A definition of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will differ across organisations; and its purpose and profile will vary accordingly. CSR is often looked at as a governance initiative and a reputation management tool in positioning an organisation as a credible and ethical business.

Some organisations also recognise the benefits of a strong CSR programme as an employee engagement initiative. One of the key principles of CSR is maintaining strong relationships with your stakeholders that include customers, suppliers, government & media, communities and your people.

One of the most effective ways in which to engage your people with CSR is to give them the business ownership for it. By embedding CSR within your business you can achieve a real buy in from people that take on the responsibility for driving it. In my experience an effective CSR policy is driven by people, not by the Leadership, Compliance, HR or Marketing.

Of course it is important that the business puts a definition behind its approach to CSR; and that it is built into a framework. That is very much the initial process and will involve stakeholders from key business areas that are the owners responsible for specific activity.

An effective way to identify what CSR mean to your business is to look at the activity you undertake; and map out your approach accordingly. This can be built into CSR ‘pillars’ such as the Environment and Communities and Charity. By identifying specific CSR pillars that all fall under the umbrella of your CSR policy it will drive effective reporting and structure to CSR management.

Once you have a structure and framework the critical task is to embed CSR initiatives into your business and operations. A method that I have used successfully in the past is to create a CSR steering group from people within the business. This group can either be volunteers or elected and would have a very clear remit and terms of reference for the implementation and administration of your CSR programme.

The CSR steering group will have a Director sponsor, usually the HRD. The group will be responsible for managing relationships, defining activity, managing events and budget, and acting as CSR champions across your business. By using your people as a CSR driver you are making CSR a credible engagement tool rather than a management or business initiative.

CSR has a great deal of potential to drive engagement. Two easy examples to draw upon include charity and community interaction. A charity day within a business is an opportunity for people to really get behind a cause; it provides a platform for people to have fun at work and gives a different perspective to employee perception. It is a similar situation with community interaction; sending people out to work with local schools or take on community projects is a very effective way to keep employees engaged.

I am a huge fan of CSR as an engagement tool. I believe that there is real opportunity; especially at times of economic turbulence where budgets are being cut and pay is being squeezed. CSR enables you to sell in a constant flow of ‘good news’ stories, even against a backdrop of difficult business narrative.

If embraced by Leaders and if it is driven by your employees CSR can also make a real difference to the perception and positioning of your business. Being able to demonstrate that your employees are the drivers of CSR in your business gives a competitive edge and adds commercial value. A strong CSR narrative is an effective reputation management tool.

In times of economic turbulence, there is a strong argument that increasing your CSR budget and activity will add extra value to your overall business objectives.

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