For Corporate Responsibility to Make Sense, Put It In Context For Your Company

by Aman Singh Das | June 02, 2010

  • My Vault

When it comes to introducing change in their organization, most companies prefer to turn to consultants. Whether that involves modifying business principles, recreating work culture, cost cutting or redefining the brand, consultants become the necessary strategists. As with any change, when it comes to corporate responsibility, companies are increasingly depending on niche consulting firms like Korngold Consulting and Taiga Company, who specialize in CSR and sustainability strategies, to do the spearheading for them.

I turned to consulting expert and CEO of Korngold Consulting, Alice Korngold who has been working with companies for a number of years to build fully integrated CSR strategies, including leadership development through nonprofit board service, to get some answers on how the consulting world is dealing with the current buzz surrounding CSR. (See below for more info on Korngold Consulting.) In a wide-ranging interview, we discuss her experience with board of directors and nonprofits, what a good integrated CSR strategy involves, how the changing economic landscape is redefining MBA curricula, and continue to dig deeper into the many aspects that together translate into corporate social responsibility.

What is most important for companies to understand when they are learning about CSR?

Put CSR in the context of the company and what the company seeks to achieve. CSR as a term is used fairly broadly but generally, it refers to an "ethical corporation" that is concerned about People (its employees and the community), and the Planet (environment), as well as Profits. Good board governing practices and corporate leadership, ethical labor practices, thoughtful risk management, environmental practices, philanthropy and community service are all parts of the equation.

In the world today, companies are learning that customers, employees, and shareholders place a high value on CSR. It's about trust and reputation. The key lessons for high-impact CSR:
--Leadership should come from the top,
--CSR should be aligned with the company's purpose, and
--CSR should be integrated across the company.

What's your advice for students interested in CSR in their job search and not finding enough leads?

CSR is a new and emerging field, where we will continue to see innovation and expansion over the coming decade. Since CSR will continue to encompass a number of areas of expertise–board governance, risk management, fair labor practices, environmental practices, philanthropy and community service, my advice is to find jobs and volunteer opportunities where you can learn and develop experience in one or more of these areas.

How do you see the MBA curriculum modifying as the economy reshapes itself after events like the Goldman Sachs vs. SEC case?

My focus and fascination for the past 20 years has been boards of directors. The concept, responsibilities, and actions of boards have been opaque. Yet, their authority and power not only control global economies and markets, but also the pensions, jobs, health care, education, housing, and lives of countless families in cities throughout the world. I expect and hope that corporate boards will become a central topic on MBA curricula.

How has your experience working with board(s) of directors and sustainability been?

I think that the recent BP situation and financial firms show us that much needs to be done to improve board governance and accountability.

I believe that innovation and thinking about CSR doesn't necessarily have to go from bottom to top in the corporate hierarchy. Senior management approval is essential in any initiative to have real teeth. Your thoughts?

Actually, CSR needs leadership from the top, since the CSR plan needs to be designed to advance the company's reputation, branding, relationship-building, and hiring and retention, leadership development, and community improvement. A high-impact CSR program supports and engages employees who are enthusiastic about improving their communities, while achieving a variety of benefits for the company and the community.

What are some of the things you've learned from feedback for your blog on Fast Company?

First, the fact that Fast Company devotes so much attention to CSR (they call it Ethonomics) speaks volumes. The response to my blog has been amazing…no one is more surprised than me!

As for business school students, I'd say that the millennials are and will continue to change this world in ways we can't even fully imagine. I already see it beginning. A good source is Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation.

You focus a good deal of attention on business executives serving on nonprofit boards. I can see that this is good for nonprofits, but how is this helpful to the companies and their executives?

Helpful to executives: Since I've been placing business executives on boards for 18 years, I've seen them grow and develop through their board experiences, most of them advancing into leadership positions. As board members and then leaders, they learn how to work with peers to imagine an organization's greater potential, create the revenue model, galvanize support for the organization, achieve success, sometimes facilitate organizational mergers, mentor new board members, build consensus, and so on. Nonprofit board service is the ultimate experience in ethics, accountability, leadership, group dynamics, and crisis management and communications.

Helpful to companies: Nonprofit board service is a unique leadership development opportunity for company executives and professionals. It's also a vehicle for their people and the company to shine in the community for leadership and high-impact service...great for the company's reputation. The only caveat is that the company and its executives only look good if its executives are highly effective board members, and that only happens when they are thoughtfully matched to boards and well prepared.

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Alice Korngold is the CEO of Korngold Consulting LLC, which assists corporations in building fully integrated, high-impact CSR strategies, including leadership development through nonprofit board service. Korngold Consulting also trains and places business executives on nonprofit boards, and consults to nonprofit boards and leaders to strengthen governance for financial and strategic success. Besides being a vocal advocate of corporate responsibility on Twitter, Ms. Korngold is also an expert blogger for Fast Company.

Filed Under: CSR

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