green-flowerThis post examines the state of Corporate Responsibility (CR) curriculum with a constructive criticism viewpoint. Does the current curriculum really fulfill on the potential of CR to equip companies to not just comply with society’s mandates but actually take a leadership role in helping to bring about a better world. The post goes on to examine five ways in which CR professional curriculum could be improved in order to help CR professionals have a wider impact on the affairs of the corporations they are helping to lead.

by Richard Crespin, President of SharedXpertise, Executive Director of the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association (CROA), publisher of CR Magazine.

In preparation for our recent webinar on “Building the Corporate Responsibility Profession” (available online) I talked with Nancy Beer Tobin from the Executive Education Department at Georgetown University’s McDonough Business School. She asked me to point out the holes in the Corporate Responsibility (CR) curriculum. Universities, trade associations, and training organizations have jumped into the CR education space giving us a rich panoply of information, but does it really fulfill on the potential: equipping companies to not just comply with society’s mandates but actually lead? [See: Do New Grads Know Where to Start in CSR?] Have thoughts on whether it’s time for a CR Professional Certification? Take our survey.

The webinar explored these issues in-depth from multiple perspectives: the CR practitioner’s (thanks to Kevin Moss of BT and Susan Seutter of Cisco), the CR educator’s (via Nancy Beer Tobin and Georgetown), the up-and-coming CR professional (through Ryan Whisnant, Director of Sustainability for SunGard & 2009 EDF Climate Corps Alumnus), and the media’s (from Vault.com’s Aman Singh). Here are my perspectives on Nancy’s question. The short answer is no. The longer answer: the potential exists, but needs refining.

1. Embedding CR into the core leadership curriculum
2. Finance for non-finance majors
3. Responsibility for non-responsibility majors
4. Responsibility communications skills
5. An organized body of knowledge and development path

Let’s take these one at a time…

Embedding CR into the Core Leadership Curriculum
Many of us — including me — preach to the converted. The people that show up to CR conferences, choose it as a course of study, and participate in associations, have already sold themselves on the value of responsibility. We can’t lose that core cadre. These professionals have driven CR to the prominent place it has on the agenda.

At the same time, the real challenge in the next phase of CR’s maturity lies in making it part of the DNA of business leadership. CEOs-in-the-making get a steady diet of strategy, finance, legal, and if lucky a dollop of ethics and philosophy. Corporate responsibility, though, lives on the balance sheet, invigorates strategy, and can keep you out of court.

As my friend Stephen Jordan from the US Chamber’s BCLC recently pointed out, over 70% of the value of most publicly traded companies shows up as intangibles, as brand equity. Where does that equity come from? The license to operate and the good will society gives to responsible companies. In the hands of a true leader, these skills can transform a business — not just save it money and keep it out of trouble, but create real competitive advantage and hard shareholder value.

Finance for the Non-Finance Major
Now, like I said, we can’t lose those hardcore cadres, the CR professionals and advocates that labored to pull CR out of obscurity and put it on the boardroom agenda. Many if not most of these folks, though, did not go to B-school and even those that did didn’t “major” in finance. So they need the tools, the language, and the skills to “sell” CR to the C-Suite. A significant number of CEOs took a tour as CFO or COO. These are quant-heads with a taste for numbers. It’s an unfair playing field right now.

To move CR even higher on the agenda and embed it in strategy, the core cadres need to “speak CFO”. The respected B-schools could play a big part through graduate certificate and other programs of continuous learning, making finance accessible to the non-finance exec and helping them translate CR into hard-dollar terms.

Responsibility for Non-Responsibility Majors
While we’re educating the CR professionals, we also need to educate the finance professionals. When I look at the most successful CR programs, they didn’t start out as a business case. They started with a responsibility case – doing the right thing because it was right – that the firm later figured out how to make pay.

UPS analyzed their accident data and realized that most of their driver and pedestrian injuries and fatalities occurred during a left-hand turn. So they decided to stop hurting and killing people by eliminating left-hand turns and then figured out how to do it in a way that cut costs, fuel, and time. Wal-Mart came under attack for putting local firms out of business. So they decided to source locally and figured out how to do that in a way that made business sense: reducing inventory, saving fuel, cutting costs.

The old economic model said, “let businesses do what they need to do to make money and society will tax them to pay for the damage they cause.” As a born-and-bred capitalist I reject that notion because it’s an inefficient use of capital. Better to raise a generation of leaders who can account for and minimize negative impacts from the beginning so we all get a maximum return on capital.

Responsibility communications skills
According to our annual CR Best Practices Survey, nearly two-thirds of companies say one or more of their offerings rely on a CR-related message and as Stephen Jordan pointed out, the real value of CR resides in a company’s brand. But tapping into and maximizing that value requires communications. A lot of companies struggle to articulate it. They rely either on marketing and communications professionals who don’t have much CR experience or on CR professionals who don’t have a background in marketing and communications.

