Corporate social responsibility aspirations can be achieved, benefiting both people and organisations, according to Colin Coulson-Thomas. Speaking in New Delhi at the International Conference on Social Responsibility he outlined an approach that can close gaps between rhetoric and reality and deliver large returns on investment.
According to Coulson-Thomas,“Mankind faces such a variety of global challenges that new approaches are needed that can enable multiple responses, and provide 24 hour a day support. Organisations must raise their ambitions, and ensure strategies to reach and engage much larger numbers of people are quickly implemented.”
The professor has found that over a period of years significant gaps have emerged between the articulated strategies of boards and their implementation, to such an extent that achievements have sometimes fallen far short of aspirations. His research focuses on what boards can do to match words with deeds.
Coulson-Thomas suggests “a bottom up approach that is rooted in the empowerment of people and provides the support necessary to enable many more individuals to take responsible and beneficial decisions. With performance support a board equips others to take decisions with less detrimental and more sustainable consequences, and with a view to reaching larger numbers of people and democratising opportunities.”
In relation to sustainability, climate change and other concerns, Coulson-Thomas explains: “Governing bodies can consciously set out to make customers and users of their offerings more aware of the consequences of buying decisions. Directors can take steps to encourage and enable more responsible and less harmful purchasing and consumption. Health, the environment and profitability can all benefit.”
Coulson-Thomas believes “boards can secure a multiplier effect by equipping others to behave responsibly. This could apply to customers and users, as well as to employees and business partners. Boards can ensure people are equipped to do what is expected and enabled to create and deliver sought after outcomes.”
Too often the professor’s investigations suggest corporate social responsibility (CSR) and other policies remain as words on paper, and there is a wide gap between boardroom aspiration and the reality of front line conduct. As well as assembling relevant capabilities a board must ensure that processes and tools are in place to apply these capabilities to the achievement of its vision, goals and objectives.
Many boards need more cost effective ways of implementing policies if good intentions are to result in desired outcomes. Coulson-Thomas has identified practical steps a board can take to increase awareness of the potential consequences of different courses of action, and change behaviour in areas where collective decisions and conduct can have harmful or beneficial impacts.
Performance support can address multiple needs of both a company and external stakeholders. Coulson-Thomas finds “applications can help others, boost performance and speed up and enable bespoke responses, as well as reducing stress, avoiding risks and cutting compliance costs. Today people can be helped to help themselves, and high returns on investment can be obtained”.
Providing support makes it much easier: for staff and customers to understand complex areas; for people dealing with customers to do difficult jobs; and for customers themselves to make responsible choices. Emphasis shifts from selling to enabling customers to determine the most beneficial option, and making it easy for them to buy a solution that addresses their individual needs, priorities and concerns. Performance support can also free people from dependency upon particular locations.
Coulson-Thomas is clear that “helping customers and users to make socially responsible choices can enable a supplier to build longer lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with them. Boards can act with more confidence that people will be equipped to implement CSR and other policies. Engaging, informing and empowering them can achieve beneficial outcomes for us all and the planet.”
Colin Coulson-Thomas was speaking at the 6th International Conference on Social Responsibility held at the Hotel Le Meridien, New Delhi, India. He also appeared in a panel discussion that was filmed by NDTV. The conference was organised by India’s Institute of Directors and the World Council for Corporate Governance.
Dr. Colin Coulson-Thomas, an experienced consultant, chairman of Adaptation and an academic at the University of Greenwich, has helped over 100 boards to improve director, board and corporate performance, and spoken at over 200 national and international events in 40 countries. His books “Developing Directors” on building better boards and “Winning Companies; Winning People” are available from Policy Publications.