CSR: Biggest Challenge is Buy-In
Since 2007, the biggest challenge for CSR practitioners has remained getting support from their senior managers.
Yet, for many years now, CSR has become part of everyday corporate lingo. (Who else is sick of hearing that it is in the DNA?) As Professor David Allen questioned last week at the ACCSR Annual Conference, if we are all doing CSR, why are we doing so badly?
In fact, inspired by the Great Recession and recent large (and very large) corporate scandals, this year we decided to focus our Annual Review of the State of CSR in Australia and New Zealand on what constitutes responsible leadership. In our view, responsible leaders do not only transform their organisations, but also have a broader breakthrough effect that can benefit the entire society. So what are the attributes – how does it happen – what makes responsible leadership?
We asked CSR practitioners in Australia and New Zealand and found two rather different views. When respondents talked about leadership in other organisations, they mainly pointed to companies that demonstrate and integrate CSR – or, in other words, walk the talk. However, when respondents looked at instances of leadership in their own organisations, they mainly looked at philanthropy and community investment – which denotes a more traditional understanding of CSR that might be a low-risk, easy-win.
Perhaps this is just another example of asymmetrical information: what is admired in others does not have the same resonance when looking at oneself – simply because we know more about the challenges in achieving change within our organisations than about others’. Therefore our expectations and perceptions of others tend to be higher than those of ourselves. (It’s not you, it’s them.)
Furthermore, a relatively large number of respondents (14%) said that their organisations had no instances of responsible leadership. This is worrying. And intriguing.
So we dug a bit deeper: what are the priorities and obstacles for the most immediate future?
Interestingly, for the fifth year in a row, respondents mainly pointed to building internal buy-in as the main priority and as the greatest single obstacle. This looks like a vicious cycle: practitioners want to mainstream CSR in their organisations – and know that the best driver of such change is to gain internal buy-in – which is also the most significant challenge standing in the way of embedding CSR into everyday business – which is possible if there is internal buy-in – but that is the main hurdle to…
So, how to overcome this? We asked respondents to identify which tactics they use and which of those work best for building support and making the business case for CSR. We listed 13 tactics and all of them were rated fair to good in terms of effectiveness.
As we had expected, the tactics that were both the most popular and rated as the most effective included ‘Enlisting the support of key management or influential people’ and ‘Increasing stakeholder engagement’.
But what mainly caught our attention was to find that two tactics were used less often than average, but regarded as more effective than the average:
First, ‘Identifying organisational performance indicators and measurable targets’ might not be as frequently adopted since it requires the existence of data collection and management systems. But when enacted, it is an effective tool to drive sustainability performance and provide evidence to support the business case for CSR.
Second, ‘Introducing CSR champions’ might be used less often simply because it requires employees to take on more responsibilities in addition to their currently assigned tasks. But such voluntary personal commitment seems to effectively contribute to advancing CSR internally better than most of other more popular tactics.
Volans’ most recent project looks at capitalism nearing a point of no return, where the only two options seem to change or, sadly, fail. For the latter, we need do nothing but wait and see – we are already doing great at that. For the former, we need bolder, more responsible, breakthrough leaders capable of changing the way things are done to drive long-term success – starting in their own organisations.
As the clock is ticking, we hope that our research encourages more discussions about how to further develop responsible leadership – so, what do you think? What can we do to leverage responsible leadership?
With a decade of experience assisting private firms, non-profits and government agencies to plan and advance their sustainable development agendas, Sara's career is committed to creating shared value for communities and companies through evidence-based decision-making, risk management and strong stakeholder engagement.
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