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Corporate Social Responsibility: a Priority or a Value?

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by Anna Scott, Higher Human Factors Consultant and Karl Rich, Director of Marine Human Engineering Services.




Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) should be like a stick of rock, in that it should run right the way through the organisation, at every level, with no alterations or aberrations. Yet how do we manage this when there are so many other worthy causes, (such as safety, profitability, environmental protection etc.) clamouring to be the priority for our attention and our resources?

The danger in viewing CSR as a priority is that priorities are constantly being re-evaluated and traded off against each other, either to optimise performance or to address a particular concern. Priorities are rarely absolute and when they are, the law of unintended consequences often kicks in resulting in conflicting key performance indicators (KPI), undesirable behaviours, or the massaging of statistics. If an organisation is viewed as a person, then priorities are like emotions such as fear, anger or happiness; these change with circumstance and they can change quickly. However, values are more like “traits” such as extroversion and are relatively stable and constant in most circumstances. We propose that CSR should be seen as a value, which can be held constant and used to guide decision making in all aspects of the business.

Corporate values have become part of the fabric of a management system and commonly include aspects of ethical behaviour, commitment to customers, commitment to employees, teamwork and trust, etc. The questions are: Can you name your corporate values? Do you seek to apply these daily? Would your working life be made better if your organisation’s values were reinforced?

The benefit of corporate values — and, specifically, defining CSR as a value — is that it simplifies and accelerates decision making. It can provide competitive differentiation, help to meet public demand for organisational integrity and sustain long-term thinking by providing continuity and protection against what can become ‘initiative overload’.

By living and breathing CSR as a value, we can improve talent recruitment and retention as we attract and retain talented people who identify with our values. Belief in CSR as a value strengthens peer responsibility for keeping one another aligned; it also encourages self-guidance and self-policing.  These reduce the need for rules, both internally and externally (creeping regulation), making people feel free and autonomous (goal-driven, rather than procedure-driven).

So how do we do it? Commitment from the top down and at every level of the business is important. Is everyone fully committed to CSR? If not, why not?

It is important to understand the barriers and obstacles to internalisation, especially in an industry where it is sometimes accepted that “the further you are from the bridge, the easier it is to drive the ship”. Organisations need to ensure that their standards, structure and systems support implementation at a practical level.

External agencies are available to accurately diagnose and assist in the required culture changes which will benefit every level of the organisation. Where these ‘human factors’ specialists do not exist internally, there are a number of specialists who can help you to improve your organisation by claiming CSR as a pertinent value of your operations.

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