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Meeting the human challenges of a CSR Transformation - a few tips from those who do it (Part 1)
Interview by Marthe Cadart, Sophie Blanchet, Fanny Corman and Michaël Dupuis - April 2023

Transforming a company or a public organization to achieve a CSR ambition means taking up many human challenges: how to align a management committee with a common ambition? How to create a dynamic that will have a ripple effect on the entire organization? How to reorganize or review the governance to position CSR at the right level in the company? How to rely on ambassadors and deal with resistance?

CSR Directors or managers of a project with a CSR impact, all the actors of CSR Transformation are concerned by these challenges, without always knowing how to meet them. IDOYA interviewed 4 of them, in international energy, beauty and home automation groups as well as a public research organisation, on their experience of the human challenges of CSR transformations. In the private or public sector, here is their advice: positioning, organization, governance, skills, ecosystem of actors, inclusiveness, personal style… The many facets they address are covered in two articles, of which this one is the first.


Tip #1: Position CSR well, at the heart of the business and not a “nice person” subject


"CSR is the identification of emerging business issues that must be integrated in a long-term strategy: what will prevent us from carrying out our long-term business in a sustainable way? The first step in making a CSR discourse and vision heard is to distinguish it from donations and philanthropy, for example, and to be credible and clear with technical or business development teams."

"My position was created two years ago when the Management Comittee saw that the environment was becoming a really key subject: stronger regulations, customer expectations, CSR was becoming a differentiating factor. These are very business concerns, and it had to go further than what existed in philanthropy, which was decoupled from business. The Management Committee's intuition was that strategy should be combined with CSR. Overall in CSR, it's over to be the nice guy, the nice guy who says "we have to save the planet, future generations etc." To convince teams internally, we have to talk about business, figures, extrapolate the financial impact of a regulation (today such regulation is 500k€ per year, tomorrow if such and such a hypothesis comes true, that's times seven.) Even if your motivation is to limit global warming to 1.5°C, even if you are driven by your ethical motivation, the challenge is to convince and for that you have to speak the language of the company."


"Our Sustainable Development strategy is old, but the establishment's latest strategic project marked a real turning point: in the consultation around the strategic project in 2020, when the agents had the opportunity to express themselves, it was the question that generated the most debate, interest, proposals, etc. There were 2000 contributions on the subject, it was a nice surprise, with many comments saying that we had to be more ambitious: we have very committed employees, and activists on the subject. It was a strong realization for the management that it was necessary to be very ambitious. At the same time, it is always necessary to make the most committed teams aware of the fact that to move forward, you have to make compromises, you can't be purists, you have to take real life into account. Choosing your battles, prioritizing, being realistic, is also what makes it possible to achieve measurable results in concrete terms."


Tip #2: Surround yourself with the right skills


"For me, one of the most important challenges when I took up my position was to set up the CSR department with the right skills. For my part, I come from the world of research and I had my hat of Human Resources and Sustainable Development DIrector: I did not have a CSR expertise, even if I brought anoverall vision of the organization and a good knowledge of its main issues, as well as a credibility vis-à-vis certain communities of researchers. We completed the team by looking for very strong CSR expertise, and we surrounded ourselves with external experts."


"At the beginning, we had to build our CSR strategy very quickly, we did it a bit in "start-up in a garage" mode with my boss, and we found a consulting firm which was in the same mode because "they were creating their firm, and a firm with great experience in CSR. This combination of the right people and the fact of working directly with the CEO, allowed us to be effective."


Tip #3:  Build governance and create bridges with all functions


"A CSR team has an important coordination role, to consolidate the group's CSR KPIs (Planet and People indicators, for internal and external use); depending on the subject, either I coordinate, or I do and I coordinate. For example, the HR department manages inclusion, gender equality, Health & safety… It's not my job and it's already done, so I focus on coordinating and being able to defend all our KPIs. On the other hand, on other perimeters, I am theoretically legitimate to get involved in everything: I have to prioritize on the one hand, and on the other hand, to make sure that the handovers are done and that the subject is taken on by someone. We must also be careful to spare everyone's desires to have visibility on CSR topics."


