What do you – as a leader – need to be good at, in order to really drive your sustainability or CSR agenda?
That’s the question a colleague and I have been pondering as we draft an academic article about the competencies that an organization and its leaders need to properly embed a CSR /Sustainability agenda for the long-term. The hospitality company we studied has over 50,000 employees and locations all around the world.
The conclusions in our article are primarily based upon interviews with a global hospitality company’s chief CSR officer. The amazing thing is that the Chief CSR officer has a staff of less than five people. Yet, over a relatively short time, the program evolved from an environmentally-focused sustainability program into an award-winning, fully integrated corporate social responsibility effort operating around the world.
Based upon our research, and the research of others, we have concluded that there are five competencies that are highly valuable as an organization embeds and sustains a corporate social responsibility and sustainability program.
- Fierce Resolve – One of the most important things senior leaders can do is outwardly demonstrate a fierce resolve to create an aligned, corporate wide CSR program. Further, as long as this fierce resolve is demonstrated, organizations can engage quickly and without a major commitment of resources to create the CSR program.
- Commitment to a Bold Mission – Senior management must be both bold and audacious when envisioning and operationalizing the CSR agenda. The focus on action must be apparent to the organization as a whole.
- Vigorous Stakeholder Engagement – Usually, the path forward is not obvious. Engaging with stakeholders allows for innovation and co-creation of the new CSR platform. In addition, the world in which we operate is extremely complex. Dialogue with stakeholders allows for a whole system perspective in addressing such complexity.
- Shared Leadership at Every Level – Employees throughout the organization usually willingly accept leadership responsibilities in a variety of ways. An example might be serving as leaders on green teams. Employees should be expected to recruit additional people, encourage participation in training, develop ideas, and implement ideas in their respective areas of the company.
- A Culture of Learning and Innovation – Creating a culture of learning and innovation relies in part on organizational collaboration. The CSR platform roll-out should be rich with examples of organizational collaboration. The high level of organizational collaboration supports a culture of learning. Organizational collaboration allows stakeholders to share experiences and expectations with the aim of developing better relationships, responding to various pressures for sustainable development, and balancing tradeoffs (local and regional, political interest, organizational interests) inherent in the ideological foundations of sustainable development context.
Organizational competencies exist across a company and support the execution of any organizational initiative. In a CSR platform, the organization as a whole must perform and move, if not synchronously, at least in an aligned manner. Otherwise, the CSR platform will fall short of its mission.
Finally, perhaps the real lesson is that sometimes a leader with fierce resolve can be far more important than abundant resources. Remember that the senior leader had a staff of only five people, yet has changed her organization and made an impact on the world.