The way forward: integration, foresight, and a path to the topJanuary 2010
As we enter a new decade, our thoughts turn to how the CSR profession ought to develop over the next ten years and where we should be in 2019.
The ‘Noughties’ have been an extraordinary period of maturation for the principle of corporate responsibility, which has become firmly rooted in most large companies. Even the recessionary events of the past year have failed to unsettle it, though there have been some CSR job losses, reorganizations and budget cuts. If anything, the intellectual argument for it has grown stronger. Still, as long as capitalism prevails there will be boom and bust. So whatever the shape of the economic graph over the next ten years, CSR practitioners will encounter more hard times. They will need to protect the progress they have made as well as to look at ways to move things on.
One reason corporate responsibility has survived the financial storm is that its ideas had become better defined by the time the tempest hit. But another is that these ideas had begun to be embedded as practice throughout many corporate organizations. Continuing this integration is key to weather-proofing CSR over the next decade. Without it, responsibility programmes run the risk of being seen as dispensable. With it, and they will flow mainstream, immune to pruning saws.
Further integration, however, while ensuring survival, is not enough for growth. As EP has said on other occasions, CSR professionals need to sensitize themselves more to what is going on around them, particularly in the financial sphere. One lesson of the past decade is that they have not been the corporate early warning systems they should have been. Over the next ten years they will have to do more in that role, not only to retain credibility but also to prove that keeping an eye out for reputational banana skins brings business benefits.
But in addition to integration and foresight, the CSR profession must haul itself up the corporate ladder in order to be fully effective. The goal for practitioners between now and 2019 is to rise from the advisory position they generally occupy at present to that of corporate decision-makers. CSR managers need to go on to become board directors and chief executives. Partly this will be a question of time, but it is also a matter of proactively paving the way, by rotating between and acquiring experience in other company departments and by systematically developing within the CSR profession the qualifications and skills required of candidates for the top jobs.
There is a sense at present that – for all its satisfactions – being a CSR manager is something of a corporate cul-de-sac, a career path insufficiently hard-hitting for the highly talented and ambitious. Another glass ceiling to be broken.
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