Building a CR Committed Business: Elements of Performance Culture

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By Sanjay Dawar, Vishvesh Prabhakar and Raghav Narsalay

We believe CSR opens up a platform for companies to build strategic drivers of long-term growth for themselves and the nation. Towards delivering and deriving optimal value from such opportunities for society and business respectively, companies must establish internal systems and processes for unleashing a passion and commitment to CSR programs throughout the organization. Such a culture further provides the fuel a company needs to keep moving toward its long-term CSR vision and strategy, despite the inevitable challenges and setbacks.

dimensions of CSR
Dimensions of Corporate Social Responsibility Photo: Rusen Kumar

Accenture and FICCI in their research report titled, “Organizing for Success on Corporate Responsibility: The Path to High Performance”, studied CSR as well as corporate responsibility (CR) initiatives of organizations that have: consistently allocated a sizeable portion of economic resources to C(S)R initiatives across economic cycles during the last three years; undertaken a range of social, environmental and people-centric initiatives toward creating holistic and harmonious change benefiting communities as well as business at large; developed a well-defined plan for their future C(S)R actions; and have been awarded for their differentiated and consistent work by recognized agencies.

Deriving insights from the actions taken by these companies, this article discusses actions performance culture relevant to nurturing high performance CSR teams.

1. Drive top leadership commitment: Employees watch and listen to what their leaders say and do. They look for integrity in and alignment between leaders’ comments and behaviors. The most powerful messages come from leaders whose actions demonstrate the company’s commitment to social change. Unlocking social consciousness in employees thus begins with top leadership. Companies and their leadership need to display consistent personal commitment to social good if they expect their employees to make such a commitment, including generating socially beneficial ideas.

Let’s take the example of the Tata Group. Leadership at the Tata Group continues to invest in activities across generations, sending a clear message to employees that being a socially responsible business is valuable for society and business itself. As early as 1892, Jamsetji Tata established the JN Tata Endowment Scheme to provide higher education for deserving Indians. Before the dawn of the 20th century, he had already introduced accident compensation for his textile workers, something unheard of in those days. The leadership at the company has continued this journey.

In 1996, the Group established the Tata Council for Community Initiatives to bring together innovative corporate social responsibility practices in the organization. In 2007, the Tata Affirmative Action Programme was set up to identify unique ways to “address the prevailing social inequities in India by encouraging positive discrimination” for historically disadvantaged communities “without sacrificing merit or quality.” Leveraging a more than century old spirit of individual volunteering within the Group, Tata Engage was formulated to inspire and facilitate collective volunteering initiatives across Group companies.

2. Institutionalize Effective CSR coaching: Without effective CSR coaching, teams or sometimes even senior executives, especially in organizations with no-prior CSR experience, may unwittingly reach out to organizations whose energy, managerial attention and other resources are already exhausted. Such partners will not be in a position to deliver sufficient value. In addition, without coaching, senior leaders, leading CSR teams, who are feeling pressured to deliver a quick CSR impact may launch short-term CSR activities without developing a plan first. As a result, their CSR initiatives will be short lived and less impactful. Organizations with nascent CSR operations that want to scale their initiatives will need to coach their CSR teams to leverage the ecosystem to minimize risks and maximize impact. To do so, such companies can approach high performers working in areas of similar interest and request coaching from their CSR teams.

3. Design consistent and compassionate impact measurement methods: CSR initiatives create tangible (quantitative) as well as intangible (qualitative) impacts. To measure the tangible impacts of a program, companies must develop a consistent set of indicators that all major stakeholders can understand measure and verify. In addition, these indicators should measure impact, not output. For example, in a CSR project aimed at reviving forests, it is important to measure how many of the saplings a company planted grew enough to provide the desired cover. That number matters much more than the number of saplings planted.

To measure intangible impacts—such as beneficiaries’ perceptions of the quality of their lives or their sense of personal safety—CSR teams will have to be able to hear and document the unspoken. They will need to master scientific methods to gather qualitative data and complement them with impromptu data gathering skills. To systematically capture as much qualitative data as possible, teams can create templates and use web-based tools to gather and record their findings on mobile platforms. They can then transmit their impressions to the main server and use analytics to draw relevant insights from the qualitative data.

In case of high performers, many a times, the C-suite and sometimes even the board closely monitor the impact of their company’s CR initiatives. At Great Eastern Energy Corporation Ltd, for example, the team is required to share a report on its CSR work with the CEO after every CSR activity. Often, the CEO responds with detailed observations and recommendations on how performance against certain indicators can be improved.

4. Invest in recognition and communication: Employee engagement is critical to the success of CSR efforts. Their day-to-day commitment to CSR initiatives, decisions and actions channel their company’s collective intelligence and resources toward realizing the CSR vision. The right recognition and communication systems can keep employee engagement levels high. Recognition initiatives enable companies to systematically identify and reward employees for outstanding examples of socially responsible behaviors and practices. In recognizing CR champions, companies must take a big step toward putting CR on par with other core functions in the organization in terms of perceived importance. Recognition also helps ensure that employees who work in CSR program do not feel “dumped” into a sidelined effort, compared to coworkers in revenue generating functions. By sending the message that CR matters, companies can attract top talent from many different places in the organization to lead or support CR initiatives.

It’s time companies understand the opportunities CSR programs can unfold for them to build long–term strategic business growth drivers. To optimally leverage CSR initiatives towards building the workforce, leadership and innovation teams of the future, companies will need to transform themselves. While crafting a strategy and building desired capabilities will be an integral part of the transformational journey, the key focus must be on knitting the performance culture within their organizational fabric. Only then will be in a position to create passionate teams willing to embrace and deliver change.

[Article is co-authored by  Sanjay Dawar, Managing Director and lead for Accenture Strategy in India, Vishvesh Prabhakar, Managing Director, Sustainability, Accenture in India and Raghav Narsalay, Managing Director with the Accenture Institute for High Performance.]

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