tin-hearted.

The fundamental bedrock of a company’s ability to perform in line with the principles of sustainability, responsibility, accountability and transparency is its internal organisational leadership, values, culture, capabilities and communications. The talk today is about embedding CSR in all parts of the organisation. The prerequisite of having an employee community engaged in CSR strategy and practice is not negotiable. Leaders must ensure that their primary stakeholder group, the one that most influences the company’s business results and that is most influenced by the company’s business practices — its employees — understands, engages with and proactively advances the business CSR agenda.

For too long, CSR (or corporate social and environmental responsibility) has been seen as something companies engage with issue by issue: reducing the company’s carbon footprint; contributing to the community; or developing a cause-marketing programme. Many companies have now realised that these ‘projects’ cannot exist in isolation as stand-alone activities. There is an interconnectedness about such business activities that requires a discipline of total systems thinking and integration into the baseline culture of the way a business does business. This can only be achieved when a company educates, engages and empowers its entire workforce. The HR function is a critical partner in making this happen. Arguably, the HR function is the key partner in making this happen. This book proposes that the HR function has a responsibility to be proactive in leading the way in establishing a CSR-enabled culture within any business.

And yet, this is not happening. HR managers are preoccupied with their traditional roles of organisational development, recruitment, training and compensation, and are failing to see the opportunities that CSR brings for them as professionals, for their organisations and for global sustainability. HR professionals are just emerging from the transactional nature of their roles into the business-partnership transformation mind-set, and have not yet understood that the business focus has moved on to a level that requires CSR thinking and practice. For HR professionals to become true and valued business partners, a fundamental understanding of CSR and its interface with their function is essential. They need to move from a certain preoccupation with their own importance and achieve a higher level of stakeholder engagement. Paradoxically, the function in the organisation that should be leading cultural change for sustainability is the last to realise the role it must play. HR professionals must wake up to CSR and start learning how to do things differently. It is my expectation that, once they do, they will materially affect business results in a more positive way, and reap personal and professional benefits, catapulting the HR function, perhaps for the first time, into one that all businesses understand is necessary for them to thrive through the long term and fulfil their overarching responsibilities.

Change is not easy, and changing paradigms even less so. In talking to HR professionals, it is important to know how they think, what challenges they face and what obstacles they need to overcome, both in terms of their own mind-set and in terms of how they see their functional contribution in the organisation. My role as a country VP for human resources with Unilever over a period of eight years, as well as over 15 years of executive operational management experience in other (global) businesses, has enabled me to talk to HR professionals as a person who understands the business context, identifies with HR people and their needs, and has faced the challenges of operating as a member of an executive management team in a dynamic business. I know what it takes to get things done in HR. I feel the criticisms levelled at the HR function and the continuing professional search for a meaningful place in corporate dialogues and decision-making processes. I understand the dichotomy between profit centre and cost centre, and the need to prove that the HR contribution is cost-positive. I have felt the frustrations of wanting to advance HR processes without adequate tools to measure their financial contribution to business success. I have heard negative reactions of colleagues to the ‘psychologistics’ of organisational processes. I have debated with HR colleagues over the ways in which to ‘sell’ HR to management. The HR function itself is still uncomfortable with the way its role is regarded in organisations and conflicted about its ability to impact. I therefore understand the strong leap of faith I am asking of HR managers in presenting this book to them. HR has barely navigated the challenges of establishing the transformational HR role in organisations and here I am saying, ‘Wake up, CSR is here!’ For those that are open to it, my concept of corporate social human resources (CSHR) management may just provide the key to addressing many of the other fundamental insecurities of HR people and the inadequacies of the way HR impacts in organisations.

