the contribution of People Management

Twelve corporate case studies were researched to gain an understanding of the extent and manner in which people management contributed to effective corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

Some people will be cynical about the benefits that CSR brings to an organisation. But all the case studies represent CSR activity that was part of a strategy introduced to address business issues. They were consistent with business objectives and had clear measures of output to demonstrate the impact of the initiative on company performance.

Gaining commitment – from the board, employees, and internal functions that acted in partnership to implement the initiatives – was particularly important to achieving success. All the case studies demonstrated the need for strong and effective people management practices in developing and managing such commitment. It is clear that HR practices play a critical role in embedding CSR activities in the organisation and delivering on the potential business benefit.

Equally relevant was the way CSR initiatives contributed to reputation-building – either as a direct objective or as an indirect output. One factor for success – also strongly related to good people management practice – was ensuring good internal and external communication of the initiative and its results.

An objective of the research was to establish the relevance of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) CSR Competency Framework in supporting a planned approach to CSR. While still in its infancy, the Framework was being used in two of the companies researched, and in all the others there was evidence of the competencies being clearly relevant to the way the projects were executed.

Nearly all the case study companies could be described as being experienced in CSR thinking and practice. Many of the companies had already been through the stages of compliance and reputation-building and were working on the process of embedding their CSR approach as part of building their business performance. This is why the Competency Framework has such a great contribution to make.

An overwhelming conclusion from all the case studies was that CSR became an instrument for change in an organisation's behaviours, attitudes and performance. Many of the case studies included significant elements of change management. And this was where the HR function made its greatest contribution to each initiative's success. HR will often be the function best able to contribute to the effective implementation of the behaviours and attitudes that successful, business-contributing CSR initiatives need. It is very difficult to envisage how CSR initiatives can be truly successful without a strong people management input.

The report shows that HR professionals have many opportunities to be proactive and add significant value across the spectrum of business issues. And for those with responsibility for CSR the message is clear: ignore the people management dimension at your peril.

© CIPD 2005