Friday, January 27, 2012

CSR and HR in the business of trust

I have been doing a little homework in preparation for the CR for HR professionals Conference that I have now been asked to chair, to take place on 7th February in London. As far as I know, and I may have mentioned this before, this is the first focused conference on CSR for HR, so I am very happy to be a part of this and kudos to the CIPD for organizing it.

Photo credit: BITC
Part of my homework has been talking to some of the movers and shakers in this space, who will be speaking at the conference. Cathy Lewis, for example, has been the HR Director of Prudential for UK and Europe since November 2009, and responsible for CSR since March 2010. She says: "Sustainability for me means 'continuity' of 'life'. Haven't we all realised that the things in life that last and endure are the things that we've given constant and steady attention to? In business it's the same, and the most corporately conscious organisations are those that have made a commitment and build on it every day through lots of little things that add up to real commitment."

That's a great approach, and one which I suspect most readers of this blog can subscribe to. 

The business of Prudential, an international financial services group and in the UK, a leading life insurance and pensions provider with seven million customers and 25,000 employees worldwide (>2500 in the UK), has much to gain from the adoption of a CR approach. "When people buy financial services products they buy TRUST, our products are a promise for the future. It's not like retail, where you walk out of the shop with your shiny new 'item' in a bag. CSR is one of the ways that we can demonstrate our core values. We aim to 'do the right thing' in all our relationships, whether that is customers, colleagues, stakeholders, partners or communities in which we work."

Prudential's 2010 Corporate Responsibility Report provides information about the Group's people practices and includes:
Prudential's Group-wide development programme, Momentum, which is designed to build a cadre of globally-minded high-potential individuals, externally or internally recruited early in their careers for fast-track progression. Momentum places a strong emphasis on diversity. There are currently 60 individuals on the programme, of which approximately a third are women.
Prudential's reward system is based on both individual performance and behaviors – both what people achieve and how they achieve it. This is, we believe, fundamental to building a high performing culture.
More than two-thirds of employees in the UK now own, or have an interest in, Prudential shares through employee share plans.
Prudential won a national award in 2010 for the ‘Best Learning and Development Strategy’, sponsored by the market-leading UK industry publication, HR Magazine.
Prudential UK is one of only 38 companies to achieve the BITC CommunityMark since it was launched in 2007.

(Moving off-topic for a second, humor me, I was happy to add some new words to my vocabulary, upon reading the Prudential CR Report: "Retirementology" is a new way of looking at retirement management, which unmasks life-long financial patterns and examines how, if left unchecked, these behaviors could harm prospects for retirement. "Equimortis", apparently, is the dangerous condition of relying on home equity to fund retirement, "Bingefy" is justifying a big-ticket purchase because you were previously frugal and "Kinphobia" is the fear of having to tap into retirement savings to support the extended family. And after reading the CR Report, you can also visit the website and buy the Retirementology book! in which you will find some additional new words to add to your daily vocabulary. This is all the creation of Dr Greg Salsbury, Executive Vice President of Jackson, Prudential's U.S. business. So now we know. I wonder if these will soon appear in the Oxford English Dictionary? I will never think about retirement in the same way again :)) 

Getting back to Prudential UK, there are 10 People Principles that guide everything the Prudential people do - the principles are the DNA of the organization. The principles have been around and governed the actions of employees for many years, but recently, HR supported a process in which Prudential articulated them by working with the whole company to capture what the business is all about. One of these principles explains Prudential's commitment to sustainable business. 

When I asked Cathy what aspects of the HRM contribution to CR at Prudential she was most proud of, she replied like this: "Most proud" makes me think of special moments when you are reminded of what we all do together. So I'd probably pick out our Employee Volunteering Awards (EVAs). Once a year we celebrate the individuals and the teams that are making a real difference. I get the privilege each year of presenting at the EVAs and this is a most humbling and inspiring experience. Inspiring because you get to see the great things that people have made happen and humbling because you realise that everyone of us, has it in our power to make a difference..... and yet we don't always take the time."

Interestingly, Prudential UK does not actively leverage the company's CR agenda and positive reputation for recruitment, which is often seen as one of the significant benefits of a CR program. Cathy explains: "Our CR agenda and activities have been established for a long time and whilst we don't explicitly use what we do to promote ourselves as an employer, more often than not, candidates tell us that our reputation is what attracted them in the first place."

I will leave the last word to Cathy Lewis, as it expresses well what I believe more HR and CR Managers should wake up to. "CR is an integral part of our People Strategy at Prudential UK and Europe, so for us the link is seamless. How we treat and value our colleagues, and how we support the communities we work in, come together as part of how we do business every day."

And after the last word, I will just add another last word to say that I am very looking forward to hearing more of Cathy's insights, along with others, at the CR for HR Professionals Conference on 7th February.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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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