Friday, May 17, 2013

CSR for HR: coincidence or strategy?

The first international co-conference on CSR entitled "CSR- from coincidence to strategy", held in Bled, Slovenia earlier this week,  was a resounding success, drawing over 120 conference participants from Slovenia and CEE region. I was invited (and honored) to speak at the conference by one of the co-hosts, the Ekvilib Institute, whose leaders are driving CSR with a passion in this interesting and beautiful country.

Slovenia is a small country with around 2 million inhabitants, and a land area of only 20,000 square kilometers, but it hosts a world-class management school, the IEDC, which provided the conference venue and more than just a little inspiration. IEDC has a strong emphasis on sustainability, which is not surprising when you meet the power-dean, Prof. Danica Purg, whose commitment to driving home the message of responsible business is evidenced by the leadership shown by the IEDC in many areas.

A delight to open up the conference content was the incredibly talented and dynamic Dr. Nadya Zhexembayeva, Ph.D., Coca-Cola Chair of Sustainable Development at IEDC. Nadya is the co author of Embedded Sustainability, one of the best sustainability books  I have read in the past few years. Nadya took us through a whirlwind tour of sustainability trends, in a presentation that was engaging and entertaining. From moral choice to inevitable reality, from greener to smarter, from optional niche to core strategy, from a department to a mindset and from a company to system are the headlines that tell our sustainability story going forward. Radical transparency and innovation are keywords that are leading the sustainability (r)evolution, and this was an illuminating backdrop to the day.

My keynote covered CSR for HR. Interestingly, my hosts gave me a title for the keynote. "When CSR meets HR". Of course, I had to disappoint everyone in my opening remarks, as, in today's reality, as you probably realize, CSR does not meet HR, at least intentionally, with very few exceptions. I was then able to give a justification for why CSR and HR should meet, and should continue to meet. This was followed by a panel discussion with some interesting insights from CSR/HR leaders in both small and large companies: Matjaž Čadež, founder and owner, Halcom d.d., Slovenia; Malgorzata Szlendak, Head of CSR and Corporate Communcations, Nestle Poland; Živa Vadnov, Head of Corporate Communications and CSR, Studio Moderna, Slovenia; and Nathalie Lerotic Pavlik, Head of HR Croatia and Slovenia, Microsoft, Croatia.

Later in the day, there was a breakout session in which we discussed the challenges and practicalities of embedding CSR for HR within organizations. A couple of key insights we drew from this discussion were:

Communications: It is so important to ensure a strong communications platform to ensure awareness of CSR and HR themes and expectations of employees in the business. Awareness is the precursor for action and communications can help build a familiarity and understanding that help all employees get more engaged.

Middle Management: This is the layer in any company which tends to be in the CSR for HR squeeze. Top leadership may understand and set strategy. The general body of non-management employees will do what makes sense to them and follow the leadership if the message is clear. It's the middle management in any organization which has the responsibility to translate the leadership message into actionable plans, implement programs and embed practices, while often dealing with multiple other tasks and responsibilities. Often, investment in middle management training and preparation to lead and embed CSR-HR practices is not sufficient, if it exists at all. If CSR for HR is to become truly core and integral in the way any company does business, more investment in middle management capabilities, resources and incentives needs to be developed.

The conference was a great start to what I hope will be a long tradition of CSR debate and development in Slovenia and the region. And, of course, an increasing acceptance that "It is time for CSR and HR to meet!"     

