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Should CSR be Mandatory?

By Melissa J. Anderson

At a recent conference hosted by the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future, Katie Cleary, Manager, Consumer & Customer Insights, Campbell Soup Co., explained that CSR at the company is on every employee’s performance review. She explained, “It reminds us on a yearly basis that this is everyone’s responsibility.”

“Everyone’s responsibility.” Does making CSR a performance metric turn it into just another thing that employees have to do? Does it change from a contribution to just another check in the box? Does the added responsibility damage employee engagement?

Campbell’s has found success here – the key is how those CSR expectations are communicated – and how performance metrics are used in the carrot and stick scenario.

Success at Campbell’s

Performance metrics are certainly an effective way to drive home the importance of building a corporate culture around responsibility and sustainability, and you can’t deny that Campbell’s is onto something. After all, they have some of the highest employee retention rates in their industry.

In fact, said Campbell Soup CEO Douglas R. Conant at this year’s Catalyst Awards breakfast, in 2001 the company partnered with Gallop to measure its employee engagement levels – it had the “poorest level of engagement Gallop had ever seen.” In the past decade, the company’s engagement levels have risen significantly. “For the past four years, we’ve been in the top quartile for engagement,” Conant said.

During this time, the company has ramped up its commitment to CSR and sustainability. In fact, it’s ramped up just about all of its employee engagement strategies, like affinity networks and mentoring strategies. By working CSR commitment into its inclusive culture, the company has positioned it as something everyone wants to do, rather than something everyone has to do.

Hearts and Minds: A Winning Strategy

The lesson here is that performance metrics can be an excellent way to incorporate CSR and sustainability initiatives into the corporate culture, and they can be used as a retention driver. But they also have to be rooted firmly in a hearts-and-minds approach.

It’s a two part strategy, communicating to employees both the value of their CSR contribution and the reward for following through on their responsibility on their annual performance review. And by creating a CSR strategy that is also enmeshed with its employee engagement strategy, the company benefits, along with the workforce, the shareholders, and the planet.

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