Saturday, November 27, 2010

CSR for HR in the UK

Last Thursday, in London, I gave a lecture to a large group of senior Human Resources Directors and CSR Directors from a range of impressive organizations in the UK. Some representing global companies headquartered outside of the UK, some global companies based in the UK, and some, local companies. The event was a meeting of the HR Leaders Club, organized by HR Magazine, a leading professional print journal in the UK. The HR Leaders Club is an invite-only tradition, and has hosted such illustrious throught leaders as Dave Ulrich in the past. My talk was of course about CSR for HR, under the theme of  "It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!

I told the story of Sharon, the protagonist in my book  and her immersion in the world of the CSHR Manager, and why this is important, and even imperative, for the HR function to address. A lively discussion followed, some of which was very supportive from those who have some experience, some of which was questioning and challenging. The debate was outstanding and the meeting a refreshing and encouraging platform to create awareness for a different way of doing HR. The entire subject will feature in the December edition of HR Magazine, but in the meantime, you can see a short write up and some interesting responses on the HR Magazine website here. My thanks to Sian Harrington, Editor and Buck Consultants who sponsored the event, and to Greenleaf Publishing who kindly provided books for all attendees.

HR Magazine is no stranger to CSR for HR. In fact, the  Editor, the dymanic and popular Sian Harrington launched a Make a Difference campaign way back in 2008, long before I had contemplated writing CSR for HR. You can see the first article in this campaign here - this included a survey of the Magazine's readership on attitudes to CSR in HR. Sian Harrington, who authored the article, writes: "If there is something that is guaranteed to make businesses sit up and listen it is competitive advantage. Human Resources agrees that CSR practice adds value to business ...HR professionals should take an active role in embedding CSR into their organisation." Sian writes that HR professionals can help lead and educate their companies about the importance of CSR and enable meaningful management and HR practices to support CSR goals. Indeed, eight in 10 HR professionals believe CSR will be a more important part of their job in the next five years, according to HR Magazine's research.

You can see the follow up to this campaign a year later here. This second article reports highlights from a repeat survey of 127 HR directors. Sian writes this time around: "The clear message from the HR practitioners who responded is that the business environment will change considerably over the next three to five years and that these trends create both threats and opportunities. In some areas the impacts will be negative - for example, growing regulation is expected to have a mainly adverse impact on over half the organisations that participated in the survey. The impact of other trends is seen as being primarily positive: for example, growing consumer demands for companies to contribute to the broader public good was seen as a positive trend by over half the respondents. ... [the results of the survey show that] HR practitioners see the importance of CSR to many aspects of their role. However, in many organisations, recognition has yet to translate into practice." 

I looked at the November 2010 print edition of HR magazine and noticed several articles which align with the CSHR message. For example, an article by Michael Saxton of Greenpoint PR, a regular contributor to HR Magazine on HR/CSR topics,  penned an article entitled "You'd be wrong to think as an HR Director that  carbon reduction has nothing to do with you". He refers to best practice guidelines for HR to integrate green practices into training programmes with best practice from the LessEn campaign, amongst other things.

The ongoing campaign by HR Magazine under the personal direction of Sian Harrington is a breath of fresh air in the world of HR writings and discussions. Very few leading HR publications address this subject and, as I have commented in the past, there is virtually zero coverage of these themes at HR conferences. I am glad I could contribute my part in advancing the campaign and spreading the message: It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Sunday, November 21, 2010

CSR for HR in Poland

Here is the review:

Corporate Responsible Business (CSR) and Sustainability Development (SD). What does it mean? What is hidden behind these terms? Who is responsible for creating, running and control CSR strategy in company? How many time will take company to become responsible. A year? Five years? Which strategy is better? One huge project, or "slice by slice".
You will find answer here. Please read story of fictional HR director - Sharon. When we met her she knows nothing about CSR. We are witnesses of honing her skills in this subject.
It's easy to read book. Full of dialogs. (I know it's very rare in business not adventure books). Such construction helps readers to understand CSR and SD. For instance Sharon - main character asks questions which we wish to ask.
Interesting book with full of ready to use examples.
It contains facts and arguments for implementing CSR in company.
It shows how much important role have HR department in each company not only in global corporations.  

