How CSR Managers Can Inspire Other Leaders to Act on Sustainability

Many companies care about corporate social responsibility (CSR). But putting it into practice requires more than CEO speeches and company policies; managers and employees have to be on board, so that initiatives can be implemented and momentum for CSR can be sustained. Our research found that CSR managers are critical change agents in this regard – but their role needs to be recognized and strengthened if firms want to become leaders in sustainability.

In 2013 we interviewed a cross-sectional sample of 54 CSR managers in German multinational corporations. The sample included companies such as Bayer, BMW and SAP, and we typically spoke with the Head of CSR in each company. We wanted to know what their goals and biggest challenges were, and what strategies they found most effective for pitching organizational change. Although these original insights date back several years, recent discussions and presentations to practitioners convinced us that they are still highly relevant. Despite the undeniable progress made with respect to CSR, creating momentum for sustainability and social change still remains a major challenge that requires further examination.

We identified four tactics the managers found to be most effective at mobilizing others:

  1. Build a network of internal allies
  2. Make sustainability resonate
  3. Identify adequate incentives
  4. Use external and internal benchmarking.

Authors: Christopher Wickert, associate professor in ethics & sustainability at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Frank G.A. de Bakker, Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility at IÉSEG School of Management (Lille, France) and a member of Lille Economics Management (LEM-CNRS 9921)

Read the full article in Harvard Business Review


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