by Bradley K. Googins, Ph.D., Center Executive Director
I was intrigued to see that Human Resource Magazine's cover story for August was "Corporate Social Responsibility Pays Off." For years I've been frustrated by the disconnect and silos that exist between corporate citizenship functions and the human resource group. The magazine story suggests this is now being addressed.
I carry, of course, a huge bias, as I founded the Center for Work and Family at Boston University almost two decades ago and brought it with me when I moved to Boston College 12 years ago. To me, there are logical connections between employees and communities and the inside-outside foci they represent. But after running a few focus groups between citizenship and HR professionals, I grew frustrated at the rigid boundaries and absence of systems-thinking between the two areas. Ultimately, I tucked my tail between my legs and chose to focus on other areas within the company structure.
A decade later there it is on the cover of one of the leading HR journals. Every issue has its time.
Why is corporate citizenship coming onto the human resource agenda now? While this is a more complicated question than can be addressed in this column, there are a few key points worth noting. A good starting point might be to look at widely used strategies regarding the "war for talent."
The war for talent became one of the key tenets driving global competitiveness in the 1970s and '80s — especially as the new economy exploded at the end of the last century and bodies and minds were in short supply in industries from engineering to accounting.
At the very time that all sorts of incentives were being created to lure scarce employees into a given workplace, traditional bonds such as pensions, healthcare benefits and other supports were being weaned away from employees. In fact, organizational commitment was being shifted to the individual.
While the term "war for talent" is still in vogue, today it seems to have lost its luster in the midst of a changing psychological contract. In many ways today's business is caught between the strong rhetoric surrounding the new mandates of employees self directing their careers, and the reality of fishing in a talent pool where the best and brightest are in scarce supply and have greater choice of what workplace to choose.
My colleagues Brad Harrington and Doug T. Hall have just come out with a wonderful new book, Career Management and Work Life Integration, that brings great insight into this issue. Their concept of the protean career as the new contract poses as many challenges for the 21st century corporation vying for scarce talent as it does for the individual who no longer has much organizational commitment to bind him or her to the company.
As we move toward the next generation of employees, we seem to be caught between two contradictory trends and values: Lifetime employment has been replaced by employees as free agents, and business success is tied even more to intense competition for building a strong human asset base — in other words, attracting and maintaining the best and the brightest.
Within this context, it is interesting to see how corporate citizenship is becoming a different and powerful new driver for winning the talent war.
Recruiters at some companies report that the company's citizenship and sustainability report is the most requested collateral on the recruiting trail. The millennial generation, by many reports, is looking for workplaces that will ensure continuity between their values and their careers.
This generation, socialized in community service and possessing a passionate commitment to cultural environments, expects a company to walk its talk. It also expects the company to provide opportunities for employees to act on their values — resulting in the emergence of employee engagement as a strategic issue.
Take one of the examples cited in the cover story of Human Resource Magazine: Capgemini, a consulting firm in the Netherlands, was faced with finding talent to fill 800 new IT positions — a huge challenge in a marketplace where competition is fierce. To position the company as socially responsible and build brand awareness, Capgremini designed a market research tool to survey IT and management consultants on recruitment and retention factors. As an incentive for filling out the survey it decided to fund a week of housing and schooling for poor children in India. This resulted in more than 2,000 of the 10,000 who filled out the survey submitting their resumes, and the 800 were interviewed and hired.
This indirect approach clearly served as a competitive differentiator in the human resource marketplace, and tapped into a growing employee base for whom corporate responsibility and company values matter.
I think this is just the cutting edge of a new wave in which employees will play a very energizing role in shaping corporate citizenship, and bring a much needed face and passion to a company's corporate citizenship strategy.
I expect some interesting developments as companies explore ways for human resources and corporate citizenship to collaborate and begin breaking down the silo-making organizational walls. Attracting and retaining employees, along with a more deliberate strategy of employee engagement, can only strengthen the citizenship of a company and its human resource strategy and result in more effective and vibrant workforces. But first those inside companies have to get to know one another and find new collaborations that move beyond rhetoric into creating strategic advantage.