Communication assumes a much greater priorityMarch 2008
CSR practitioners expect to spend more time in the future on communication rather than programme development and monitoring.
Latest research carried out by the UK’s Ashridge Centre for Business and Society with senior company managers suggests that the need to communicate externally is largely being driven by competitive pressure and has ‘emerged as a new issue’ since 2005.
The main management priorities at that time were reporting, stakeholder engagement, providing information for indices and awards, and ‘driving change’ within the company.
These priorities have remained, but Ashridge, which questioned executives belonging to the Corporate Responsibility Group (CRG), a network of more than 70 large UK companies, said the findings clearly indicated that communicating company achievements and demonstrating leadership in the field would become ‘substantially’ more important over the next two years. The findings are based on ten interviews of up to two hours each and a detailed questionnaire completed by 43 company managers.
‘During the course of the interviews a theme that emerged repeatedly was a desire to move from a risk management and compliance focus to one in which leadership was a source of competitive advantage,’ said Chris Gribben, the Ashridge centre’s co-director. ‘Given the intense competition, this will potentially have a dramatic impact on how practitioners spend their time.
‘For example, today only a quarter of practitioners devote an average of one day or more per week to external communications beyond the production of the corporate responsibility report. More time will either need to be directly devoted to external communications or supporting the communications efforts of others within the company.’
Yogesh Chauhan, the BBC’s chief adviser on corporate responsibility and deputy chair of the CRG, said the need to communicate more to the outside world had been driven by the fact that corporate responsibility ‘is no longer viewed as a niche activity within companies’ and by ‘the attention garnered by high profile and successful launches of ambitious initiatives, as well as the growing social and political issues where big business needs to be part of the solution.’
The findings also suggest that internal communication is becoming more important. The practitioners were keen to strengthen links with other departments, especially purchasing, which two-thirds now regard as a priority area. Half of respondents now view the legal team as a priority compared with a fifth in 2005, and relations with finance have also assumed greater importance.
The two organizations conducted the study to assess practitioners’ changing roles and the skills required. Fewer than one in five respondents could name an area in which their training and development needs were being fully met. Respondents felt they needed more effective training on engaging with and influencing colleagues. ‘CSR practitioners need to have development tailored to their own specific requirements,’ said Gribben.
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