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How CSR has become a transformation issue for companies
​An article by Marthe Cadart, Chief mission officer at IDOYA - March 2022

Setting up "CSR offices", defining CSR strategies in a more collaborative way, mobilizing around the need to take action to implement CSR commitments: many companies are setting up ambitious transformation projects to strengthen their commitments on environmental, social and governance issues. CSR players are experiencing these changes as a challenge and must adapt to manage this increasingly strategic issue.

 

Between the accelerated reinforcement of regulatory requirements, the increased interest of citizen- consumers and the expectations of candidates in an increasingly tense job market, CSR has long since ceased to be an appendix to financial communication or regulatory compliance. More and more management committees are seizing it as a lever for transformation, taking advantage of its still largely under-exploited potential.

 

Strategic potential: CSR allows us to question our vision, our business and our operating model. Its potential in terms of integration and reduction of organizational silos: it requires a systemic vision of the company's value chain, the product life cycle and the stakeholders involved. Cultural potential: a CSR transformation generally involves technical issues such as performance measurement, process redesign or product redesign, as well as issues of purpose and culture in order to create the new cooperation needed within the organization.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, CSR now has a strong aspirational potential: after a long period of being seen as technical and superficial, CSR transformations can be mobilizing and, to put it bluntly, "sexy". It is not uncommon for teams to have launched local initiatives on their own, which are just waiting to be taken up. With a vision and a time horizon, a CSR strategy can set an ambitious framework that is flexible enough to integrate multiple projects, allowing employees at all levels to propose initiatives and find their place in the dynamic. CSR has a strong potential for mobilization, and it is an aspect that should not be underestimated in order to involve all the professions that must be transformed, among the various teams: operational (environmental and social innovations on the company's products and services), quality (compliance with new standards, certifications, etc. ), legal (ethics, deontology, governance), HR (diversity and inclusion), finance (responsible finance, management control and internal auditing of commitments, financial sustainability of commitments made, etc.), purchasing and general resources (responsible purchasing, responsible management of real estate and automobile fleets), etc.

The transformation of CSR from a technical subject to a strategic one is a radical change for the players who have been working on it since the 1990s and especially the 2000s, generally in the Communication, sometimes Finance and HR departments, and even in Quality. They are faced with expectations that are changing very quickly and in an almost contradictory way. On the one hand, the expertise required on CSR issues is becoming increasingly complex as science and standards progress on these still relatively young subjects. On the other hand, CSR actors are now also expected to be able to make the company's commitments intelligible and traceable, to lead ambitious transformations, to move from intention to realization, and to have a driving effect on the entire organization.

This changeover is comparable to what happened with the digital transformation, which at the beginning of the 2010s was the technical domain of a small number of specialized players and departments, and which quickly had to become everyone’s business in the company. In the same way that "digital offices" have been set up to drive it, "CSR offices" have to drive the transformation of many businesses and processes, sometimes profound reorganizations, and work to ensure the buy-in of the new strategy throughout the organization. Here is some feedback from Digital Transformation officers that may be useful to new CSR officers:

 

  • Give meaning and care to the user experience, without thinking that the tools create the uses (carbon accounting, EMS...)

  • Take the right measure of the cultural dimension of the necessary changes

  • Focus on creating networks: networks of CSR referents within the company (as there have been digital referents), but also networking with external partners (to be found in start-ups and associations); networking of internal pilots on intrapreneurship methods

  • Train managers, but also HR populations, on strategic changes and new skills expected from them and their teams, without underestimating intergenerational diversity

  • Staying ahead of the curve to support the organization's rise in maturity: for digital, many digital officers have been replaced by data officers to lead the transformation of the company to make it data-driven...

 

So many levers that stakeholders can use in their own companies: it's a game worth playing, both for them and to strengthen companies’contribution to the creation of a desirable future for all.

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