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Employee Engagement is not Enough

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference in Milan, Italy, organized by Lundquist, a  strategic communications consultancy, specializing in online corporate communications and the interface with CSR.  The conference was themed "New Frontiers of online corporate communications" with a focus on social media and employer branding. The conference was well attended by CSR and communications professionals, the creme de la creme of the communications world in Italy. The event was a stimulating gathering and many perspectives were shared and discussed. Othjer speakers included Andrew Thomas, publisher of Communicate Magazine, Caterina Rucci, Head of Employment at Bird And Bird Law Firm, Eric Sundstrom, editor in chief of Dagens Arena, a Swedish daily news service, as well as Joakim Lundquist, the mastermind behind the event, and James Osborne, Sara Rusconi and Cristiano Poian of the Lundquist team.
My piece was about, yes, you guessed it, CSR for HR, and I introduced the thought that, when it comes to CSR,
Employee Engagement is Not Enough! 
I thing we are in danger of diluting the "employee engagement" concept to one which is more passive than active. I am not sure who holds the definitive definition of employee engagement these days but generally it tends to refer to "a measurable degree of an employee's positive or negative emotional attachment to their job" on the assumption that emotional attachment will create the desired behaviors.

Kevin Kruse, who wrote a book on the subject offers his definition in a Forbes article:
"Definition: Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.
This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals. When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort. This means the engaged computer programmer works overtime when needed, without being asked. This means the engaged retail clerk picks up the trash on the store floor, even if the boss isn’t watching. This means the TSA agent will pull a bag suspicious bag to be searched, even if it’s the last bag on their shift."
This is good because, in Kevin's definition, engagement leads to action.This is right. Employee engagement in CSR should be more than an emotional commitment, it needs to be proactive action. But I think that the more we talk about engagement, the more we may be focusing on emotional onboarding and less on practical action. We should stop measuring "engagement" and start measuring behaviours. If engagement is the driver, action is the output, and business improvement, employee empowerment and social and environmental benefits are the outcomes. More than understanding that employees are engaged, I would like to know how they act, and how they turn their engagement into real deliverables. Therefore, at the Lundquist conference in Milan, I talked about:
Employee Activation

Does the CSR-HR Partnership drive employees to action in support of a CSR-oriented business program? Are CSR and HR Managers putting in place the tools that invite, encourage and compel employees to ACT, rather than be emotionally engaged at some sort of philosophical level? Are measures in the business the responses to a survey where we ask employees about their views, or do we ask them about what they actually did to advance CSR? Are rewards processes in place to recognize action rather than engagement?  
I think its time for HR to wake up to CSR and for the CSR-HR partnership to work together to drive Employee Activation, and not just employee engagement. Semantics? Maybe. But our choice of words may just influence the way we behave.
And while we are on the subject, you may be interested in two upcoming events on CSR for HR:
A new webinar training series for CSR and HR Managers about "Making the CSR-HR Partnership work." In this initial 2-session series on March 13 and March 20, we will cover:
  • The business case for advancing Sustainable Human Resources Management in your business, large or small.
  • The key issues that form the CSR/HR agenda and ways of addressing these in different organizations.
  • The employee engagement (activation!) aspects of CSR – what works, what doesn’t work and how to leverage engagement through CSR.
  • The measurable business benefits of a CSR-HR approach –quantifying the financial benefit to the organization through implementing CSR-HR tools.
  • The CSR for HR Roadmap and Scorecard - what you can (and should) do next, and in what order.
Check this link if you are interested in participating.

And if you are planning to be in the Barcelona area in June, you might want to register for this event on 11th June in Barcelona themed: "Boosting Employee Engagement in the Digital Era". I will be chairing this conference which will also include a case study from a great former colleague, Geoff McDonald, Global VP HR Marketing, Communications & Sustainability, Water at Unilever, on the role of HR in embedding sustainability in organizations.


Check this link if you would like to see the full programme

As you can see, my mission is about Activating the CSR-HR Partnership. Hopefully, more CSR and HR Managers will engage in activation too!

