Understanding the evolution of the CSR profession in light of the latest report published by the CROA and BCLC
By Stephen Jordan, Executive Director, BCLC
Editor's Note: The CSR profession – if we can call it that – has been the topic of much discussion, strife and research in recent years.
There are the protagonists who say corporate social responsibility and all it entails requires standards, tools, and a defined professional track to be truly embedded in corporate hierarchies. The antagonists – often CSR executives themselves – say CSR is not a skill. It's not something you can teach, box up and present as a credential on your resume.
As Vault's Senior CSR Editor, I was partially responsible for contributing to this ongoing dialogue. I was front and center of the debate roiling among the under employed, the students, the recruiters and the tired career services advisors while a full blown financial crisis raged in the background.
I drove the dialogue resolutely for almost five years, constantly urging students to question recruiters to contextualize what CSR meant to their organization and professionals to use their passion and values to drive change among organizations. I wrote about the value of CSR on a resume, how to pursue a CSR career and interviewed CSR executives about their jobs and advice for aspiring professionals. I also tracked four MBA students who wanted to work in CSR but had completely different viewpoints and expectations of what that meant, to shed a light on the indistinguishable nature of CSR careers.
The role of the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association has been a central theme through these arguments. Its consistent demand for a code of conduct and professional association principles have received some positive support but also fallen on many deaf ears. Or apathetic, as the latest report calls it. Progress to bandy together these CSR executives – who range from Foundation directors to EHS vice presidents and public affairs managers – has been slow for multiple reasons.
Stephen Jordan, founder and executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) believes the debate is shifting from regulatory pressure to increasingly complex externalities. At our most recent Conversations with Stephen, we dissected this report with CROA Founder Richard Crespin on the hot seat. Take a look at the archived video.
Here's Jordan's take on the latest report:
Increasing awareness, activism and regulatory pressure drove the corporate social responsibility profession in the last three decades with compliance being a primary driver. Today, however, the CSR field is a product of the business sector’s increasingly complex external environment.
Several factors have driven the field’s growth, including the need for companies to effectively balance their values, stakeholders, and the social and environmental impact of business practices. Early pioneers in CSR may have felt thrown into the role of actively managing this growing complexity. But as our new research suggests, the rising generation of CSR practitioners, “Generation 2.0” so to speak, is different – they are thinking more in terms of outcomes and increasingly using more sophisticated business tools to evaluate their priorities.
Values, Stakeholders, and Socio/Eco Externalities
Corporate values are a strategic asset, the core of brands and a substantial factor in knitting employees together into cohesive teams. Values help to safeguard companies against scandals, provide a sense of common purpose among employees, and frame how companies approach complex problems. But managing corporate values has inherent difficulties.
Despite codes of conduct, vision and mission statements, team-building retreats, and so forth, it is hard to measure the extent to which employees buy into and abide by a company’s values and codes of conduct. And in the era of globalization, a multinational company’s global values must acclimate to local customs and cultures. The management of social capital, values, and governance is therefore becoming an important sub-discipline with its own set of specialists and tools.
Conflicting Pressures for CSR Professionals
The increase in stakeholder expectations also consumes a CSR professional’s attention. For example, the rise of civil society organizations and special interest groups, both in the United States and abroad, has been spectacular, growing almost five-fold in 30 years. The rise of the Internet and social media and the general level of increased connectivity have empowered individuals like never before. Good stakeholder relationship management is tied to reputation, risk, market development, and customer and employee satisfaction, and has therefore increased in value in the eyes of many companies.
Similarly, “built-to-last” companies know that their external social and environmental conditions have a huge impact on their ability to operate. A community’s configuration – including its schools, health care system, transit, housing, arts, culture, environment, and more – can significantly affect competitiveness and productivity. These externalities require careful attention and understanding.
None of these are simple issues. Handled well, effective CSR involvement in these issues contributes to business success. Handled badly – or not at all – companies might find themselves exposed to huge risks.
The Path Forward: The CSR Profession
The evolving state of CSR – both the field itself and the professionals who drive CSR at the company level – is one of the reasons the U.S. Chamber BCLC took on a recent analysis of the profession. In partnership with the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association (CROA), this week BCLC released a breakthrough report called The State of the Corporate Responsibility Profession.
One of our findings – among nine significant conclusions – is that the characteristics that define a mature profession, such as an educational curriculum and a career pipeline, are still missing in the CSR space.
If we can prioritize the issues facing the field and its professionals, then we can create better systems, tools, and techniques that make it easier to attain business success through CSR.
No single individual, organization, or report has all the answers. Rather, a body of CSR stakeholders will need to build a consensus about what needs to be done.
Begin by reading this new report and giving us feedback to help move this field forward.
About Stephen Jordan
Stephen Jordan is the founder and executive director of the Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC), the corporate citizenship affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He leads BCLC's engagement with a broad spectrum of companies, chambers of commerce, government agencies, and non-profit organizations in the United States and overseas. Stephen holds an M.B.A. from Georgetown University and an M.A. in Political and Social Thought from the University of Virginia, with accompanying academic honors from both institutions. He is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, the business honor society.