Authentic Leadership is Important to CSR and Tips to Achieve Buy-In

Recently, I participated on a webinar for Good Done Great where the subject was the importance of CSR. We shared some ideas to excite and motivate employees to achieve greater participation. At the end of the presentation, one of the attendees asked, “How do I get my leadership to buy-in to our CSR strategies?” I was somewhat startled by the question because my first reaction was how you can have a CSR program without leadership support, but as I was collecting my thoughts, I could tell the person was serious and was sincerely looking for help.

Hopefully, most of you are part of the fortunate group that has the full support of leadership but for that person on the webinar and to any others that are struggling to get leadership support, I’d like to offer some general insights followed by five tips to help you achieve buy-in from your company leadership.

Leadership Involvement is Critical

It is critical that leadership is committed and involved. Without leadership support, employee engagement programs are likely to lack authenticity and will fail. Employees are keenly aware if leadership at all levels is authentically involved or not. It’s not enough to say giving of time, money, and skills is important.

How does leadership demonstrate their buy-in and support? I suggest there are at least four ways leadership will show they are engaged.

Makes it part of the cultureemployee engagement is woven into the fabric of a corporation’s identity. All levels of management will understand that support for CSR and employee engagement is a priority and is valued by the company. There is a recognition that CSR and employee engagement contributes to the bottom line of the company.

Provides the necessary tools and resources – buy-in means the company will provide the tools and resources to ensure an effective and vibrant employee engagement program. 

Engages personally – their involvement includes but goes beyond merely endorsing the programs but they will ‘walk the walk’ and will show up at company sponsored volunteer events and be visible and active in the giving program. Their example will demonstrate to employees that it is okay to be actively engaged.

Supports employees when they want to engage – if at all possible, managers will be supportive of employees asking for time to volunteer and work on the giving campaign. Employees will be encouraged to participate in company-sponsored volunteer events and to take advantage of other engagement programs such as Release Time to Volunteer, Dollars for Doers, and others.

Leadership and CSR

Now for the tips. Here are some things you can do to ensure your leadership is supportive of your programs.

Tip #1 – Ask your leadership what is important to them.

The first step in obtaining leadership buy-in is to understand what is important to them. How can you expect them to support you or give your programs their attention if you don’t understand their goals and objectives and what they hope to achieve? Take time to meet with them to discuss what they want the company to be known for and to seek their personal commitment.

At the same time that you are asking senior leaders what is important to them, you can educate them as to the importance of CSR. Employees expect it and future employees will look to see how the company is demonstrating effective business practices.

There is a plethora of data that talks about the importance of CSR. For example, the Cone Communications 2016 Employee Engagement Study found that:

  • 58% of potential employees consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work.
  • 55% would choose to work for a socially responsibility company, even if the salary was less.
  • 71% want their company to provide opportunities for them to help make a positive impact on the company’s social and environmental commitments.

Tip #2 – Do an audit of your existing programs

In order to achieve buy-in, do an audit of your programs and make sure they are supporting the company’s goals and objectives and contain the elements that are of most value to leadership.

Snapshot 2015, a report released by America’s Charities identified six engagement elements that are most important to corporate leadership. They are:

1. Providing year-round giving

2. Support for employees to serve as board members with nonprofit organizations

3. Ability to measure ROI

4. Ability for employees to choose the causes/charities they give to

5. Connecting employees with corporate signature programs

6. Opportunities for employees to connect with their peers around causes

7. External recognition/promotion of engaged employees to the media and/or the public

Are you offering these programs to your employees? If not, perhaps you should start now. It will help obtain support from both management and the employees. Your programs will be stronger.

Tip #3 – Let your engagement programs tell a story both internally and externally about what you are doing to make a difference.

Leadership and CSRI was doing an interview recently and the person said, our company has historically shied away from seeking recognition for the good they do in the community. I hear that a lot. This person went on to admit that this is no longer the case. She noted that their leadership now understands that it is important to tell their story.  There are several ways to tell the story, but one of the most common is to publish an annual CSR report. One study found that 93% of the world’s largest companies now publish an annual CSR report.

Additionally, communicate internally with employees. Share results and more importantly the impact of your financial contributions and the involvement of employees in giving and volunteer programs. Be able to document how you are making a difference in your community.

Tip #4 – Let employees be your program champions.

The greatest champions for your programs are the employees, and they are already talking about you online. According to one recent study, 50 percent of employees post messages, pictures, or videos in social medial about their employer.

Provide them with the tools, resources, and the story so that they can use social media to share their photos, videos, and experiences. They will tell your story for you. According to the Cone Communications Engagement Study, 48% of employees would use designated company hashtags to share their own experiences.

Storytelling is impactful and employees will tell the stories of your programs. When leadership sees the power of employees to influence the brand and reputation, they will not only want to support them but encourage them to do even more.

Tip #5 – Talk their language – Show impact and demonstrate ROI

Finally, be able to demonstrate with metrics how your CSR and employee engagement programs are having an impact. Just like any business department, CSR has to justify its budgets on outcomes and ROI. Any successful CSR program must produce positive returns.

Project ROI, a report published in 2015 by IO Sustainability and Babson College and sponsored by Verizon and Campbell Soup Company, provides hard evidence of the financial and business returns of CSR investments.

On the HR front, the numbers are impressive: CSR programs can increase productivity up to 13 percent and reduce employee turnover by up to 50 percent.

Good corporate citizenship is one of the most important factors affecting the success of business today. Corporations are increasingly expected to give back to the community and demonstrate the impact of their charitable giving to key stakeholders.

I’m confident that when you use these 5 tips, your CEO will get on board and see the value of strong programs. I’m sure you will be amazed at what can be accomplished when the leadership buys-in and gets involved themselves.

We’re in a great business and the opportunities for making a difference are great. Work with the CEO and other senior leaders in authentically engaging in the community and with employees. The ROI is there.