Actually, Pawel wrote to me to tell me that he had posted this review and also mentioned that the company he works for in Poland is now just starting some CSR activities.

There is something really special about reaching a beginner CSR practitioner in a different country with a different language with a book that help create new insights and lead to new actions in a business. If there is a reason to write about CSR, this is it!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Human capital. Your job?

This week has been a good week for CSR for HR.

We started off with Aman Singh of's absolutely fabulous review of CSR for HR which was published on This is the first part of the reivew:

"Human capital. My career. My job.

In a game of word association, how many times would 'corporate social responsibility' elicit any of the above phrases? I'll hazard a guess and say maybe one out of 10 times.

Because not until recently has there been as much analysis and commentary on the importance of CSR and sustainability. However, most of it continues to lean toward discussing the greener aspects of sustainability: it's good for the environment, a sustainable business strategy leads to profits with performance, etc.

Until last month, when a much-awaited book arrived at my doorstep: CSR for HR: A Necessary Partnership for Advancing Responsible Business Practices. Authored by Elaine Cohen, cofounder of Beyond Business Ltd., a CSR consulting and sustainability reporting firm--and a prolific blogger on CSR reporting--the book is a persuasive argument for connecting CSR with a company's human resources function. Having spent over 20 years in senior leadership positions with companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever, Cohen's narratives come from experience. And a strong belief that corporate social responsibility must begin internally--with your company's primary stakeholders: employees."

The review also appeared on, Aman's home base
The same review also appeared on Forbes CSR blog.

I am delighted with Aman's review and am very grateful for her taking the time to write about CSR for HR.

Another fabulous article authored by Akhila Vijayaraghavan appeared on yesterday's Justmeans website. Akhila interviewed me, asking  a whole strong of questions about me, CSR, HR, CSR for HR and more.  Akhila did a wonderful job of piecing my responses together to formulate a really nice article. Akhila even remembered to ask my favourite brand of ice cream. Regular reader of my blogs know the answer to that one, but if you don't and are remotely interested, you can read Akhila's full article here.

To complete the hat trick, CSRwire  published the CSR Book Giveaway in yesterday's Daily News Alert. CSRwire ran a giveaway of  four signed copies of CSR for HR to subscribers.I understand that this was a very popular campaign and many many entries were received. The four lucky winners to whom we will be shipping free books pronto are .............. well, CSRwire will make that announcement. But a big THANK YOU to all of you who participated, to CSRwire for running the campaign and to Greenleaf Publishing for providing the books.

And to round off, as we are on the CSRwire theme, I will mention my editorial which also ran this week called "Because you are worth it. Some of you".  The editorial highlights the major recent campaigns of the global beauty care company, L'Oreal,  for the advancement of support of women. However, L'Oreal over the years has been plagued  and criticised and even fined in legal actions for discriminating against women, especially with regard to their marketing programmes. Also, whilst there are 64% of women in the L'Oreal ranks, only 19% (5 out of 26) are "worth it" enough to reach the Executive Team or Board  (including the founder of the Company and her daughter).  Read the full editorial here.

I believe this is a classic case of CSR-HR disconnect. The L'Oreal company clearly wants to be a champion of gender diversity and makes all the right noices at policy level and have made some practical progress. However, there is a misalignment of  results which shows up in the smallest of everyday actions in the marketing department and elswhere. I wonder if a stronger HR voice would be able to create a culture in which true respect for women and authentic possibilities for women to advance to the highest levels of this company would be the thing that makes the big difference. This is a company that was founded by a woman, owned (mainly) by a woman and directs most of its sales towards a female customer base. How many opportunities is this company failing to realise when so few women are deemed capable of directing it ? The closing line of my editorial ? "L'OrĂ©al's business may be about beauty products, but this company should take care that their diversity policy does not become just another line of cosmetics."

CSR for HR addresses the things that HR people need to do to be game-changers in this field. I hope at least a few bold HR people will read the book and take the core messages on board.

