The Era of Corporate Social Responsibility is Ending: Why That’s a Good Thing

August 31, 2016 Rachel Hutchisson

People who do what I do for a living spend their lives championing what we call “corporate social responsibility,” what companies do to give back (philanthropy, volunteerism, ethical supply chain, sustainability, etc.). But, I propose that the focus on “corporate” is actually limiting. Before my career is over, I believe we will have completed a shift to HUMAN social responsibility. Human Social Responsibility means that organizations of all sizes, as conveners of people, will take their lead from their employees and their individual human social contracts.

So, you might be asking, have I told my boss yet?  Here I am doing everything I can to scale Corporate Social Responsibility, while believing that my profession is gonna be a goner.

The answer is, yes.  I have told my boss…and he agrees.

Traditionally, Corporate Social Responsibility has been for the “big guys.”  The Fortune 500 companies who have the capacity to invest in staff and effort.  But guess what – there are a lot of companies out there that aren’t big – does that mean doing good isn’t important to them?  Of course not.

I have come to learn that the focus on “corporate” – which once was a vanguard idea – is actually a problem.

Why Focusing Solely on Corporate is a Problem:

One – because “corporate” is limiting.  Did you know that more than 70% of all people who work for business in America work for small to mid-sized businesses?  They work for enterprises that are anything but corporate.  This might seem picky, but when you have a professional area that’s all about doing good work and being a good citizen that – at its very heart – is focused on “corporate” – you’re leaving a lot of people without a seat at the table. You’re putting up barriers, in the very language you use, that says “this isn’t for you.” That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?  An effort designed to drive important socially good work that’s exclusive – not inclusive.

I have an important confession to make.  I have a fundamental belief in my life that “Good is for Everyone.”  It is for my 16-year-old son and my 80-year-old father.  It is for cities, small businesses, nonprofits, government… and every other kind of commercial or social concern. It is for all of us.  And we need to stop thinking that only certain kinds of organizations are capable of being wired for good.

Two – because it enforces this idea or image of corporations as faceless monoliths.  Regardless of what structure we’re talking about, people are at the center of every organization, no matter why it exists. We, as humans, bring life to the vision and purpose of any organization.  We provide the oxygen and the wits to make everything happen.

People, today, bring their whole selves to work.  When I step out of my Prius in the morning, and walk up the path and into the lobby, I do that as a complete person.  As a daughter who recently lost a mother, as a mother sending her son off to college, as a member of a community struggling to deal with a racial hate crime, as a board member really focused on governance…and yes…as a professional.

My colleagues are the same – we each sign our own human contract with the world.  It doesn’t stay in the car, in glove compartment with ours registrations and proof of insurance.  It’s written in indelible ink, interwoven into our daily DNA. We bring who we are and what we stand for into our jobs.  This shift – this rising up of our collective daily DNA is ageless – and it’s for everyone.

So let’s get practical here…

Your role in the shift from Corporate Social Responsibility to Human Social Responsibility:

It’s all about a balancing act between your people and your community.

  1. Take your cue from your people. Now I’m not saying that you have to forget your company’s purpose or vision, but don’t make the mistake of ignoring the vision of your people…  Their social good story is your social good story. Have the courage to go on a journey together. This secret sauce has three simple ingredients: 
    1. Know what your people care about
    2. Put your people at the center of your giving
    3. Empower your people as agents of good
  1. Take your cue from your community, however you define that word. The more you know about your people and your community, the more you can align your goals. You know you are doing it right when people are coming to you with ideas, and they are leading from where they stand. That’s the end game – when you embrace human instead of corporate, your brand actually gains in stature. Start embracing human:
    1. Know what your community cares about
    2. Put your community at the center
    3. Partner on doing good

So where do we go from here?

We each have a choice.  A choice about how we want to walk through life.  About how we want to lead the organizations we’re involved with. If good really is for everyone, then we have to keep the human component central.  I want you to go beyond understand this, and I want you to join me.

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