What skills and attributes are most helpful for someone working in (or wanting to work in) the growing field of corporate social responsibility? I’m asked this question often so, these are my thoughts. Don’t expect them to be comprehensive and do expect some to be surprising and maybe even controversial. Some might suggest that there is another set of more traditional skills that are important. I wouldn’t disagree, but would argue vehemently that the skills below are as or more important. For all my writings, teachings and doings the whole idea (always) is to facilitate change by conveying information and stimulating thinking and doing.
You have more answers inside you than you realize. And you won’t find them if you just read, nod and agree. Think. If you agree, why? If you disagree, why? And, most importantly, what will you do differently? Most of the skills below are not just good for CSR. They apply across business and in life generally.
CSR is all about value (so is business!). Always. Knowing how to think about value in all its dimensions is key. Understanding and differentiating value will help you to create value-alignment across interests.
CSR is all about stakeholders (so is business!). Always. Knowing how to identify stakeholders and think about their interests (value) in all its dimensions is key. Understanding and differentiating stakeholders and their value will help you to create value-alignment across interests.
CSR is all about meeting the interests (value) of others, in a way that also meets the interests of your business and/or project. This skill is sort of like strategic empathy, knowing how to understand the position and interests of key stakeholders (the what’s in it for them part) and being creative in looking at ways that your business/project can help them and serve your own interests at the same time.
Communication is a critical skill for CSR (and so many other areas). Clear, concise, other-interest focused (and interesting!) communications can be invaluable in developing, implementing and managing CSR projects. This applies to speaking, writing, social media and all other forms of communications.
*other-interest focused – make sure to practice communication that connects with the interests of those you are communicating with. Communicate about the self-interest of others and their ears will perk up and their minds will engage. Communicate about your interests and their minds will likely wander to their own interests.
Ask yourself, ‘why would they listen/read/engage your communication’. If you don’t have a clear answer your communication is likely ineffective.
- Know business
CSR is all business, so you need to Know Business to be effective. Too often CSR is done as no-business and all philanthropy. Not good. In the same way as you need to be able to understand and meet the needs of stakeholders, you also need to know how to understand and meet the needs of your business or project.
And, while you are at it
- Know business-speak
Know how to communicate to your internal colleagues and stakeholders (and then do it!). If you can’t make a strong internal business case for your CSR plan and project how do you expect to develop a strong internal support base. And, if you don’t have a strong internal support base be prepared to be isolated, marginalized and the first funding to be cut when things get tough.
Build your business case and learn how to communicate it to key internal stakeholders and constituents. You must be able to clearly define and communicate the internal business case (often by department – e.g., what’s in it for Human Resources? For Finance? For operations?, etc.). If you can’t, then you either haven’t thought about it hard enough, or you are pursuing sub-optimal projects and priorities. In either case you are not effectively optimizing value.
- Zero-sum Be Gone
CSR is about creating and increasing value, not simply redistributing value. One of the most valuable skills you can develop is to learn to systematically think beyond zero-sum. Learn how to win by helping others to win too.
Innovation is critical. Put on a value lens and learn to think inside, outside and around the box. Ask yourself questions that start with; What if? Would this? What about? Could we? Better than asking yourself, surround yourself with colleagues and stakeholders who can ask you those questions, and be open enough to hear them and know that these questions may help to unlock new value. Creative alignment and value creation is often found through innovation.
- Think Pain Points
What are the pain points? What does that have to do with CSR? Pain points are just that. It is what keeps your CEO awake at night. Threats, weaknesses, obstacles, challenges, the sorts of things that business has to address to survive and thrive. CSR should be one of your business’s strategic tools for addressing pain points. Not that CSR will solve all pain points, but that it may solve some. A key skill for a successful CSR practitioner is to know and understand the pain points that are keeping your C-Suite team awake at nights, and to think strategically about how CSR may help address some of them. And then have the communication and know-business skills to be able to use CSR to address key pain points.
I did a keynote at the CSR Saudi Arabia Summit recently that discusses CSR and Pain Points as part of integrating societal value in your core business. You can see the slides here.
There are many other skills that will help you to break into CSR work or to be better at it. You can find many lists (much more traditional than my nine-point list). But, I think you will do well to think about and try and master these nine. They will help to make you more effective and more valuable, at CSR and in other areas.
A veteran of 20+ years of award winning CSR and sustainability work, Wayne Dunn is President & Founder of the CSR Training Institute and Professor of Practice in CSR at McGill. He’s a Stanford University Sloan Fellow with a M.Sc. in Management from Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He develops and delivers training programs worldwide and consults on strategy, economics and operations to industry, government and international organizations. His work has won major international awards and has been used extensively as ‘best-practice’ by industry and academia, including being made into a Stanford Business School Case Study.