Communication, Change and CSR

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HAMMERSMITH — I am meeting my friend Gillian today for a tea. She’s become a bit of a corporate goodness guru. And I love talking to her.

Personally, I am still unsure about CSR programmes and how they fit with company communications and change. Is that a bad thing to admit?

I suspect it is.

I believe strongly that organisations and corporations need to develop means and processes to behave more consistently as “good corporate citizens”. Better regulations for banks, for example. And environmental standards, and connections into the community, are all good things.

But I am less sure about PR-driven CSR programmes.

Let me give you two examples:

1. A global resource business that wants to be known and appreciated for it’s environmental record and concerns…

…which is just not going to happen. When your primary business is taking stuff from the earth — that you cannot replace — it is unreasonable to be expected to be seen as a poster-child for the environment.

Does that mean you shouldn’t do the responsible, environmental, community-focused work? Of course not. What it does mean though is that we need another reason to do it… Other than that it can be good PR.

2. A company in the Arab world, that is government owned. It does a sizable number of amazing things.

If employees need to buy a house the business will collect cash and pass it on to the employee.

If a local school needs to be built, the company just does it. No naming rights. No gala openings. Kids just get taught.

If an employee loses a relative, the business pays for the funeral arrangements.

What do you do with that? It is serious CSR. But it’s also driven by religious and cultural norms. It’s just “the way we do things around here.” Publicising it actually runs against the reasons why they do it.

The problem I am getting to here is that “corporate social responsibility”, “sustainable development”, community outreach, volunteering programmes… have all got their own reasons to exist. And they are many. And they need to be many. That is where the value of CSR is, in shaping the complete view of the business. They can’t be a tactic for building a reputation, they need more reasons to exist than that. They need to be one of the ways that a business succeeds. They need to check a dozen different boxes:

– Employees can participate
– Employees want to participate
– The business takes more responsibility in the community
– Governments have to spend less
– Needy situations get addressed faster
– New expertise is developed

That’s a bad list. But there can be a good one.


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One Response

  1. Richard Bailey

    I agree.

    I often feel that the problem with CSR is in the capital letters. Of course businesses should behave responsibly: it’s a way to ensure their legitimacy and success, after all – as well as producing other tangible and intangible benefits.

    But call it Corporate Social Responsibility and a whole team is needed to work on compliance, auditing and reporting. This is neither good for profits, nor for ‘people’ or ‘planet’.

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