Top Tip – Hire the best HR Director you can find


I still remember my first solo meeting as a CSR Professional with all the Executives of a company to talk about CSR. Present were the CEO, CFO, COO, Commercial Director, Director of Public Relations and Director of Human Resources. I was a bit nervous, but well prepared. I went through a fairly straightforward presentation on CSR, including a framework for understanding CSR. Things seemed to be going well. They were asking questions about the framework and lots of discussion of case studies I had prepared.

For the company I was presenting to (in professional financial services) much of the connection to CSR was in relation to its employees and keeping them engaged. I was happy there were lots of nods from the HR Director, and lots of agreement about the connections between CSR and HR.

Walk out of the meeting. All smiles. Me feeling pretty damn happy with self about what a good job I had done. Until the HR Director accosted me in the corridor. [Cue barrage of questions and rapid evacuation of pleasant grin from face.]

Why are we even talking about it – we are already doing all this stuff. This CSR stuff is just what we are doing anyway. 

Oh, is it?

Yes, we have a discrimination policy, one of the best health and safety records, gym memberships for some of our staff.

Are you surveying your employees about how much they value working for your company?

No, but we will sometime soon.

Are you asking what parts of the CSR agenda they value?


Are you joining the way the company cares for its employees to the way the company cares for the environment?


Community volunteering?


Do you compare the staff performance of those who engage in some of your CSR activity to the performance of those who don’t?



Looking back I was naive to interpret the HR Director’s nods and agreement as being related to the importance of CSR. I think ultimately they had wanted expectations of their role to be quite low, so it was easy for them to achieve high. I think that I helped manage expectations from the rest of the Exec team quite a bit higher than they had been before the meeting. In some ways I don’t feel bad about that. I think that getting the connection to HR correct is one of the best things a company can do to drive engagement with CSR. And there are many metrics that sensibly sit with HR in terms of managing for CSR performance.

But having said that, I have some sympathy for the HR Director. They usually don’t get paid as much as others who sit at the same level as them in the business, which often means the roles aren’t especially valued by the rest of the Exec (probably true in the above example). Or HR more broadly is seen as a hygiene factor as oppose to a value driver. In any case, I’ve never heard of an HR Director who had too many resources – they are often very lean-running units who are asked to act more like fire-fighters than like the value-creators that I’m sure many of them long to be.

All of which makes me think that a truly brilliant HR Director, who ‘gets’ CSR, is one of the most crucial appointments any company could make if they are trying to embed CSR. A truly great HR Director will form relationships across the business and really try to manage the ‘soft’ metrics, not merely manage for hard performance. And what I mean by soft metrics is the culture of people within the business, which is often not what HR Directors are actually asked to manage. They are often asked to manage hard processes and numbers. In order to have a CSR culture, there are some fairly obvious hygiene factors to get right in relation to HR. But there are many not so obvious things to tweak in order to support a culture of CSR. The real subtleties are found when you look at which metrics are being managed. Of course an HR Director is interested in the issue of Employee Engagement. The real issue is, how are the Employee Engagement surveys being used to change culture and make people happier? Too many HR Directors can be tempted into changing questions in such tools as a way to avoid hearing difficult news.

I like Elaine Cohen’s approach to CSR for HR – for me she gets the subtle nuances between doing CSR as a tick-box exercise and doing it for deeply strategic, culture creation reasons.

I don’t get commission and I don’t have a discount code, but I think her book ought be compulsory reading for anyone who is serious about integrating CSR into their business.


Elaine has posted a video of one of her conference sessions on her blog, titled Why HR Managers don’t do It. It is really interesting viewing, if a bit cut-off.

GreenBiz also wrote about her, and the role of HR, last week – Real Friction between Human Resources and CSR – and I broadly agree with their conclusions. But they didn’t take the important step of trying to link culture to competency, an exercise that I have had something to do with as part of the team of researchers of BITC’s CR Practitioner Competency Map. I think understanding that CSR requires a different set of competencies, skills and behaviours to other roles is an important beginning step to understanding how HR can support the integration of CSR into any corporate culture. It’s not clear that CSR will last in the long term as a formal and recognised profession (although strangely, the US-based Corporate Responsibility Officers Association don’t think so in their report The State of the Corporate Responsibility Profession) but there seems to be enough for people who have CSR in their role to do for the foreseeable future. For those tasked with finding a CSR-minded HR Director, you could do a lot worse than to take a peak at Elaine’s HR Job Description for CSR.

In retrospect, I would have handled the above conversation a little differently. I probably  would want to highlight how CSR can make an HR Director’s job quite a bit more effective. I would certainly want to talk to them about how tricky it is to manage an organisation’s culture. I would definitely send them to Coro Strandberg‘s checklist on CSR and HR, which looks almost as fresh now as when it was written in 2009. I would also want to empathise about how difficult their role is and how much they need to know about their business in order to do their role well – I’d suggest more than most.

My top five tips for an HR Director are probably:

1. Know who your potential employees are, and what they care about.

2. Measure and manage for Employee Satisfaction (Engagement).

3. Train key staff on CSR as soon as possible and train as many of them as possible.

4. Get very friendly with the external comms team (and internal comms if it isn’t HR).

5. Get CSR competencies into Senior Management’s job descriptions, and make it part of their formal review process (and that way it will cascade down to everyone else!)

As to my advice to anyone wanting to improve their CSR performance?

Hire the best HR Director you can find.


ADDENDUM: 2 Degrees encourages HR practitioner to avoid missing the CSR bus.

Really interesting report from SHRM, BSR and Aurosoorya: Advancing Sustinability: HR’s Role



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