A set of “short courses” on how to communicate CR programs would go a long way. Not just the dry details, though. The people writing the annual CR report or trying to incorporate CR messaging into an ad campaign need to make these programs and their impact come alive in the popular imagination. [See: CSR and Social MediaCSR and Social Media]

Organized body of knowledge and development path
A few weeks ago I spoke on a panel at the US Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center’s annual conference on community investment. I shared the stage with, among others, IBM’s Ann Cramer. Ann pointed out that no one has really codified what constitutes proficiency when it comes to CR.

That’s why the CROA has embarked down a path toward professional credentialing. Along the way, we will articulate the definitive body of knowledge: what constitutes proficiency in responsibility. We will also catalog the qualified sources: where to go to get the knowledge and proficiency to be considered competent.

With a defined body of knowledge business schools will know what to put into a core CR curriculum. Companies looking to hire executives steeped in responsibility, will know what to look for. And business leaders will have a greater confidence that they speak with authority when they shape the strategies of their firms.

Agree with me? Disagree with me? Debate with me at the Commit!Forum where we’ll engage with professionals and business leaders on the future of corporate responsibility and how individuals can ensure Good Business Makes the Difference.

© 2011, Richard Crespin. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Richard Crespin (1 Articles)

Richard Crespin is the President of SharedXpertise and the Executive Director of the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association (CROA). The CROA is the membership society for corporate responsibility professionals, service providers, policy makers, and influencers in the areas of corporate governance, sustainability, and citizenship. The Association works to advance the profession of corporate responsibility by fostering a community of practice though advocacy, programs, events, publications, and professional development for its members. SharedXpertise publishes CR Magazine, manages the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association, and hosts the Commit!Forum.

  • http://works.bepress.com/art_stewart/ Art Stewart, MPM

    As a long-time management consultant who works in the CSR space, is a recent mid-career graduate of Georgetown (from their Public Policy Institute but also holds a certificate produced by the business school), and now is also a CSR educator (I designed a curriculum in CSR in which I currently teach the undergraduate version to communications students at Emerson College in Boston), I think all of the points made here by my friend Richard Crespin are well thought out and on-target.
    Let me add: From the perspective of strategic communications, senior-level corporate communicators need a lot of help in gaining more knowledge and a particular understanding of the drivers of this new emerging business context we call “responsibility”. The corporate communications unit remains a key jurisdiction in which a number of critical CSR functions are evolving – particularly ethics, stakeholder engagement, and compliance and reporting (and soon, integrated reporting). Too many communicators remain surprisingly uninformed about the impact on a variety of areas that will be shaping not just their unit’s future viability but its integration and interdependency with tomorrow’s ‘responsible’ organization as a whole. These include: issues life cycle analysis and management; risk mitigation and contingency planning; strategic analysis of the cultural, political, psycho-sociological drivers of stakeholder perception; organization public trust and integrity; reputation and brand equity; executive leadership credibility; and much more. The good news? There is an exciting expansion of opportunity for corporate communication professionals just over the horizon as systemic CSR becomes standard practice and is embedded in the organization DNA. But higher education institutions need to get into the act of supplying them with new knowledge and the latest tools to enable their successful evolution in alignment with the global CSR movement. Let’s get to work!

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/ronstraussbrandzone Ron Strauss

    One of the factors missing from the CR curriculum is understanding, on a fundamental level, why CR is increasingly important to the fortunes of firms. Unless CR builds value for the firm, its stakeholders, and for the network of which it is a part, it will not be sustainable because it will not continue to receive resources and support. And this value must be agreed to and measureable. The question is: “What about CR builds value (benefits in excess of costs) for the firm?” And ‘How do you measure CR’s contribution to value and show it.”
    The answer is in how the firm’s corporate, product and service brands both encapsulate and build value, and in understanding the drivers of that value for all stakeholders. This gives you insight into how the firm is building the value of its intangible assets, to include its brand(s).
    It also gives insight into which CR initiatives align with the interests and values of key stakeholders in the value creation network.
    Another related aspect is to understand how, in the U.S., GAAP treats intangible assets like brands. Home grown brands are not shown on the balance sheet!
    I believe that this is a key area for future CR curriculum and research. I currently teach a 2-day seminar for the American Marketing Association on this topic (Brand Measurement: Its Purpose, Potential and New Approaches.)

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/ronstraussbrandzone Ron Strauss

    Another point: marketing research over the years has shown that many purchasers are ‘loyal’ until they have a reason not to be loyal. Then they re-examine their consideration set and brand choice hierarchy and, sometimes, switch. So the key is not to give them any reason to switch to a competitor or out of the category. CR, when properly done, can anticipate these ‘switch’ points, and eliminate them. This preserves market share. What’s that worth?