CSR career management - 3 tips to evaluate a company's culture.

I attended two very insightful Net Impact webinars this week that reminded me of how a company's culture can very much impact the career management strategies of aspiring Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) professionals.  The first webinar was facilitated by Jeffrey Hollender, and focused on his experience leading Seventh Generation and his new book 'The Responsibility Revolution' (see a great book review by Madeline Ravich in our CSR section).  The second webinar was facilitated by Dave Stangis and focused on 3rd generation CSR strategies and how these strategies came (and are coming) to life at Campbell Soup.  It was a treat to hear from these two responsible business leaders and to learn more about concrete strategies to get business done better.

Through these webinars and my experience as a career coach, one recurring question seems to be: How to assess whether a company's CSR strategies are fluff or whether a company truly encourages (or, even better, requires) employees to truly integrate social and environmental impacts into their business decision making process?

This is harder to assess than it seems, especially in the case of the most-well known global companies.  Indeed, most multinationals are very aware that today, more than ever before, their CSR initiatives are key to attract some of the top talent avaiable.  Indeed, accumulating evidence shows that some of the best available talent (especially women) take a company's CSR activities into account when making a decision about their next career management move and when considering whether to join a specific company or not (see the 2008 Aspen Institute study focusing on how MBAs view business and society, as well as the 2009 Universum IDEAL employer survey for more information on these trends).

As an aspiring CSR professional, how can you make sure that your next career management move will enable you to work within a company culture that truly takes into account its socio-eco impacts when making business decisions?   Here are 3 tips that can help you determine whether joining a specific company might be (or not) a good career management move for you:

Career Management Tip #1: Investigate the company's values and principles - Jeffrey Hollender mentioned how during his discussions with business leaders he came to realize that although many business leaders wanted to be better for the world, their mission statement and company goals did not align with these intentions, and instead detracted from their efforts to drive socio-eco change within the firm.  Along the same lines, Dave Stangis also indicated how important it has been to his success that one of the company's 7 principles focused on corporate responsibility.  Having this principle to refer back to made a big difference in Stangis' ability to get buy-in from employees at all levels of the company.  When you read about a company's mission and values online, do you see CSR clearly articulated and weaved in the company's core principles?  Or does CSR feel more like a nice thing to do when quarterly targets are met?  Determining this through your company research will greatly improve your ability to assess whether a specific company will be an optimal environment within which you can successfully drive socio-eco innovation.

Career Management Tip #2:  The Company's Success Metrics - Both Jeffrey Hollender and Dave Stangis made a similar point:  Employee performance aligns with the reward system that it is measured against.  Therefore, a powerful career management strategy is to truly understand what metrics will be used to measure your performance.  When discussing what success means for an employee in the position you are talking with a hiring manager about (or negotiating if you have an offer), ask about metrics that will evaluate how your projects and results align with the CSR mission of the company as a whole.  Stangis noted that integrating CSR strategies into employees' performance metrics throughout a company is a difficult endeavor for many CSR leaders.  Therefore,  if you can get a clear answer on how this will happen at a specific company, their CSR strategy is likely to be integrated quite well into what you will be doing once hired.  In contrast, if you get an odd look (or a long awkward pause over the phone), this might be an indication that this opportunity might not be the best possible fit for your CSR career management strategy.

Career Management Tip #3:  Broaden Your Horizons - Jeffrey Hollender made the great point that, for many traditional businesses, CSR more often means 'doing less harm' than really 'making business decisions that have a positive social impact and does not harm our environment'.  Many aspiring CSR professionals like CSR because it combines the idea of being a successful professional (i.e. big(ger) salary and working for a prestigious company) while working to build a better world.  I would offer another possible career management strategy:  Look for opportunities in other types of organizations, such as L3Cs or B Corps.  These hybrid models are growing, and although they might not offer the same level of prestige or salary as traditional multinationals, they offer a number of advantages.  For instance, all your colleagues and supervisors will believe in the same things as you, and you will all be dedicated to getting business done better.  Second, many of these firms are smaller, which enables you to have greater decision power as well as more variety in the projects you are working on.

I hope these tips will enable you to best evaluate which companies would be a better career management move for you as an aspiring CSR professional.  As always, I look forward to reading your comments and questions!

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