Monday, July 9, 2012

Engouraging HR to wake up to CSR

Today I had a wonderful opportunity to talk to a group of global and regional Chief Sustainability Officers representing nine globally-active companies, all are names that you would all recognize, most of them report on sustainability and have well-developed sustainability programs and a string of achievements to date.

I presented on one of my favorite subjects - CSR for HR - but with a specific slant towards CSR and Employee Engagement and how Human Resources Management can contribute to a culture of sustainability, how CSR can drive employee engagement and how CSR can be leveraged for competency and leadership development. Interesting questions which are crucial for companies interested in making CSR and Sustainability a true part of the business rather than just a set of afterthought projects. I will elaborate on the perspectives and solutions I presented in a future post.

After my presentation, we had some discussion which centered around, primarily, how to get HR people engaged in the objective of creating a sustainable organizational culture. Before the discussion drew to a close, the group host invited me to ask them some questions.

I responded something like this: You are all leading, highly-reputable companies in your respective fields, you all have sustainability programs and achievements, you all communicate on sustainability in some way and many of you have sustainability targets which are quite ambitious. It would seem that employee engagement in sustainability should already be on your radar. Therefore, I was wondering what prompted the discussion about employee engagement and why this is an important area for discussion at this time.

The collective reply went something like this: We are all frustrated with the lack of response from the HR function. They are not getting on board. Instead of embracing a sustainability approach, they don't see it as their job, they are too busy, they are not interested and they are impenetrable. We want to work out how we get HR to the table and have HR become a partner and even leader in sustainability and employee engagement.

So there you have it. Even in the best of companies with the best of programs, the HR function is holding the organization back, instead of realizing that CSR is the key to making a much fuller and more sustainable contribution. Guess what I replied? It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!

But I also said that it takes two to tango. I advised this group of accomplished Sustainability Leaders to treat HR as customers, as valued stakeholders, as a group without whom they will not be able to deliver optimal results. This means that if CSR wants HR to wake up, it has to do the waking. As CSO, one of the first partnerships you should be working to develop is with your HR counterpart. If you wait for HR to come to you, you will wait a long time. If you wait for HR to see the light, it may not happen. As CSO, you can both help HR to understand the context and the need, while driving HR to step up to the mark by offering them an opportunity to be involved in developing solutions to sustainable business problems. This is as much a part of the CSO job as pursuing a low-carbon strategy. If, as CSO, you believe your HR function is not on the sustainability track, then make it your job to bring them around. It's a win-win. If you treat them as (equal) partners, maybe they will become (equal) partners. 

Enter Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe who said:  “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

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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