Be The Change, But First Be Yourself

Be The Change, But First Be Yourself

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 13 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for CSRwire.

What do we know about the role of individuals as CSR change agents? Intuitively, we resonate with adages such as Gandhi’s ‘be the change you want to see in the world’, or Margaret Mead’s famous quote: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does’. But beyond these clichés, what do we really know about change in the context of CSR?

As part of my PhD research, I interviewed a range of CSR professionals – by which I mean managers, consultants, academics and NGO representatives working on corporate social, environmental and ethical issues. As expected, I found that the desire to create change recurs as a consistent theme. But the way in which CSR professionals make change happen, and the satisfaction they derive as a result, differs considerably.

For some, as one might have guessed, values play an important role. In particular, corporate responsibility is seen as a way to align work with personal values. For example, one manager I interviewed says: ‘It’s the inner drive, it’s the way I am put together, my value system, my belief system … it’s my Christian belief, my ethical approach.’ Another explains that it is important to have ‘inspirational leadership and people who align with your value sets’.

For many CSR professionals, their motivation also derives from the fact that sustainability and responsibility are such dynamic, complex and challenging concepts. ‘The satisfaction is huge,” says one corporate responsibility manager, ‘because there is no day that is the same when you get into your office. It’s always changing, it’s always different.’ Another reflects that corporate responsibility ‘painted a much bigger picture’ and is ‘just as holistic as you want it to be. It requires a far broader vision’.

These two factors – values alignment and the CSR concept – are fairly cross-cutting motivators. However, it is also possible to distinguish four fairly distinctive types of CSR professional, based on how they derive satisfaction from their work. In practice, every individual draws on all four types, but the centre of gravity rests with one, representing the mode of operating in which that individual feels most comfortable, fulfilled or satisfied.

The first type of CSR change agent is the Expert. Experts find their motivation though engaging with projects or systems, giving expert input, focusing on technical excellence, seeking uniqueness through specialisation, and pride in problem solving abilities. To illustrate, one Expert-type CSR professional explains: ‘There were a couple of projects that I did find very exciting … It was very exciting to get all the bits and pieces in place, then commission them and see them starting to work.’ Another Expert says: ‘I usually get that sense of meaning in work when I’ve finished a product, say like an Environmental Report and you see, geez you know, I’ve really put in a lot and here it is. Or you have had a series of community consultations and you now have the results.’

The second type of CSR change agent is the Facilitator 

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2012) Be the Change, But First Be Yourself, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 25 January 2012.

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