Managing CSR: getting down to the nitty-gritty

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Posted in: Analysis/Comment, Speaking Out, Strategy, Sustainable Development

Managing CSR: getting down to the nitty-gritty

February 01, 2003

Discussions about the technicalities of CSR show that the war of words is over, and time for delivery on the much-touted business benefits is at hand. But what skills do today’s CSR practitioners need, and how will tomorrow’s CSR managers obtain them?

Leadership challenged

The increasingly inter-linked challenges of good corporate citizenship, governance and competitiveness in the global economy maintained their place on the agenda of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, building on the corporate responsibility agreement signed up to by 36 chief executives at last year’s meeting (see Briefing 62).

This year the original group were joined by additional signatories covering 18 industry sectors and more than 16 countries. The group published a report setting out a framework for action for business leaders, divided into four strands, each of which is supported by an extensive series of case studies:

  • Provide leadership, or the role of the chief executive as champion of corporate values and as consensus builder. Example: chief executives of ING and Shell making joint presentations on their corporate citizenship policies to members of the Dutch press and parliament and representatives of NGOs.
  • Define what it means for your company, including making the business case, identifying your key drivers and critical issues. Example: a project by UBS to measure the impact of corporate responsibility activities (including diversity efforts such as cultural sensitivity programmes for employees) on its share price.
  • Make it happen, or embedding corporate citizenship into the company’s strategy and operations, and engagement with external stakeholders. Example: Boots offering staff a new national qualification in recognition of employee volunteering, and Electricité de France‘s sustainable development awards to recognise staff projects.
  • Be transparent about it, or reporting publicly with verification. Example: Rio Tinto inviting external organisations to undertake an external assurance review of the company’s reporting policies and programmes.

Contact Caronline Bergrem, WEF, on 00 41 22 869 1212 (http://www.weforum.org)

Development discussions

Thirty chief executives from across Europe are working together to share thinking on how business can best influence the international development agenda as part of the first European CEO forum on development. The group, which is coordinated by the World Bank and the International Business Leaders Forum, and which met for the first time on January 22, will focus on two areas: anti-corruption measures in emerging markets; and the need for clarity of the respective roles of private and public sectors. Contact Justin Sykes, IBLF, on 020 7467 3655 (http://www.iblf.org)

CSR class of 2003?

Representatives from Marks and Spencer and GlaxoSmithKline are sitting on a new working panel to analyse the professional development of CSR practitioners, it was announced in December. Coordinated by the Department for Trade and Industry and the Corporate Responsibility Group, the panel will consider the establishment of a UK CSR Academy to ensure that individuals from businesses of all sizes can be best equipped with the relevant skills. Stephen Timms MP, Minister for CSR, has asked the group to report back by April 2003. Contact Nicky Hughes, CRG, on 020 7255 5484 (http://www.corporateresponsibilitygroup.com)

in brief

BASF, BP, Danone, Lafarge and Lloyds TSB are among 12 European companies setting out how CSR offers them a competitive edge in a recent report by CSR Europe. Exploring business dynamics analyses how companies have managed to mainstream CSR into corporate strategy, management and systems, including tools such as new forms of staff training and recruitment. Contact Nicki Bennett, CSR Europe, on 00 32 2 541 1623 (http://www.csreurope.org)

Barclays Bank is sponsoring a new set of guides for community affairs managers from Business in the Community, providing tips and case studies on a series of community investment topics, including skills development in the community and payroll giving. Contact Jenny Dunford, BitC, on 0870 600 2482 (http://www.bitc.org.uk)

Comment: managing CSR: getting down to the nitty-gritty

February 01 2003

by Briefing staff

Discussions about the technicalities of CSR show that the war of words is over, and time for delivery on the much-touted business benefits is at hand. But what skills do today’s CSR practitioners need, and how will tomorrow’s CSR managers obtain them?

“Building trust and corporate governance; they’re hardly the most invigorating topics”, was the answer one senior executive gave to explain his absence from this year’s World Economic Forum. Rather than be disheartened, CSR enthusiasts should welcome such a response. When this annual jamboree moves to substantive outcomes – as the examples in the ‘Responding to the Leadership Challenge’ report would have us believe – then sceptics of top-floor talk never filtering down to the shop-floor walk may need to think again.

As with any new management science, this move from rhetoric to reality brings with it the need for new specialisms. The finer print of changes to the Combined Code, the etiquette of cross-sector partnerships, designing comprehensive data collection systems, measuring community impact – these skills and many more are filling the CSR practitioners tool bag. And so the proposal to set up a UK CSR Academy is a welcome development, and a sign of the subject’s growing maturity.

But the growing professionalisation of CSR raises important questions. For starters, there is a danger that the holistic remit of the responsibility agenda could get lost in a new wave of academic theorising and management-speak. Specialisation should not become ghettoisation. Secondly, there’s the question of curriculum. Might we find tomorrow’s CSR managers adept in the mysteries of GRI, but ignorant of one end of a product-delivery line from another? And where will social policy fit in to a corporate social responsibility syllabus? A final consideration must be given to who’s going to employ all these bright young graduates, well-versed in CSR theory, but with zilch practical experience. This points to a wider issue about CSR’s capacity for growth, but providing tailored internships for aspiring managers is one immediate way that companies can demonstrate their commitment to CSR.

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