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October 05, 2011
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Home » YOU are a Corporate Responsibility Officer

Individuals at all levels can take action to improve Corporate Citizenship

“[G]lobalization and the information technology revolution have gone to a whole new level,” wrote Thomas Friedman in his Sunday New York Times Op-Ed. “Thanks to cloud computing, robotics, 3G wireless connectivity, Skype, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twtter, the iPad, and cheap Internet-enabled smartphones, the world has gone from connected to hyper-connected.”


Now, thanks to the globalization/IT revolution you can be a corporate responsibility officer (CRO). “This globalization/IT revolution is… ‘super-empowering’ individuals, enabling them to challenge hierarchies and traditional authority figures – from businesses to science to government.” While these tools have caused disruptive change – from Tunisia to the Tea Party – these same tools empower individuals at every level to become change agents of a more incremental, more impactful kind.

The corporation remains one of the most prominent institutions in the lives of ordinary people. Most people in the world work for, live next to, or invest in companies. Impacting the behavior of a company offers the most direct way of improving the lives of real people without having to man the barricades or run the risk of losing life, liberty, or property. Thanks to the globalization/IT revolution, no matter your title or “day-job” you can be a corporate responsibility officer.

How? Well, given that I’m the Executive Director of the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association, my first recommendation is to join the CROA. Corporate Responsibility, defined simply, means maximizing the positive impact of business while minimizing or eliminating the negative. With this in mind, the remit of a CRO is quite vast, spanning the corporation’s financial performance, governance, natural resource use, human rights, and community impact.

When we first founded the Association we based it on a false premise: that every company would end up with a CRO. We miscalculated. Companies don’t have “a” CRO, they have dozens or even hundreds of individuals interested and motivated to improve the citizenship of their employers. So we’ve recalibrated the mission of the CROA to focus on empowering individuals at every level to take action.

As a general member, which anyone can qualify for, you get instantly connected to a network of corporate professionals, NGOs, activists, academics, investors, and others all working toward the common goal of improving the role of business in society. Beyond the network, you’ll also access resources to start working from wherever you are in the organization. As a practicing member, open to anyone with corporate responsibility as part of their job function, not only do you connect to that same network you have access to tools, data, and research to super-charge your career and fulfill your professional mandate.

Even if you don’t join the CROA, I still encourage you to think of yourself as a CRO. Here’s a five-point checklist for getting started:

1. Start with a self-assessment. Examine your role and scope of influence. You may not have direct control over your company’s hiring practices or supply chain, but you may know people who do. Inventory who’s in your network and how they might play a role.

2. Start conversations. Reach out that inventory of people in your network. Don’t try to “sell” them on corporate responsibility. Just raise the issues. Ask them their opinion. How do they think the company can make a difference?

3. Use the formal and informal processes of your organization. Many companies have evolved the old “suggestion box” and now look for all kinds of input using everything from email to social media. Use these processes to submit your ideas and questions. As a newly minted CRO you have an obligation to ask the questions even if you don’t have the answers.

4. Give up being reasonable. A lot of people get stopped at this point by what they think is “realistic” – people won’t listen to me, my opinion won’t make a difference, I’m just one person. Calling on people to change is an unreasonable act. Get used to it.

5. Take action. Without bomb-throwing, encourage the companies you work for, live next to, or invest in to improve their citizenship. Learn what others have done by connecting with similarly motivated individuals through forums like CSR MeetUp or by attending conferences like the COMMIT!Forum. In these settings you can pick up lots of tips and tactics. With these insights, try your hand at wielding the power of the globalization/IT revolution. Post appropriate updates to Facebook or Twitter. Write a blog. But at the same time, know your company’s policies on social media.

Once you put on this new mantle as CRO, you’ll find yourself looking at the world, and your role in it, in a different light. The same tools that have disrupted society offer the potential to heal its wounds. As a CRO you can play a direct role in using these tools to improve the social contract between business and society.

Ready to take on your new role as a CRO? Come to the COMMIT!Forum on Sept 26-27 in NYC and commit to making a real difference. Your transformation into a CRO begins the moment you register today:

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