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Meeting the human challenges of a CSR Transformation - a few tips from those who do it (Part 2)
Interview by Marthe Cadart, Sophie Blanchet, Fanny Corman and Michaël Dupuis - May 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 potential resistances?

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 second.

Tip #6: Know how to mobilize and engage

"It's very technical and not very pretty, but you have to respect the company's key processes. The budget, the year's priorities, the strategic plan...: you always have to be very rigorous, meeting all the important players to check that CSR is well integrated with the right level of ambition each time. This is program management, and it must be said that execution is fundamental, and a good strategy is not enough. There is a lot of alignment to be done with the heads of functions, and even individual objectives have to be set in certain functions. That's the fairly directive method, and it's essential; moreover, sometimes you have to be a little tough on people who resist. But there is also a more influential, softer attitude, to make people switch to your side. To use only one attitude is to be faced with limits."

"We set up a self-labeling, it's a label that teams have really adopted, and a strong engagement lever, really very powerful in terms of retention. It doesn't necessarily require a huge learning effort, but it gives visibility and is used a lot for the employer brand. It's managed by our HR manager, who comes to me for information.

However, we have to be careful with what we called at one point "the little CSR". We realize that it hasn't worked too well. Actions that have an impact need to be targeted."

"The mobilization phase, once the CSR-compatible technical specifications for our business had been written, was an opportunity to get into a very operational side. We carried waves of "test and learn" that allowed us to have operational illustrations and to get operational people's involved: they presented to the community how they had actually applied the specifications to a project, how they had confronted them. We were also able to identify those who were doing the minimum and those who were more involved, and to launch pilot projects with the latter on the end-of-life study, for example. We are tempted to reinvent content and tools, but it is much more important to dig into what exists, to really go deep into what has been done, and to build on it. This means giving up on reassuring ourselves by doing things ourselves, but rather disseminating and, above all, making sure that things are appropriate. The biggest testament to success is when people feel like they did it themselves."

Tip #7: Make sustainability sexy and attractive

"Another really important thing is to make CSR desirable. Sure, no one wants to have beauty supply stores that smell like sawdust, but the question it raises is what is the new desirable. It's interesting, because back home, it has become "cool" to work on CSR. The younger generations are interested in it, so for many it has become a sign of youthfulness to be interested in it. Sobriety should not be linked to austerity, but to minimalism, to a different approach. For us, this meant working on the design of the tools: going from an Excel spreadsheet and 10 very off-putting text files to a tool that is appealing, that looks good, that integrates a human dimension and a certain optimism in its tone. This was reflected in the entire process, in the workshops, in the project team's points of view. These were nice moments during the week, thanks to the "good atmosphere" and the fact that we all felt that we were making progress. The presentations at the end of the test & learn waves were really an opportunity to give visibility to people who didn't necessarily have the opportunity to do so, including people from small countries, during the Covid crisis when we could feel isolated. Some people found themselves really propelled and they really appreciated that."

"At some point, CSR is really a question of managerial culture. People who are managers today grew up with a promise: 'the higher you go in the company, the more power you're going to have to consume and the more you're going to be recognized for your ability to consume'. Being a manager means having your company car, your salary, your benefits. When we then talk to them about sobriety, about reuse, about a certain form of degrowth or brakes on growth, we go against these representations, against these conditionings. It is a real philosophical change. Otherwise, we find ourselves projecting customer expectations that are not real, for example, projecting a desire for totally pure luxury white that excludes recycled plastic that is a little yellow, while today we have evolved on recycled paper for example and no one cares to write on paper a little yellow."

Tip #8: Embody the subject yourself, including in your work style

"Defending the credibility of your CSR approach requires commitment. One day, we presented the action plan at one of the local centers and one of the participants, who had known me for a long time, asked me: "We understand that this is the strategy, but what do you think about this ambition?" I said what I thought, the fact that I believed in it, the ambition I was defending while also encouraging them to share their feedback to take this ambition to the management level."

"When we arrive on the subject of CSR and it speaks to us, we can have several approaches, swear by technology only (but we see that it can't answer everything), or favor sobriety. And as soon as I took up my job, I wanted to bring this approach to my new duties. It's something I have in mind even in my personal life. Before I took the job, I had met a lot of people and I realized that there were already a lot of things that had been done, in the brands in the different countries, that were very little disseminated, with frustration, and I wanted to take that into account.

It's true that there is not always a huge transformation rate in CSR, but you can get such fulfilling feedback, people telling you that they have found a reason to be in their work, you feel that it's really personal, and that's very strong."

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