This book is presented through the eyes and mind of an HR manager. Most of us know the power of storytelling in getting messages through. This book leverages that power by telling the story of the metamorphosis of an ‘HR manager’ into a ‘CSHR manager’, whose HR practices are driven by a responsiveness to the needs of all HR stakeholders, which include society and environment. The chief protagonist in this story is Sharon, a fictitious HR manager to whom I became quite endeared as I wrote the book. Sharon has the good fortune to meet an experienced (fictional) ‘CSHR’ manager called Arena Dardelle, who begins to coach Sharon on the principles of CSR and how HR is impacted by them. During the months that follow, Sharon systematically and methodically works her way through each aspect of her role as an HR manager, identifying the interrelationships between CSR and HR, and finds, or develops, (with my help) tools for implementing the CSHR way. In relating Sharon’s challenges and opportunities, the book examines internal conflicts and questions about the relevance of CSR to HR and the possibility for HR to act in a new, purposeful way in the organisation. The dialogue reflects the many discussions I have had as an HR and CSR practitioner and the problems I have experienced with a wide range of HR managers in my role as a consultant to companies. Ultimately, and perhaps this is one of the most important insights to be gained from this book, Sharon realises she doesn’t need to sit around and wait for her CEO or executive team to develop a comprehensive CSR strategy for the HR function. She realises that there is much that she, as the professional guardian of organisational culture and capability, can and must do to establish the organisational readiness for a CSR approach and contribute to the advancement of business objectives in the meantime. Sharon’s methodological process forms a practical guide for all HR professionals, offering many cases and tools that can be used.

As Sharon embarks on her journey of discovery, she meets many ‘teachers’ along the way. While some of these are my own inventions, several are real-life professionals who generously agreed to contribute to this book from their own experience. The footnotes tell the full story. One such real professional is Ilana Atlas, Group Executive, People and Performance, Westpac Banking Group, Australia (now retired), who offered terrific insights into the synergy between HR and CSR in practice. Another is Nirit Cohen, HR Manager at Intel, who wrote an illuminating piece on the integration of CSR and HR at Intel.

Some HR managers may identify readily with Sharon, some a little less. In some cases, she might even seem a little ingenuous. I had to make Sharon a complete novice in the field of CSR at the outset in order to enable full discussion of the different concepts throughout the book. I hope I haven’t insulted anyone! However, I do feel that Sharon, once on board, becomes a model for the HR profession, so in that sense, I hope that HR managers will gain inspiration and a similar desire to respond to the wake-up call, as Sharon did.

The intended audience for this book is anyone practising, teaching, learning or aspiring to be involved in the HR function. The concepts and tools apply to all HR people, in organisations of all types and all sizes. Others will also find the book useful; for example, leaders of companies who are responsible for directing the HR contribution in the business, and managers who must partner with HR managers in order to deliver results. This book will serve as an aid to them to assist in determining what they should expect from their HR function. I also think that this book will appeal to CSR managers, practitioners and consultants and to all those involved in the sustainability transformation of business today. And this book might also appeal to anyone who simply likes a good business story with a happy ending!

One final point: there is much more that I could have included in this book. There are many more examples that I could have quoted, many more people that I could have interviewed or invented and much more material that pops up daily on my PC screen from my thousands of sources via the World Wide Web. As with any publication, the author must make trade-offs and set limits. My main limit was the time I had available to devote to research and writing and the deadline set by my generous publishers, Greenleaf Publishing, which I only slightly overshot! I apologise in advance for the fact that this is not a totally exhaustive guide. However, I believe it is the most detailed guide for the HR manager available today on this subject and as comprehensive as any HR manager needs in an initial exposure to CSR.

Found any typos ?

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website


Olaf Brugman said...

Kudos to you for addressing vital challenges for change to the HR profession. Agree with you that this profession has not begun to incorporate sustainability into its own domain. It strikes me as very odd that corporate HR departments have no concept or vision of what sustainability will mean on the peopleside of their business. HR should familiarize itself with questions like:
- what do developments in Human Rights mean for the company?
- Idem regarding the true impacts of (lack of) diversity (cf UNIFEM),
- how to support a more sustainable mindset of executives, managers and the workforce as a whole?
- how to ensure that executive management uses academic knowledge instead of relying on knowledge that was taught in business schools decades ago?
- How to ensure more wholistic and long term thinking and vision among top executives (calls for new management development programmes)?
- How fo ensure ethical atitudes?
Etc etc
Good luck finishing the book!

jaidev said...

Hi Olen, I returned to this blog after a gap of a few months. Last time I was here, i went through the ppt on the same topic and liked it.
As a HR practioner who has moved to the CSR function in the same company, your forthcoming book holds a lot of interest for me.
Hope it shall be be made available by your publishers in India.
joy mukherjee

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