Note: The next 2 articles are a sequel to the 9th force described in my previous post “10 forces changing our workplace: Society” post.
During the last days, I’ve been collecting smart ideas for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs.
Over the dozens of articles and newspaper clips I’ve read, I found some interesting and sound approaches. At the same rate, they were overly rational. It’s as if “do good” is not enough, we must envelop humanistic initiatives into arguments about bottom line growth, Gen Y consumer attraction, market economic development, talent attraction, employee engagement, and asset protection from unstable governments. Although I could write several articles on each one of these arguments, I’ve thought it would be better to go back to a basic question: Are corporations people?
1) CSR reminds companies where they came from
In the midst of this rational avalanche, one HBR article by John G. Taft stood out: “Yes, corporations are people”. Behind this apparently naïve tautology lies a powerful reframing: behind every secular global corporation hides the story of an entrepreneur, an innovator and a believer, someone that rejected the limitations of his time to build something new for him and his community.
Taft argues that the ultimate role of every organization is the same of the average human being: to leave a legacy and a better world, not just generate profit. Like every human, in order to thrive in health, an organization must see itself as a member of a community, consider the impact of its actions on others and formulate its mission in terms of serving others.
The problem with this reframing is that, with time and growth, corporations tend forget its own story and values to turn into this allegedly dehumanized entity. At this point, Corporate Social Responsibility becomes essential to remind them of their origins!
2) CSR drives every employee to action and transforms the external and internal landscape
Reading the outraged comments to the article and the rants about the “evilness of corporations”, I became aware of the reverse of the coin: “people are corporations” too. Like it or not, each and every worker in a corporation holds differing degrees of responsibility over the direction their corporation takes.
The problem is that in today’s business world everyone feels like a victim and no accountable individual can be found: from the line worker all the way to the CEO. So the only solution is to create this fictional evil entity, capable of relieving us from our responsibilities. In reality, every day in our hustled routine, each and everyone of us replaces customers for numbers, employees for costs, and colleague’s relations for performance blindness (a 0.01% yearly bonus surplus counting more than the distress of the colleague sitting next to us). And believe me, I’ve been there!
Moreover, in global corporations, there’s a unison helpless speech: “I can’t do anything about it, I’m not here by choice”. What a BS! Everyone, no exception, has made a series of choices in their lives to arrive there and has an infinite amount of choices ahead of them. If you’re unhappy, there’s a world outside big corporations and plenty of people are (increasingly) living in it, while paying their mortgages.
To counter this learned helplessness, Corporation Social Responsibility programs leveraged internally allow employees to have immediate impact and establish a direct connection between the work they do and the community they serve, providing a deeper meaning to their activity.
An interesting side benefit of CSR participation is that it defocalizes the mind from the busyness of work and performance blindness, thus increasing employee personal alignment, improving work relations around him and transforming the organizational landscape (when a sufficient amount of employees participate).
I have a fundamental belief that most people are good and that they urge to make a positive difference in the world. As Generation Y holds a more prominent place in business and society, CSR programs shift from the realm of “nice to have” to “must have”, and this is a natural and sane evolution. In a recent study by Net Impact, we’re able to uncover how central this issue has become:
In my next post, I’ll present 5 innovative ways to shape your current CSR program up. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Do you participate in your company’s CSR program?
If so, how satisfied are you and how does it impact your relationships with colleagues?
If not, which improvements need to be made and what role will you play?