HR’s Role in Supporting Responsible Business – The Sustainability Expert’s View

One of the conclusions of CRF’s upcoming research on Responsible Business is that organisations face a number of challenges on the transformational journey to becoming one. These challenges include gaining leadership buy-in, collaborating effectively across functional boundaries, embedding the responsibility mindset into the organisational culture, and narrowing the gap between good intentions on responsibility and actions undertaken. We find that the HR function is poised to maximise its contribution to the business by supporting colleagues to overcome many of these challenges; however, the HR function’s contribution to Responsible Business appears to be limited, thus far.

David Grayson, Emeritus Professor of Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield University and global sustainability expert, offered his view on what role the HR function can play in driving responsibility in its organisation.

Grayson’s key messages are:

  1. HR’s biggest opportunity is around embedding responsibility throughout the business. “There is a great opportunity for the HR function to play a much bigger role in helping their company to really embed responsibility and sustainability through the business”. Ambitious HR professionals can take a bigger role, and have a greater impact, by helping incorporate responsibility into the organisational culture.
  2. 2. HR shouldn’t fear responsibility – it already has the tools and understanding of how to use them. “Many of the tools HR professionals use are the tools which can now be stretched, or changed in terms of some of their criteria, to help businesses to embed responsibility and sustainability”. In terms of incentives, reward systems, appraisals, targets, and so on, HR already understands how to use the tools; it’s just a matter of embracing new language and criteria.
  3. Some of the most important elements of responsibility are in HR’s core territory. “Things like health and wellbeing, things like really engaging and empowering all employees, and being a truly inclusive organisation that thrives on diversity – these are key parts of being a responsible business, and they are core HR territory”.

Grayson also notes a few challenges HR should be aware of:

  1. Many organisations are tempted to try to do everything all at once, expecting that they can get from today’s position to leadership more quickly than is realistic. “One of the challenges is being willing to stick with it over time, and to understand that this is probably the most significant change management exercise that any organisation can do”.
  2. Silo mentalities and conflicting time horizons within the organisation can stymie progress on responsibility and sustainability. Interfunctional collaboration is key to enabling responsibility and sustainability to get off the ground in an organisation; HR can play a role in helping to develop formal and informal mechanisms for cross-functional working. To make progress on responsible business goals, the organisation will also have to shift its strategic planning and activities into longer time horizons.
  3. Many organisations still misunderstand responsibility and sustainability as a niche topic, rather than understanding it as something that covers the totality of the business and how it operates. “A lot of organisations have what they understand to be responsibility – ‘we have a CSR department, we’ve got some nice awards for it, we don’t need to worry about that’. It’s still a challenge getting them to understand that this is about the totality of how you run your business”.

For a deeper dive into the whys and hows of Responsible Business, join CRF at our upcoming Masterclass ‘Responsible Business – How Can HR Drive the Agenda?’, where you will also receive a copy of our full research report.

Register for our Responsible Business event on 10 September 2019

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