Beyond A Buzzword: How to Do CSR Right

Lain Hensley

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a management concept which strives to ensure that companies conduct their business in an ethical and responsible manner. Although once considered a strictly voluntary business strategy, over the past few decades CSR has come to be a mandatory policy at hundreds of organizations worldwide.

Hugely successful companies such as Ben & Jerry’s have made it their primary focus, while others, to a lesser extent, integrate some form of CSR into their business model. So how does a company develop a CSR program with real substance; a strategy and approach that will resonate with employees, especially millennials, for years to come?

The ultimate goal should be to connect participants to each other in a meaningful way which also produces meaningful work. However, this is easier said than done. As anyone who has worked anywhere for an extended amount of time knows, connections to core values at the workplace oftentimes get muddled by routine office politics and everyday minutia. Establishing an enduring and effective CSR initiative isn’t easy and can’t be done remotely – you’ll need to get your team together in the same place for an extended period of time, preferably under the guidance of a professional team-building organization.

Now that you’re aware of the initial challenges, if you're fully committed to implementing a CSR program that will withstand the test of time, here are three keys that will help lay the foundation:

Knock them alive

Once your team is together, relaxed and focused, they need to be given something to think about, something to do and then something to feel. More importantly, a connection must be established between that feeling and the business of giving, whether that’s through philanthropy, a new company initiative or by giving a better product to your customers. When you do that, you get down to the humanity of people.

A reputable team building company will facilitate the creation of these structured experiences for your team, allowing every individual to then reset and apply those lessons in a real time situation. Companies such as Odyssey Teams use philanthropy as that awakening tool.

Making the connection

Integrating a philanthropic element into these workshops reconnects employees with the fact that what they do, regardless of the industry, positively impacts people. Sales, for example, is simply bringing something valuable to people with a need. When done correctly, these sessions can illustrate the power of a collaborative effort which ultimately changes lives, weaving the experience into the lessons of the week, month or year.

According to Hensley, every company is in the business of giving when you really filter it down. If companies can always think about what they are giving their customers, clients, patients or community, then that inspires people. And an inspired worker is a better worker.  

It has to mean something

Once they realize how your company helps others, employees – especially millennials – need to find meaning in what they do on an individual level. This can only be achieved if companies truly focus on employee fulfillment. Beyond salaries and location, employees will eventually ask themselves how they feel at the end of the day and whether or not they are contributing to making the world a better place. People need, more than anything, to feel a sense of purpose. Purpose is the spark that ignites the fuel of work and life.

Like anything worthwhile, implementing a robust CSR policy at your business takes time, effort and thought. Helping your team rediscover their humanity, opening their eyes to the impact that they have on others and discovering an individual sense of meaning and purpose is crucial to that process. This is the best way to both inspire and motivate people, bringing to life the values of your organization and culture.            

Lain Hensley, president of innovation and delivery, and co-founder of Odyssey Teams, Inc., has helped integrate CSR at hundreds of companies around the world. For the past 20 years Lain has been part of the UCLA MBA “Foundations of Leadership Program” and a featured speaker at TEDx delivering a powerful presentation on “The Power of Disruption.”