Human capital is EVERYBODY's job. But HR must help.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Monday, November 8, 2010

ConAgra, Employee Engagement and Christmas

Here is an interesting article about the way ConAgra engages employees, concluding that employee engagement improves safety levels. This is reported in ConAgra's  2010 Sustainability Report. ConAgra has also implemented a wellness programme for employees, offering employees financial incentives to stay healthy. Employees who undergo a Personal Health Assessment and a preventive health screening can save up to $780 on medical health premiums. This is in addition to other employee wellness measures such as a programme called  "Choose to Lose"  (weight) and also maintaining a tobacco free campus.

These are good intiiatives and reflect best CSR practice. In making external CSR platforms relevant and available to all employees, a company helps employees become more aware of sustainability issues and more motivated to talk about these in an informed way with external contact points. In addition, the company benefits through reduced healthcare costs and society benefits by gaining a more vibrant community. What I miss in the ConAgra report is some sense of tangible outcomes for the business as a result of their wellness programms. Did people stop smoking? Did health attirbutes of employees improve? Did people who chose to lose weight manage to keep it off? How many employees saved medical premiums through participating in the wellness program? As this started in 2008, there should be some useful data on employee participation and specific outcomes by now. 

The ConAgra report doesnt mention the role of the Human Resources team in their business in supporting these wellness (and safety) change programmes. This is key to CSR for HR and I hope that their plans were implemented in full partnership with the HR function.  

This is all fine, but what does it have to do with Christmas?

Well, today, a global company ordered a personal copy of CSH for HR (the book) for each member of their HR team as a Christmas gift. As you can imagine, I think this is a WONDERFUL idea. In fact, I would be pleased if ConAgra would do this - I am sure that the CSR/HR team there would gain some new insights about how to drive further responsible and sustainable business practices through close partnership with the HR team. In the meantime, if  YOU might consider ordering a large number of copies of CSR for HR for YOUR teams, do let me know and I am sure we will be able to offer a nice discount. Remember, Christmas is a time for generosity and sharing :)) CSR for HR could help you do this, as well as provide an opportunity for professional development of your in-house teams. Please  write to me at if you are interested.

Yes, that was a plug for the book. I am going to do that occasionally. Be warned.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Is it April 1st already ?

I took a few minutes to read this post which had an intriguing title. "The Social Responsibility to Generate Employee Happiness." , on the Forbes CSR blog. The article puts forward the premise that "creativity, happiness and performance enable a positive feedback loop....(Shawn) Achor calls this idea the “Pygmalion Effect,” meaning that people act how we expect them to act. Expect them to succeed, encourage and praise them accordingly, and studies show that they will. Similarly, provide them with a creative, “happy” environment, and people will find greater meaning in their jobs , regardless of what the job is .."

Stop.  Sounds a bit far-fetched to me.

How many incompetent people have been promoted to the level of their incompetence because we expected them to succeed and praised them a helluva lot? How many people have we praised even through they don't really deserve it, only to find that it doesn't make them better performers after all? And creating a "happy" environment so that people will find meaning in their jobs ... I am not convinced. Sounds like something a business scool professor might dream up. haha.

People don't perform because they are happy. People perform because they are motivated by a worthwhile purpose, have freedom to operate in the organization they work for, are shown respect and listened to by their bosses and peers, and  have the tools to do what they need to do.

Happiness is a subjective thing. I don't believe you can train happiness (though there are some well-paid happiness gurus who might claim otherwise). You can train positive attitude, which can be a developed habit, but you cannot train people to be "happy". You cannot truly measure "happiness" which is an ephemeral thing and dependent upon circumstances of the day. So the thought that companies have a social responsibility to make employees "happy" is both a non-sequitur and an abuse of the term social responsibility. And frankly, any employee who comes to work looking to be made happy is probably not an employee I would want to hire. I would hire people who want to feel fulfilled, satisfied, positive, collegiate, challenged, supported, included, belonging even. In fact, I would hire happy people. But I wouldn't hire people who expect me to make them happy.

How do you determine what makes people happy? How can you create a workplace that caters for everyones happiness needs? For some, happiness might be free coffee in the breaks. For others, it might be a promotion opportunity. Others might pefer a swimming pool in the workplace, or more pay, or a new challenging project to work on. For me, utter bliss would be free Chunky Monkey every day. Haha.

