What aren’t we doing (as CSR and sustainability practitioners) to help connect emerging leaders with our profession?
By James Temple
Lately I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who are interested in building a career in the corporate responsibility field: as many as 20+ inquiries each week from networks, social media, website inquiries, cold calls – the list goes on.
Most are looking to build a career with purpose and new ways to highlight how their professional contributions are helping to address society’s challenges.
This is encouraging, and as a member of this sector, I am heartened to see others wanting to head down this path. However, this growing interest led me to a ‘eureka’ moment a few weeks back, and I asked myself an important question: what aren’t we doing (as practitioners) to help connect emerging leaders with our profession?
What I’ve heard is that few forums exist to connect emerging leaders with opportunities in our field. There are not many platforms available to them to ask open and honest questions in a safe environment. Other confessions include a feeling that one must ‘break into’ the CSR space and that CSR is a highly technical field based on methodologies, terminology, and processes.
Then there is a perception that CSR is a job title, not a mindset.
Setting The Stage For Emerging Leadership
Last week, I hosted a series of webinars with PwC Canada that addressed these issues and aimed to help people think differently about our field. The webinars highlighted current information about the profession and included panel discussions with practitioners and employees who are seen by many as agents of change.
Here’s a snapshot of what was shared:
1. It’s better to get your foot in the door and connect-the-dots between where you are today and the path to a CSR related role
The Boston College Centre for Corporate Citizenship's 2013 Profile of the Profession reinforced our panelist’s observations: over half of CSR practitioners are hired from the organizations within which they already work.
The webinar participants also recommended focusing on getting your foot in the door with an organization that shares your values and offers you a diverse array or professional development experiences to hone your skills. Be open to taking on a role that matches your immediate qualifications but allows you to integrate a CSR mindset into your day-to-day work.
Probabilities suggest you won’t have the CSR job title right off the bat.
But you can showcase your fit for the role by demonstrating a connection of the dots between your current position and a CSR focus. Also, you may be well served by articulating the process you used to inspire others to think differently about issues relevant to your organization’s stakeholder groups.
2. Focus your time on developing technical competencies and leadership capabilities
Our panelists also recommended selecting one area within the CSR space to focus your time. Make it a priority to build deep subject matter expertise in one area to help make your mark. It’s a lot easier to start from a place of specialized strength in the environmental, social or governance arena before you try and skate on the top layer and be all things to all people.
It’s also important to remember that the issues that are material to your organization’s stakeholders will guide how a CSR portfolio is developed, implemented and reported on year over year. The skills required to implement a CSR strategy will also vary depending on the unique regulatory environment, geography, industry group, size or scope of your organization’s operations.
And remember, while the skills and experience you’ll need to take the lead will transform over time, your ability to lead others through complex situations, using your impact and influence to enhance the effectiveness of decision making processes and behaviours over time, will remain constant.
3. Find the right balance between passion, personality and professional contributions
Embracing humility and positioning yourself as a guide to others throughout the CSR journey are themes that resonated with the panel and for those in the room with me. All of the practitioners we spoke with understood how their role was supporting the overarching goals of business and society.
They were the pinnacles of shared value (and values!). There were no egos, or ‘right’ answers. There were different perspectives to help people build knowledge. This observation is a critical component to success, and you’ve got to find the right balance between your passion for CSR, your personality, and how your professional contributions address the business issue rather than the personal gain.
Finally, a golden rule: not every corporate responsibility role has those words in its job title. And that's okay. It’s about the way in which you do your work and lead others – a fundamental component of great leadership in any field.