Where does the boundary lie? The need for stronger ties between HR and CSR

Guest Blog by Bruce McCombie, Head of Partnerships, Pilotlight


On your commute home tonight, how often will you be reminded about those less fortunate than you? Will you pass a homeless person on the street, will you read in the newspaper about an inspirational charity worker transforming the lives of young people, or will you see an appeal for help on Facebook? And will that prompt you to volunteer?


According to the Office for National Statistics, the proportion of people volunteering between 2000 and 2015 increased from 39 to 41 per cent amongst men, and 39 to 42 per cent amongst women. Data also suggests that those aged between 16 and 24 have increased the time they devote to volunteering.



Skilled, ambitious workers, like the people you manage, are aware of the “have nots” and are determined not to lose touch. As the nation’s workforce grows more socially aware, and with increasing numbers of employees dedicated to contributing to society, there is a pressing need for companies to weave Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives into their personal and talent development programmes.
Traditionally, HR and CSR departments have operated as separate entities. Charitable initiatives have a track record of being sponsored by the CSR function. However, HR is becoming increasingly integral in deciding the direction of a company’s CSR strategy, particularly when it comes to skilled volunteering: the process of leveraging the professional skills and expertise of individuals to support charities with specific business issues.


Clearly the time to integrate CSR and HR is now and companies need to look at how they can support their employees’ desire to volunteer their skills and ‘give back’ effectively. But the challenge facing HR managers is how to manage skilled volunteering to both develop staff and support the communities with whom they choose to work.


The Pilotlight Programme facilitates such an engagement, matching teams of business people with charities and social enterprises to offer coaching that helps them become more strategic and impactful. It’s a scheme that encourages networking, knowledge sharing and, chiefly, experiential leadership training – a rival to any internal staff development initiative.


Since it was first established in 2003, Pilotlight has worked with more than 1,000 Pilotlighters, Pilotlight’s business volunteers, and over 550 charities and social enterprises across the country. The model does not require any charity experience; it is expertly-managed and facilitated by Pilotlight Project Managers, meaning your time and skills are well utilised.


This is an important point as volunteers don’t always recognise how broad-ranging their experience is and how it can be applied to solve several business critical issues. Of course there are various hurdles to be overcome, but by combining the efforts of HR and CSR and facilitating a managed process, volunteering can achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for both parties involved.


To put the business benefit into perspective, 79 per cent of Pilotlighters reported higher job satisfaction after taking part in the programme last year and 70 per cent said the initiative had complemented their career development. In addition, 95 per cent said it had improved their coaching skills and 82 per cent felt it had helped to increase their professional network. That said, businesses need to have the dedicated time to fully benefit from the project. It’s not a venture to be rushed: it is a carefully managed 10-12 month engagement of 3 hour meetings monthly and having the space to allow for holistic business planning is invaluable to charities.


People are also increasingly valuing leaders that display empathy and compassion – it’s no longer solely about power, privilege and profit. CSR can help employees become well-rounded leaders before they reach the C-suite, allowing them to develop soft skills such as team building and skill sharing.


That’s because working with leaders of small charities that are making a real difference is incredibly enlightening. The quality of leadership – the drive, passion and determination – in the sector is very strong but could always be better. I’ve seen business leaders gain real benefits in developing their coaching and non-executive skills through partnering with charities.


Recently I caught up with one of our Pilotlighters, Jane Drysdale, who heads up HR at Brunel University London. What Jane says really encapsulates what I hear many times: “I view Pilotlight as a developmental opportunity for our leaders – a real high value, practicable alternative to a leadership programme or executive coaching.”


The Morgan Stanley Strategy Challenge is another example of how strategic, skilled-based CSR can not only act as the rocket fuel for a charitable organisation, but also encourage knowledge-sharing across various disciplines. Pilotlight has managed the Strategy Challenge since its UK launch in 2013, providing on the ground support to help charities access the skills and strategic insights of Morgan Stanley employees. This in turn provided a forum from which Morgan Stanley’s top-performing employees could gain an insight into, and help shape, the strategy development of a specific issue faced by charities involved. The teams then present back recommendations and implementation plans which have led charity partners to expand services, strengthen their business models and increase overall effectiveness.


CSR therefore doesn’t only work to boost staff morale – it gives employees the opportunity to test and grow their skills, and for this reason, HR needs to take more ownership of the HR issues associated with CSR programmes. By doing so, businesses can facilitate mutual benefits for employees and charity partners whereby both parties have the skills and insights to thrive.


Author: Editor

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