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CSR Starts from the Top

As Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has assumed a greater place in contemporary business dialogue, discussion has been increasingly centered on the importance of senior executives in its implementation. While ideally socially responsible endeavors are practiced at all levels of a firm, it is clear that a business cannot become a leader in CSR if its decision-makers are hesitant about the benefits of corporate responsibility. Certainly, it helps a company's charitable practices if its CEO is personally altruistic. The example that executives at Microsoft have set has helped establish the CSR culture present throughout the entire company. But increasingly, the most important role executives play in CSR is their ability to anticipate its long-term payoffs. Rather than viewing corporate responsibility as a short-term cost, wise leaders understand its long-term payoffs such as the boost it provides to a company's reputation, employee morale, and sustainability in certain locales.

A look at IBM's 2008 Global CEO Study provides greater insights into how CEO's view their own roles. Each understands his or her role as an individual capable of looking at the company as a whole. This means they are able to understand trends and their customers/stakeholders' interests. Across the biennial CEO studies three external areas continue to assume greater importance: socioeconomic factors, environmental issues, and people skills. Each of these areas is linked to CSR, meaning CEOs are increasingly recognizing its importance to their entire business. Most importantly, senior executives are able to take a look at their entire supply chain and enterprise, giving them the opportunity to implement CSR values throughout the business. While socially-conscious employees may be able to improve the behavior of their departments, no one has the resources to enact policies throughout the company like those at the top. Given their holistic view and ability to rally workers, top executives are absolutely essential for the growth of CSR.