Integrating CSR and Training is like playing cupid - creating a match made in heaven!

I have been in the training industry for more than a decade, and I also have a long-standing personal interest in corporate sustainability and responsibility (CSR). So, naturally, as I’ve watched the CSR field develop, I ask myself this question: How can the training function support CSR initiatives?

The good news is that there is a huge opportunity for training to support CSR goals, and for CSR to enrich corporate training and communications. The bad news is that very few companies seem to be picking up on this opportunity. The HR–CSR link has only been recently receiving any attention, mostly thanks to the work of Elaine Cohen. I see it as two people who are perfect for each other, but don’t quite realize it yet — and I’m playing a sort of organizational-development Cupid. 🙂

CSR Needs Training
Traditionally, the training function lives within HR departments, with a focus on training to support new hires, compliance, product training, and continuing education. Businesses are recognizing the value of linking training functions directly to initiatives and business units, but this change is still a pendulum swinging back and forth within many organizations. CSR, as a newer function for many businesses, tends to remain isolated from the key work functions it needs to engage with to succeed. Companies often designate a sustainability officer or team to achieve goals such as charitable contributions, volunteering, green supply chains, and green office practices. Without solid cross-functional collaboration and implementation support, however, these programs can’t thrive.

The result is that employees are not fully engaged in CSR-related efforts, making lasting behavior-change difficult. Companies lose the chance to engage employees with CSR’s deeper, value-based messages, which have been shown to increase an intrinsic connection to a work community. When you add well-executed training and implementation support to the equation, however, those messages reach their audience, and suddenly the ROI of CSR is much stronger.
This is evidenced by a recent conversation I had with a team lead for sustainability consulting at a Big 4 firm. He shared that 90 percent of the deliverables their team proposes to support CSR strategy for clients are communications and training deliverables. Ninety percent! It’s as though CSR just described the man of her dreams, and his name is Training, and he’s been there down the hall in HR all along… Tweeeetawoooooo!

Training Needs CSR
There is also a need for what we call “meaning of work” support for training programs. This can be thought of as bringing the CSR spirit — or the “we care” ethos, as we call it here at SweetRush — into every training experience. CSR frequently seeks to drive changes related to culture and value systems, and it is precisely when we connect the best values of an organization with the best values of its stakeholders that we see synergies that are win-win for all parties.

For example, in a current, large-scale project that impacts front-line associates in a retail environment, we have the opportunity to increase the company’s revenue through a new training curriculum. On the surface, this could be straightforward sales training. In our approach, though, we factor in that people perform better when they have more meaning and purpose in their lives. By connecting their work to the larger impact of CSR-related initiative — integrating it through learning content, quizzes, games, CSR-related rewards, and SPIFs (rewards programs) — we offer something much deeper and more valuable. Employees get the message that by doing their job better, they are making the world a better place.

Training programs are often vulnerable to being dismissed as boring or even a waste of time. Yet the opportunity to offer deeply transformative experiences for employees and organizations alike is available, especially when you link engaging learning with the meaning of work.

Organizations should take every opportunity available to share their values through training and communication. Every training course or event can be made more effective by engaging the learner in the larger purpose of their learning experience and their work function, and of their employer’s positive social contribution. The way we see it, training — more than any other way of sharing these values — has the most impact. Why? Because the values are presented within the context of the learners’ day-to-day jobs, the skills they need to succeed in those jobs, and the policies and procedures that support the organization as a whole.

To this end, SweetRush has made it part of our practice to include the connection of meaning and purpose at work within our instructional design approach. We have found, both for ourselves and for our clients, a genuine excitement when we bring this level of thinking and connectedness to the values of their organization. In the Cupid metaphor, we’re that Training guy crushing on the cute gal in CSR: She’s starting to notice us, and we’re feeling giddy.

CSR and Training: A Happy Union
When people are a part of an organization and are working to be good corporate citizens, they feel proud to be associated with the company and to have an opportunity to share that pride in doing good things. It brings a deeper connectedness to the entire organization.

When we get a chance to both learn and connect to the more meaningful aspects of our work and the organizations we serve, we get to experience ourselves in our finest expressions. Or put more simply: True love brings out the best in us. 🙂