What division of a company is responsible for driving stakeholder engagement behind a company’s social responsibility goals? Any discussion over which department is responsible for leading and embedding corporate social responsibility (CSR) within a company brings up the usual suspects: human resources, marketing, strategy, public affairs, or perhaps the entire c-suite. Part of the discussion stems from the fact that CSR is still a relatively new concept for any company. Of course, many CSR practitioners will explain that no matter where CSR is wedged in an organizational chart, the truth is that all departments are responsible for embedding sustainability, transparency, and ethics throughout a company.
Microsoft takes collaboration a step further. All employees and the departments for which they work have a role in defining how their company is one that socially and environmentally responsible. CSR, however, is a horizontal function, not a series of vertical tasks, according to Microsoft’s Dan Bross.
Bross explains that for Microsoft, CSR is about wearing down those pesky corporate silos. The approach is a compelling one. For years managers and employees have expressed their frustration for working at a company where departments operate vertically and not sharing information and perspective horizontally across the organization. In an age where information travels instantaneously and issues can flare up at a moment’s notice, marketing has got to know what is evolving in engineering or product development. Perhaps procurement has got to be aware of issues involved in sourcing materials from countries or companies with dodgy business practices. And investor relations has got to know what is going on throughout a firm’s supply chain while keeping close tabs on legal in case another SRI (socially responsible investment) company–or any financial institution for that matter–poses some tough questions over energy- or water-related risks.
Each company is unique as are the challenges and opportunities that confront each and every organization. Nevertheless, what is necessary for CSR to succeed at any organization is what Chris Pinney of Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship calls collaboration competency, i.e., all CSR programs must rely on total company and employee involvement if such initiatives are to succeed. To that end, different employees and managers have significant roles in gauging stakeholder engagement. And while the tasks will vary based who engages with suppliers, vendors, employees, customers, and shareholders, the entire effort is cross-functional and depends on clear communication and sharing of information between various departments.
Therein lie the opportunities for employees to make a difference where they work. One question that employees often ask CSR practitioners is “what can I do to have a job like yours?” The truth is, many employees are far more valuable in their certain role for the insight they can provide to a CSR director or manager. But if you are open to collaboration across many departments and can speak the language of sales, engineering, marketing, human resources, and R&D, you may be very well on your way.
Learn more about Microsoft’s corporate citizenship initiatives here.
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