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  Check out my new book! Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage through Transparency

Sunday, January 27, 2013

HR Managers - just making excuses

HR Magazine UK published an interesting article recently about how HR Managers are not seeing benefit to the bottom line from CSR initiatives. The article refers to recently published research conducted by Cornell University. 143 senior U.S.-based HR people responded to the survey. This is a fascinating report which covers, among other things, the way HR Managers see CSR. Unfortunately, it tends to reinforce a lot of what we already suspected / knew. Here are some of the highlights:

On Page 3, the Executive Summary states: "Results regarding CSR indicate that CHROs see limited impact for CSR programs on the bottom line, and that this tends to be an obstacle to broadening CSR efforts. CSR efforts that are strategically built around the firm’s business seem to be more effective than those that appear without any alignment to the business’s capabilities or strategic objectives. In addition, because CSR has the greatest impact on the firm’s reputation, these efforts tend to be championed by the CEO more so than by those lower in the organization."
The research starts with an overview of what CSR programs HR Managers identify as being advanced by their companies from a list of 28 different pre-selected CSR-type activities. HR Managers confirmed that the most prevalent CSR programs relate to philanthropy and disaster relief, but high on the list are also providing employees with health risk-assessments, advancing employee volunteering and reducing energy consumption. The HR Managers feel that the health-risk assessments and volunteering programs have greater impact on the business than philanthropy. Of course they do. It just makes you wonder why most companies appear to be putting their efforts into donating money rather than driving activities which have a social benefit AND a positive impact on the business.
When asked about what they consider to be CSR best practices, HR Managers indicated things such as:
  • partnering with customers on employee volunteering programs
  • integrating the CSR agenda into the business planning process
  • community engagement, responsible citizens
  • creating a purpose-driven organization
  • developing strategic partnerships with NGO's
Interestingly, these examples do not include "doing HR differently" and integrating CSR deeply into core Human Resources Management processes. This, I believe, is one of the key ways in which HR Managers can/should make a big difference. Regrettably, they don't seem to see this.
Probably the most interesting part of this research is why HR Managers don't move forward with CSR. The report says:

"Finally, we asked CHROs to identify the biggest obstacles to the success of their CSR programs. Responses fell into four basic categories. ..... First, “Lack of Financial Resources” was mentioned by 20 CHROs. Sometimes the response was simply a focus on cost in general, while other times the focus seemed to be a temporary cost focus in light of the poor economic conditions. Second, “Lack of Integration/Alignment” was mentioned by 18 CHROs. This referred to either aligning the programs with the strategy, aligning the programs around a central and coherent theme, or aligning numerous local programs across the globe. Third, “Link to Business Results” described the difficulty in getting buy-in for CSR efforts without a clear link to either profitability or business objectives. This was mentioned by 16 CHROs. Last, “Leadership Support” was mentioned by 8 CHROs and referred to either top management or middle management not being actively supportive of the programs."
Now, doesn't that all sound like a lot of miserable excuse-making rather than practical reasons for inertia?  HR Managers who are personally and professionally committed to a sustainable business approach will not be held back by any of the above, and, on the contrary, will proactively and creatively find ways to make things work, on a low-budget if necessary, without active leadership support, if necessary. HR Managers need to find the link to integration and alignment with business strategy and establish the link to business results so make buy-in easier for their C-Suite colleagues. This is not so difficult. There are clear business benefits, many quantifiable, of creating CSR-enabled recruitment and retention processes, hiring for diversity, engaging employees in energy reduction and recycling and taking and advanced approach to employee health and wellness. There are clear business benefits of creating an aligned organization which supports and advances a CSR approach based on values, stakeholder dialogue and engendering trust. There is potential for  major risk-avoidance as well as business opportunity in all core HR activities. 
Give me any HR Manager of any organization of any size in any sector, and I will help her build a CSR-HR strategy which adds business value, some quantitative, some qualitative, backed by a selling-in approach for the C-Suite. HR Managers who don't know how to do this need to get up to speed fast. As it stands, HR is slowly becoming the back-seat passenger of the sustainability movement. Sooner or later, businesses may decide they don't need so many passengers. As I often say:
"It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!"
PS: If you happen to be planning a trip to Barcelona in June, you may want to catch up with this great conference on Boosting Employee Engagement through CSR in the Digital Era. I will be chairing the day and speaking on "The Present and the Future of CSR and Employee Engagement".

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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