Corporate Social Responsibility: How HR Professionals Can Drive Lasting Change Through CSR

In today’s HR lexicon, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an important term that is quickly redefining the way businesses look to affect and drive social change.

Whether it’s referenced as “corporate citizenship” or “corporate sustainability,” CSR is increasingly relevant for HR professionals because it shapes the way an organization operates. This includes its environmental efforts, labor practices, corporate philanthropy and volunteerism and can be a crucial component for its overall success.

As such, HR plays a pivotal role as a strategic agent for change. Professionals in this space not only shape the social responsibility strategy—they champion and continually refine the way that strategy is implemented in the organization.

More now than ever, HR professionals have an opportunity to integrate a CSR strategy into their programs and practices, raising awareness and influencing change.

So how can you take a CSR strategy from paper to action?

Below is a tangible approach to this process that has been instrumental for me as I’ve worked on identifying and formalizing Bolton & Company’s CSR efforts.

Step 1: Gain Executive Buy In.

Your key decision makers (shareholders, stakeholders, executives, etc.) need to be on board and willing to partner with you. If you have their blessings, you can feel more confident that the time and effort you’re investing in this will be fruitful.

Step 2: Assess Your Current Landscape.

Ask yourself, “what is your company doing now in the CSR space to benefit society and the business and where are you lacking?” It’s important to conduct an audit, such as a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis in order to inform your strategy development.

Step 3: Create a Strategy and an Infrastructure to Support that Strategy.

Consider the timeframe, the impact your plan will have on the business and on the community, and what you need to make it all possible. In many corporate environments, this may look like a detailed business case that is presented to the appropriate parties.

Make sure what you’ve designed is compliant with all national, federal, regional or local laws, regulations and government authority requirements. Beyond the letter of law, you want to ensure that what you’ve created matches your company’s moral and ethical business standards and behavioral guidelines.

A CSR strategy typically compliments the core values and ethical practices of an organization. Specific areas to consider as you create your strategy could include attracting and retaining talent and leadership development.  Sharing the organization’s passion for and commitment to CSR in recruitment can attract more applicants who care about joining an organization that values sustainability, which aligns new talent with existing company values. It’s a win-win because it ultimately adds value to the company culture.

It is also important to consider how your strategy can influence employee benefits, perks, telecommuting, volunteerism and philanthropy, which all play an important role in employee retention. One specific way that Bolton integrates CSR is through our Bolton Foundation. The Foundation provides volunteer opportunities each month for our employees to make an impact, and gives grants to local nonprofits in need. Many of our employees utilize their paid volunteer day off to serve, and even invite their family and friends to join in with them as they help to better our community.

Leadership development and training is a valuable piece of this conversation as well. This matters because how employees and specifically leaders are equipped in the workplace can often dictate how successful they are in their role, and whether or not they are truly living out what the company believes in. If you can develop leaders who are also agents of change, your strategy will trickle down throughout the company more efficiently and effectively.

Step 4: Implement the Plan You’ve Developed. Now is Your Time to Shine!

Integrate your CSR strategy into your HR team first. It’s a perfect way to test the waters and will help you iron out any unexpected kinks. Roll out your strategy in a way that makes sense based on your company size and culture.

For example, leading and introducing this strategy may look like having separate meetings with each layer of management in your company in order to fully explain the changes taking place, or it could entail presenting the new CSR strategy at a companywide meeting, etc. Cater your approach to your audience, and remain flexible as questions come up!

Step 5: Conduct a “GLOW.”

GLOW stands for goal-oriented, learning, opportunity and wisdom. Similar to a postmortem, this is an opportunity to have an in-depth dialogue around what went well and what did not. It’s a chance to reflect on what happened as opposed to what you hoped would take place, or how you envisioned something panning out.

It’s important to hear statements of personal accountability, to keep the goal present at all times, and to review the outcomes, actions taken, and the planning process.

Step 6: Reassess and Revise, Again and Again!  

There is always room for improvement. It’s crucial to measure results from your strategy, and survey your employees on a regular basis to hear their feedback. As the company grows or evolves, the hands and feet of your CSR strategy will need to be reassessed and revised.

At its core, it may always consist of the same key priorities, however, initiatives may require tweaks, and may be worth revisiting every so often. Lean on your HR data analytics as you continue to pitch new CSR ideas to your internal stakeholders—and never lose your zest for making a difference.

In conclusion, HR plays a pivotal role when it comes to CSR.  Although in many ways CSR starts from the top down with executive by-in and a commitment to value-focused leadership, HR influences the creation of the strategy and actively communicates and integrates that strategic plan.

Ultimately, it’s important that HR professionals lead by example, introducing sustainable practices within their own department first and championing those efforts each day. The strategy behind a company’s approach to CSR starts with HR, and it needs to be embedded into all avenues of people operations. From recruiting top talent, to implementing benefit plans, perks, and training, HR professionals can choose to view each element of their role from the lens of sustainability.

Have a question or comment you would like to share? Please reach out and let me know. (opens in a new window)

About Kim Sidders

As Human Resources Generalist for Bolton & Company’s Strategic People Team, Kim Sidders handles the core Human Resources activities related to staffing, leaves of absence, employee relations, benefits and compensation, compliance, and organizational development. Kim is fueled by a personal mission to serve an organization by serving it's individuals and she is focused on ways to develop and strengthen internal initiatives that empower employees to thrive. She is also the Vice Chairman and co-founder of Bolton’s philanthropic arm, The Bolton Foundation.

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