Think You're Being Socially Responsible? Think Again

Lots of companies get social responsibility wrong. Here are three ways to be more socially responsible and blunders to avoid.

What does it mean to be socially responsible? No matter how big or small your organization may be, it’s an important question to ask yourself. While many think of community relations or environmental efforts as ways to be socially responsible, those may not be enough.

Businesses around the world are clearly aware of the need for corporate social responsibility, or CSR. In fact, more than 8,000 organizations have signed the United Nations Global Compact pledging to show good global citizenship in the areas of human rights, labor standards, and environmental protection.

But the motives for participating in CSR are not always for the greater good. Some organizations do it for the free PR. Many want what they see as the “gotcha media” off their backs. Still, others participate because 77% of customers say it’s important to them. Translation: Efforts may not always originate from an authentic or internal place.

Perhaps this is why many organizations do good now, yet fall off the wagon soon enough. A study by the London Business School and the University of California, Riverside found that, after engaging in socially responsible behaviors, companies are more likely to act unethically in the future because corporate leaders feel they've accumulated "moral credits" by doing good deeds.

Companies shouldn’t be socially responsible for others. They need to be socially responsible for themselves. True social responsibility--the kind that’s authentic and done because a company actually cares--can't happen if not everyone on the inside is involved. Action reflects efforts. If the effort isn't there, sustainable social responsibility will be hard to find.

While the path to social responsibility isn't an overnight one, getting everyone on board can have a major impact on your organization. Here are three simple ways to pay it forward from the ground up:

1. Make it a community effort.

You need to encourage all employees to get involved in socially responsible initiatives given how little direction CSR has these days, as studies show. This starts with promoting the idea of a corporation as a single entity, not as various departments.

When you’re promoting the idea of a corporation as an entity, triumphs and failures becomes each person’s duty. Collected efforts, whether contributing to brainstorming meetings or revamping CSR tactics, will bring your employees together.

Start by reviewing the mission, values, and goals of your organization. Then, ask each employee how they would apply these company cornerstones toward social responsibility. While they may suggest the same environmental or community relations efforts, getting each person involved creates camaraderie, engagement, and a collective energy in your company.

2. Offer educational opportunities.

Professional development opportunities are the key to moving your organization forward. While you may not have a department dedicated to social responsibility, you can give each employee the tools to create and implement strategies.

There are many certification courses, conferences, symposiums, and other CSR-related programs that can boost the knowledge of your team (check out this list for lots of great options). Plus, there are choices for any budget, from free webinars to summits overseas. Giving your employees educational opportunities--particularly having to do with social responsibility--can help create better ideas and follow-through in the future.

3. Create charity rewards and bonuses.

Social responsibility is probably not on the daily task list for your employees. Often, they need motivation, perhaps in the form of an incentive to help them. Rewards and charity bonuses can help you create that push.

Here’s how you can do it: Create a team-based rewards system around performance. The more teams get involved in a given project, the larger the charity reward becomes.

For example, you can introduce rewards into your employee referral program so that employees who bring in a certain number of referrals receive a charity donation in their name. Research shows that referral programs are the best way to retain and hire better quality employees with the lowest cost and time per hire. Though employees are not recruiters, playing a part in hiring top-tier talent builds team morale and can teach them firsthand about social responsibility. Plus, when the right charity incentive is offered, it can create healthy competition and increase participation.

Pick the charity reward that fits your budget and team needs. For example, my company has contributed to the Philippines relief fund based on the charity efforts of our team. Employees receive bonuses and rewards by volunteering in community relations efforts.

True social responsibility starts from the ground up. When you want to improve your processes, try looking at it from an overarching perspective. The solution to better social responsibility may not be as obvious as you thought. Donating to causes or participating in small community relations efforts aren't sustainable in the long-run. But by paying it forward internally, external social responsibility won’t be as big a mountain to climb.

--Andrew Higashi is the Director of Strategic Accounts at RolePoint, a recruitment platform where the pipeline is driven by high-quality employee referrals. Connect with him and RolePoint on LinkedIn and Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user timquijano]

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