I think we have to be careful with the semantics of Corporate Social Responsibility. I believe the above article does hold some basic element of truth. People who are more positive in the workplace will certainly support better results delivery and will help create an environment in which everyone can do their best. This makes sense to me, and I can speak from experience. The opposite is also true. People who are generally negative are harder to manage, drain energy and reduce productivity. But let's not confuse this with trying to make people happy in the workplace. To the extent that it can be measured, happiness is an outcome and not an input. And I do not believe making people happy should be a serious element of any CSR strategy. Except on April 1st.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Friday, November 5, 2010

Where are the employees at #BSR10 ?

The biggest annual event on the CSR calendar is in its closing stages as I write. Regretfully, I could not make it this year but have been following an interesting tweet-stream and blog posts that have been appearing throughout the first two days, as well as videos from Fenton SHARE program. One piece of news from the conference is the BSR GlobeScan State of Sustainable Business Poll 2010  which summarizes a survey of 377 CSR professionals from BSR member companies, reporting that business leaders remain focused on sustainability, look to demonstrate the benefits of sustainability and believe innovation is the key to success in the future. Interestingly, when asked about the focus of the company's CSR/sustainability efforts over the next 12 months, the highest score in the "very significant issue" category was worker's rights (32%) followed by human rights (31%) , both ranking higher than climate change (27%). Even more interestingly, when asked what the most important action to build trust in business should be, respondents gave a range of replies, with the highest (54%) relating to demonstrating positive social and environmental impacts and the lowest score (7%) saying that they should align lobbying with sustainability goals. Hmm. See the full list below and then I will tell you what I think.

Personally, I think that the most important action to build trust in business is creating and embedding a sustainability culture and practice in the business. I think that when a company can truly confirm that every single employee knows what sustainability is, why it's important, what its company's strategies are, how it affects their specific role and what they need to be doing to align their everyday decisions and actions with the sustainability agenda, then a company will be in a position to regenerate or maintain trust. Measuring impacts, reforming executive compensation or focussing lobbying are of themselves not trust drivers, even though varying percentages of 377 CSR professionals think they are. All of the points on the trust-building list above either require the complete commitment and engagement of the company's total workforce, or are simply a diversion of focus. The way to build trust is first to engender trust within your business, and then leverage that to encourage trust externally. Your business, however, is not its brand. It's its people. People make business, people make brands, people make decisions, people make choices, people make sustainability. I look forward to the day when we will finally see a broadscale realization that the best of strategies can only be delivered with the best of people who are knowledgable about sustainability, motivated to change and committed to sustainable outcomes at every level of any organization.

Which brings me to another point. The #BSR10 Conference  agenda . Very impressive. Emerging markets, energy innovation, emerging economies, feeding the future population of 9 billion in 2050,  financial inclusion, biomimicry, sustainability ratings, integrated reporting, green ICT, company CSR management systems and more. All big issues of the day requiring leadership, partnership and a new order of capitalism. BUT  (you knew there was a BUT coming, didn't you?), where are the employees? Talk of advancing human rights and worker's rights in (third party) supply chains is only a small part of this story. Where is the session that talks about engaging all employees in the business to drive the sustainability agenda? Where is the bold CSR/Human Resources team that presents the way it drives internal engagement ? I looked down the list of around 130 speakers and found only one from the Human Resources function: Cathy Murphy, VP HR of Blue Shield Operations, who was speaking in a session on Health and Wellbeing, which appears to be more about promoting healthier lifestyles in external communities as part of a company's sustainability platform than about internal workforce programmes.

I wonder how many Human Resources executives attend BSR ? I wonder how many feel it's relevant to their role ?  All the BSR member companies surveyed are large organizations with HR functions (I assume), probably fairly weighty ones at that. Probably quite a few VP HR people on the senior exec teams. Were they at the conference ? Are they aware that worker's rights and human rights are the key issues that their leadership sees for driving sustainability ? Do they know what their role is in advancing a culture where these aspects of sustainability can be adequately addressed? And why were they not on the BSR agenda, speaking, sharing, debating, learning?

As far as HR people are concerned, you know my answer: It's time for HR to wake up to CSR!

As far as BSR is concerned, well, perhaps it's time for BSR to wake up to HR!

I look forward to the BSR 2011 conference ensuring this aspect of sustainability gets the positioning on the conference agenda that it deserves.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website
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