Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been defined as how companies manage the business processes to produce an overall positive impact on society. At NETSHEILA we argue that it is not just about managing business processes: for CSR to be anything but cosmetic, the individuals within the company must work from their core values.
Core values are the source of why a person does what they do. A person does not end up in the pharmaceutical industry because they studied chemistry, that person is there because of a need to use their ability as a scientist to contribute something to the world. Science is one form of expression available to that person; they may have others, such as love of family, enjoyment of physical health, or a delight in serving good food to friends. Scientists are seldom simply scientists. teachers are not just teachers. Teachers NETSHEILA works with want children from all walks of life to learn that they are capable of doing whatever inspires them, that there are people they can trust and confide in whatever their home background, that learning is fun.
Most organisations do not encourage their employees to work from their core values. Companies have however learned to define their own core values, because marketing has shown that a set of specific core values that speak to the public is a competitive advantage. These are cosmetic core values – as cosmetic as policies to accommodate ethnic minorities or women in leadership positions. Most employees will not remember the company core values. Most people will not automatically follow company policy on women in leadership. These core values are not intrinsic to the individuals.
The advantage companies can gain is in creating a workplace where people are invited to bring in their core values. The logic is simple. Imagine a lunchtime conversation where three people talk about their day so far. In a normal conversation you will hear complaints about bosses and complaints about employees. Clients from hell are another popular topic. In a conversation where people are listening to each other from their core values, the complaints give access to a new conversation. “OK, so you are having difficulty convincing your boss of X. From your core value of Y, what is the next action you could take?”
NETSHEILA trains organisations to encourage employees to work from their core values. In schools that have worked with NETSHEILA, teachers are starting to communicate with each other from their core values and are finding that they are getting more done, using each other more effectively as resources, and that the children they teach are getting a better quality of education. The core values of the teachers are diverse and by connecting with each other on the level of what drives each person, the teachers are finding that they have a larger resource pool from which to draw.
In a recent conversation with an HR executive in an oil company in Papua New Guinea we explored what it would look like if the company encouraged its employees to work from their core values. To give some background to the question, this particular oil company has caused local traditional land owners anguish. The traditional landowners were not adequately compensated for losing their land and they are not sharing in the wealth the enterprise is generating. Said differently, the landowners are being kept poor – beggars – while a foreign company thrives on the resource exploitation.
The HR executive had very little awareness and understanding of these issues, although she had heard that the traditional landowners were unhappy. As an outsider however there was something she was bringing in, which was something she had brought to every position she has ever worked in. She finds ways for the company to support local schools. Access to education for all children is one of her core values. Her colleagues will have other core values – values that relate to their work and go beyond a simple interest in a good wage. When these colleagues find ways to speak to each other from their core values they will find new ways of managing the environmental impact of their work and the impact of their company on local communities.
The core values of employees are part of the social capital of an enterprise. Employees working from their core values create the possibility of going beyond common business ideas of profit and productivity to looking at the bigger issues of how we contribute to the world we aspire to living in. A meeting of minds at the level of core values ignites people to solve big problems.