Mrim is a Justmeans staff writer for the responsible careers news section. Mrim is also the co-creator of the 'More Than Money' (MTM) League. The MTM League is a 6-week self-paced online course designed for working management professionals interested in competing for opportunities in corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, or nonprofit management. The MTM League is a collaboration b...
Career Advice From the North America Annual Net Impact Conference
For management professionals and MBA students looking for career advice on how to get business done better, the North America Net Impact Conference remains a major annual event. This year did not disappoint. The 2010 Net Impact Conference was hosted by the Ross School of Business (University of Michigan) in Ann Arbor, MI. Over the past two days, over 2,500 participants have had unique opportunities to learn from 90 panels and workshops across eight program tracks. The conference program also included 5 keynote sessions, and more than 350 speakers. The conference was all about sharing ideas and career advice on how to build a better world through business. In my next few posts, I will provide highlights and insights from the conference which will all contribute to help you get the types of career advice you seek to do well while doing good.
Today I will focus on career advice gathered while attending a panel session titled 'The Direction of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): Integration vs. Segmentation'. The panelists included Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, National Managing Partner, Corporate Responsibility and Diversity, KPMG LLP, Dave Stangis, Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, Campbell Soup Company, Rob Frederick, VP and Director, Corporate Responsibility, Brown-Forman, and Ben Packard, Vice President, Global Responsibility, Starbucks Coffee Company.
Career Advice #1: In big corporations, the best way to drive change remains all about making the business case. By many internal and external stakeholders, CSR is still considered a cost center, a thing that corporations do when they meet and exceed their quarterly financial targets. CSR professionals continue to be perceived by many within bigger corporations as internal consultants whose ideas will hurt their numbers. To build your reputation as a CSR professional able to drive positive change, it will be key for you to articulate why line managers should apply your initiative not because it's the right thing to do, but because the initiative is going to make their job easier or make their unit more profitable. The best way to do this is to find previous evidence of how competitors have saved money through similar initiatives (e.g. lower operating costs by increasing energy efficiency). Another way to drive change is through initiatives that build morale. For example, Brown-Forman, a liquor manufacturer, build relationships with local partners to provide 'safe drive home' programs. This program did not only help them get recognized as a responsible business, and a good employer to work for, it also helped their sales team engage in a different conversation with current and potential customers.
Career Advice #2: Big companies can afford bigger initial investments. Many smaller companies cannot afford to try things for years before finding the best sustainable solution to their challenges. For instance, little coffee shops would not have the financial resources and the drive that Starbucks demonstrated when it set out to get approval from the FDA to bring to market the first hot beverage paper cup with 10% post-consumer recycled fiber. Of course, after the cup is made available on the market, our environment will tremendously benefit from their initial investment, as little coffee shops everywhere can then source and use this better paper coffee cup as well.
Career Advice #3: From CSR to integration. Today, sustainability of CSR departments are key to drive change through influencing business unit leaders to do less harm by doing business better for their employees, their local communities, and the environment. Echoing one of my previous posts on this topic, all panelists emphasized the importance of CSR being integrated into each and everyone of the business functions. When all business unit managers will think about how to get business done better by minimizing their impact on the environment, take good care of their employees, and positively impact their local communities, CSR managers won't be needed anymore. These days have of course already happened in social enterprises, and companies that have economic, social, and environmental value creation embedded in their organizational DNA. But in traditional businesses with CSR departments, we are still a long way to go in terms of integrating CSR into traditional business functions.
Overall the panelists confirmed my previous thoughts about CSR: it remains about doing less harm than truly about building a better world. From this, a key piece of career advice for aspiring CSR professionals remains to really be aware that the CSR profession requires a strong ability to deal with moral ambiguity, as well as a tremendous amount of persistence and optimism.