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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