The Sun-setting of B.S.

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine regarding his organization’s need to integrate their “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) policy more broadly across the company. As a change manger he asked for my help.

According to Wikipedia CSR is:

a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. CSR policy functions as a built-in, self-regulating mechanism whereby a business monitors and ensures its active compliance with the spirit of the law, ethical standards, and international norms. In some models, a firm’s implementation of CSR goes beyond compliance and engages in “actions that appear to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law.” CSR is a process with the aim to embrace responsibility for the company’s actions and encourage a positive impact through its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere who may also be considered as stakeholders.

As many people who are unfamiliar with change management he sought my advice on how best to communicate this to the rest of the company.  My typical response to this sort of request is to back up the conversation, first to understand what the goals of this initiative are then to see how well the leadership was aligned with this change in the organizational strategy. Over many years of doing this type of work I’ve learned not to waste my time or frustrate reviewers by writing stuff the leadership isn’t going to approve.

As we talked more about alignment it became apparent to me that his organization was more interested in corporate “do-gooderism” or appearing responsible than in actually being responsible. They weren’t interesting any spending any money on this initiative, publishing any metrics, holding their business units across the globe accountable for following the policy or provide them any support should they want to follow the policy. It was simply an exercise designed to appease Wall Street and key government clients.

Though I was initially excited to have an opportunity to work with the senior leadership of a large multinational company on this effort, the more I learned the more disappointed I became until I diplomatically told him I couldn’t be his mouthpiece for this initiative. Ethically it just didn’t feel right.

The world is changing, becoming more connected and transparent every day. Employees, customers, clients, vendors, governments, etc. all know or can find out what is really going on. They know B.S. when they see it, they’ve been trained for many years by these same organizations that strive to establish corporate social responsibility policies. What some of them seem to forget, is that these stakeholders they’ve been BS-ing all these years are the ones asking for the policy.

How about we try something else for a change?