What ‘Integrated CSR’ Actually Looks Like
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you know that ‘integrated CSR’ is what you need to strive for in order to be successful.
All that talk about ‘the role of a CSR manager is to put themselves out of a job’ is, whilst provocative, somewhat true.
In essence, a company can never be truly responsible if just one small department is responsible for all that responsibility.
Try getting your head around that one.
Anyway, because of all that, great companies know that CSR needs to be somehow embedded into their core DNA.
This isn’t a new idea.
Hundreds of people have said the same thing.
The question therefore, becomes not what is it, but what does it look like?
And as I hope to explain, that subtle change in question makes all the difference.
What Integrated CSR Isn’t
I usually hate it when people start answering a question by telling me what the answer isn’t, instead of what the answer is, but at times like this I think such an approach is useful.
When we think about integrating CSR, I think most of us, whether we admit it or not, think about a relatively simple process.
Not an easy process by any stretch of the imagination, but a simple one.
It goes something like this:
Effectively, we think that if we can just take our beloved CSR concepts, and apply them to the company’s core business activities, things will all turn out okay.
All we need to do is make sure our supply chain teams care about sustainability. Make sure our HR team cares about staff engagement and volunteering. Make sure our finance team cares about tax avoidance.
Sure, this makes a lot of sense in theory, but it actually achieves very little for two key reasons:
1) It just shifts responsibility around
Have you ever started cleaning your house or desk or whatever before suddenly realising that you’re not actually throwing anything away. All you’re doing is putting your mess into slightly neater piles. It might give you a brief glimpse of achievement, but it’s no solution.
This approach to integrated CSR is exactly like that.
By believing that all you need to do to integrate CSR is convince other people of it’s importance, you’re putting the onus on them to act.
At best, it’s naive. At worst, it’s detrimental.
The problem is, other teams and departments will have their own problems, and their own agendas. They’ll rightly ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ when you bring up CSR, and they’ll no doubt quickly dismiss your plans as ‘your job, not theirs’.
At the end of the day, you can’t have your cake and eat it.
It’s perfectly reasonable to try and integrate CSR into your business, it’s very ambitious to expect others to do it for you.
2) It’s mono-directional
The second big problem with this mindset is the direction of information flow.
As the diagram implies, many CSR professionals view integration as the practice of transferring knowledge from CSR to other functions.
They’re absolutely right of course, but that’s only half of the story.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that information should flow both ways.
CSR professionals should listen as much as they talk, and learn as much as they teach.
It’s not just other people’s job to learn about CSR and start caring about it. In fact, it’s arguably more crucial that CSR professionals learn about other business functions, and use that knowledge to create initiatives and projects.
It’s only when information flows both ways that truly integrated CSR becomes possible.
What Integrated CSR Is
So, after keeping you waiting (or not if you’ve just scrolled past the previous section), this is a far better visualisation of integrated CSR.
In this graphic, CSR is more than just the first step of a knowledge transfer, it’s a relationship ‘hub’.
The functions around the outside are merely examples, but they highlight the crucial role that CSR professionals must play when interacting with the company as a whole.
The very nature of their role is about building excellent working relationships, and maintaining those relationships over the long term, opening themselves up to continuous collaboration.
What’s more, CSR teams can also act as the intermediary, connecting departments that need to align towards a particular social or environmental goal.
By viewing your role in these terms, it can help you approach your day to day projects very differently.
Next time you interact with other teams, ask yourself what it is you’re actually doing.
Are you trying to merely teach, or are you trying to connect?
I won’t pretend for one minute that this makes integrating CSR easy. Nor will I claim that this is any sort of step by step guide for how to go about it. Naturally, integrating CSR requires buy-in (usually from senior leaders). It also requires time, lots of hard work, and no doubt a bit of luck along the way.
What I want this article to do then, is allow you to take a step back.
If the underlying philosophy or mindset behind integrated CSR is flawed, then no step by step guide will lead to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
As with many aspects of CSR, overriding philosophies drive success.
If you get that bit right, the specific steps and sequences are less consequential. Sure, some pathways might get you to your goal more quickly, but you’ll be far more likely to stumble across it in someway or another if you persevere.
Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.