By Tim McClimon
Do you believe that corporate social responsibility is important to your company, but that it’s someone else’s problem?
A recent Harvard Business Review article entitled “How to Make Sustainability Every Employee’s Responsibility” posits that question (albeit substituting “sustainability” for “corporate social responsibility”) and suggests that while many companies talk about sustainability and integration, it’s much harder to get people to act individually to achieve these corporate goals.
Author CB Bhattacharya attributes this syndrome of thinking that an issue is someone else’s problem as one of ownership. He suggests that ownership refers to feelings of connection that we develop toward an appealing object such as a company or idea, and that feelings of organizational ownership can lead to greater job satisfaction, engagement, productivity and profits for employees and stakeholders. He asserts that companies can gain competitive advantage by transforming their stakeholders from bystanders into owners by making sustainability – or social good – part of their purpose by using a framework with three phases: incubate, launch and entrench.
The incubation phase outlines your CSR approach by reflecting on the purpose of your business and its specific role in the world, and then creating a list of material issues across your value chain. This kind of materiality assessment can identify opportunities for stakeholders to take ownership of your goals and to drive action across the organization in ways that are important to your business.
The launch phase entails introducing your plan to stakeholders and setting the idea of ownership in action. To sell it to employees and other stakeholders, the author asserts, sometimes you have to appeal to the head (e.g., monetary incentives, cost savings, career advancement) and sometimes to the heart (e.g., making a difference, helping society), and often to both.
The entrenchment phase works to make these feelings of ownership routine – something that people just do rather than something they are expected to do. Here, having measures of success and providing ongoing feedback helps to integrate these actions into the daily routine of stakeholders.
For example, a goal of reducing a firm’s carbon footprint can be identified first as an important purpose for the business, and then that goal can be subdivided into specific objectives pertaining to electricity use in buildings, employee travel, and even waste management, which have both positive monetary impact (e.g., cost savings) as well as societal benefit (e.g., taking poisonous carbon out of the atmosphere). Demonstrating how individual and teams of employees and stakeholders can have an impact on the overall carbon footprint with their actions can drive personal ownership and impact at all levels of the organization.
Likewise, engaging employees and customers in community service shouldn’t just be the province of the CSR office; it can be and should be a corporate wide responsibility with many owners and players. While the CSR office can be instrumental at setting a firm-wide goal, establishing measures of success and launching volunteer programs, the more employees and their friends and family members take ownership and entrench volunteerism and community service into their daily routines, the more integrated it will be for the firm, and the more success the company will have at making community service part of the corporate culture.
Tim McClimon is SVP, Corporate Social Responsibility, American Express, and President of the American Express Foundation
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons