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)
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