"I have a 3-stage CSR governance: the Executive Committee, with two sessions 100% dedicated to CSR, to challenge, make decisions, mobilize; 1h30 with the ExCom and their N-1; the animation of the community. Among the ExCom members and their N-1s, I also set up a "Bad Cop Committee", to ensure that what we promote in terms of CSR is well integrated into their day-to-day business: it is a very operational committee, which meets 4 times a year."


“We have positioned the Environment pillar with the technical director, who manages engineering, production, logistics… because that is where the operational levers are, including eco-design, marketing, engineering, processes industrial processes, logistics processes. This helps me enormously on a daily basis. As we are not a listed company, we have less stringent reporting requirements and we have chosen to speed up the environmental part. HR manages the Ethics and Social pillars and ESG coordination is done by HR."


"Things exist when they have been communicated and on my subject, there are many people to put in the loop to ensure that we always have both top management and operational relays so that communications have weight. For example, our note on the new E-learnings on the CSR transformation of our business was sent to all brand managers, all deputy managers, the entire group CSR network. You need to go through the window, the door and the chimney."


Tip #4: Build the CSR strategy in an inclusive manner, leaving room for individual initiatives


"On my project, the level of ambition on CSR is really shared: I don't have a top-down way of doing things, and it's very collaborative. In this collaboration, everyone has their responsibility, on the quality of figures, in communication, to make progress on innovation topics... This subject is driven not only by the Corporate team but also by many people in the community. 3 years ago this was not the case: the subject was supported locally by a few people who were driving forces on this subject; we relied on them as pilots of our deployment approach, highlighting their successes in a common CSR evaluation framework. It was very officially supported from the top management with the Group's commitments, but on the ground people could drag their feet. Today there is a pinch effect, from above with Corporate commitments and from below with solutions which are put in place everywhere, which means that we can no longer say it's too expensive, for example: “if they can do it, why not you? “There is also a societal effect: in France, now we talk about sobriety when it was a dirty word three years ago, it helps. It's a subject that raises interest, there are people who are very motivated and who contact me very regularly to find out if I'm going to have a workforce in my team. With them, I work laterally, it strengthens the community on many subjects."


"To build our strategic plan, we have implemented a demanding participatory approach: from a martyr document written by the management of the organization which took up a certain number of strategic orientations with a dozen proposals including one on the CSR, there were collective contributions from debates organized in local centers and individual contributions, grouped together on a digital platform. Given the interest in CSR and the decision of the general management, CSR has become one of the 3 direction of our strategy.

When we had to translate this orientation into an action plan, we wanted to quickly give concrete guarantees, and keep the inclusive nature of the consultation, by highlighting all the proposals that had been made in the action plan, by having exchanges with all senior executives, and by setting up a project incubator, with a fund to finance projects that can come from any employee. We have also set up an Orientation and Monitoring Committee, representing all of our businesses and external personalities from our sector and CSR. After having drawn up the action plan, we finally met with all the local management: each time, we discussed with the management, the support functions and the business managers to present the action plan, and take the comments, being very concrete, and in dialogue."


Tip #5: Build a trajectory that incorporates ambitious goals brought to the highest level of the organization and quick wins to communicate on quick results that maintain motivation


"To build an action plan, you have to set your level of ambition: displaying too high an ambition can raise questions of credibility, on the contrary, you have to go gradually by being realistic, by integrating very concrete things. It is essential to carefully analyze the existing situation to start with what is easiest, to establish its credibility through concrete results, even if they could not be considered ambitious enough, while setting an ambitious course. It is important that this course be supported by the top management, without ambiguity. For us, the political support of CSR by the top management and the Management Committee is very strong, and there is no ambiguity on the fact that all decisions are made at top management level. You can also give yourself the right to test things, knowing that some will work better than others."


"You must not be able to say to the Managing Director of a Business Unit: "If you open the doors to me, in 1 or 6 months you will be able to say that..." It's not easy, but you have to take on the communication dimension, take advantage of it, and design your action plan around that too."

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