AHRI Chairman, Peter Wilson, delves into the ins and outs of HR’s role in developing corporate and social responsibility in the workplace.
Let’s start with an examination of successful leadership for corporate and social responsibility (CSR), one of the most elusive areas for HR and business leaders to address. Research done by AHRI, and also our sister international bodies such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in the US, and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK, show that modern employees are attracted to work with employers who take stands and deliver practices that represent responsible modern community values and norms.
Bite as well as bark
At the 2017 AHRI awards, the finalists for CSR leadership all had a strong values statement as part of their corporate mission to be a responsible, sustainable and community-centric organisation. Each organisation had a clear stakeholder and employee strategy. Specific CSR goals, programs and initiatives evolved from the grassroots. Ideas coming from the solitary inspiration of the corporate suite seldom work. An openness to drop or amend initial thoughts is also a strong characteristic within the work of the best practitioners, as well as the adoption of new ideas produced from consultation.
Another characteristic is that the CEO and the executive team were role models and actively participated in the drive for stakeholder and employee engagement, through attending community forums, going to town hall meetings, joining in employee discussion groups and the like. Some early initiatives were also trialled with a close monitoring of feedback from staff, stakeholders and target groups.
Take advice from the experts
In reviewing these track records, I was reminded of Dave Ulrich’s advice to us all at his masterclass during the 2017 AHRI National Convention event series that we should:
- Think Big
- Trial Small
- Fail Fast
- Learn Always
Ulrich has just been admitted to the world ‘Thinkers 50’ Hall of Fame, and advice like this tells us why. Applying these four principles to a wide range of HR initiatives makes great sense, especially to a concept such as CSR.
It is a commonality that successful CSR initiatives require strong partnerships, such as linking with an NGO with specialist skills. Financial resources alone are unlikely to deliver success. If money is all that’s made available for delivery of a CSR program, there is a risk that employees and the community will see this work cynically as just a ‘tick box’ commitment.
CSR programs do need resourcing, but linking that to specific initiatives that are well researched and costed is more likely to achieve success. Further, using a company’s resources to match fundraising by employees can produce the best responses.
Use people to communicate your message
Finally, one of the most important success factors is how media and communications are used. With CSR programs, the customers in your workplace and community love to see the stories of achievement through the experiences of real people, and preferably ones they know. Innovative use of social media can be a powerful weapon in demonstrating your commitment to being CSR responsible.
A compelling example of many of these principles came from one 2017 finalist, Defence Bank Limited, which had an innovative initiative called Defence Community Dogs. This program trained dogs, which had returned from active service on the frontlines of war, to be companion dogs for returning veteran soldiers who were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The program touched 200 returning veterans and involved the support of over 100 businesses and individuals.
Defence Community Dogs has been celebrated as a great success and brought it leverage for the Defence Bank far beyond its investment. It tackled a major challenge in its own community, with an enlightened program for returning service men and women suffering PTSD, not to mention man/woman’s best friend.
This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in the February edition of HRM Magazine.