Michele Robinson

CSR, CSR, Who’s Got the CSR – The Hot Potato Conundrum of Corporate Social Responsibility Governance

Blog Post created by Michele Robinson Employee on Mar 4, 2018

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a complex program with matrixed organizational ownership and accountabilities, making it difficult for any one function to successfully manage it. As a result, it is often bounced around between different departments with pieces of accountability in each related organization – resembling the children’s game Hot Potato, whereby an object is quickly passed between a group of people until an individual, begrudgingly, ends up with it. In this post, I will review an organizational structure that may help stop the bouncing Hot Potato of CSR governance and drive clearer accountability.


Why so many Hot Potato players?

Every employee has a part to play in CSR, which means there are many business areas that have some semblance of ownership and accountability. In addition, the varied aspects of the program, including program documentation, internal and external reporting, and annual initiatives that make progress toward the CSR vision, each have their own set of detailed requirements. Take external CSR reporting as an example. This aspect alone has multiple facets across human resources, global sourcing, product, and environmental health and safety functions – just to name a few. And within each of those are a variety of required statistical approaches, measures and goals needed to support different external stakeholder requirements.


Add to this a geographically and/or functionally dispersed business, and managing a CSR program with so many organizational stakeholders – or Hot Potato players – can seem daunting at best, paralyzing at worst. But CSR efforts can’t be frozen by the complexity. There are commitments that must be met! So, what are CSR practitioners to do?


At Keysight, we looked at similarly complex and broad-reaching programs for organizational inspiration and quickly realized we could apply the same principals as any large, cross-functional program to CSR. What resulted was a governance structure similar to a corporate-level Program Management Office (PMO).


Leveraging PMO structure for CSR governance

In a recent blog post, Hamish Gray, Keysight Senior Vice President Corporate Services and CSR executive sponsor, discussed the six steps Keysight took towards an evolved CSR program model upon the company formation. Step six of this evolution focused on engaging a governance team. This was when we investigated how best to organize our CSR program engagement model for success. Maybe it is the engineering in our DNA, or our company’s multiple experiences with complex, leading-edge enterprise efforts, but it seemed logical to consider a PMO structure for our CSR governance.


There are varying PMO organizational approaches to consider, but all have the same fundamental structure of governance that can be applied to CSR just like any other cross-functional, enterprise-wide program.


  • Identification of a single executive sponsor: It is critical to identify a single executive that is accountable for CSR success. This doesn’t mean this individual owns every functional aspect of these efforts. It simply ensures there is a final strategic decision-maker in place that is ultimately responsible for the success of CSR. This role provides guidance to the team, helps secure resources and organizational linkages, and champions the program throughout the company. In Hot Potato terms, this is where the “potato” lands at the top level.


  • Buy-in, guidance and support from an executive steering committee: Representation from the highest available executives and senior managers of the key functions involved in CSR provides a global business priority perspective to key CSR topics, assists in resolving strategy issues and policy decisions, and ensures alignment, control, and resourcing to implement to plan company-wide. This committee also provides an active escalation and decision path for balancing resources and prioritizing emerging trends against business commitments.


  • Empowered core team of functional stakeholders to deliver to plan: There are many ways to structure a core team, but essentially there are two critical levels at play in the CSR space.  
    • Governing program team: In Keysight this is a small team with a primary lead, me, that serves as the conduit for day-to-day program needs such as managing the plan of record (POR), commitment tracking, communications and deliverables to ensure program costs and resourcing are in line with our CSR vision and company priorities. Risks, actions, issues, decisions and opportunities are funneled through this central group for disposition, and offers a single CSR escalation path across the company.
    • Functional lead team: A working group where representatives from each function serve as single points of contact within their organizations. These team members represent input from their functional areas into the strategic decision-making process while providing a single point of contact within their organization to manage function-specific deliverables. In Keysight’s case, we further identify individuals from this working group to function as leads for each of our foundational pillars, helping manage any reporting aligned to critical program areas.


  • Competent extended team to support deliverables: Given the breadth of CSR efforts, core team members may not be detailed subject matter experts (SMEs) in their functions. Core team members rely on SMEs within their organizations who become the CSR extended team. This is particularly helpful during reporting season, when quickly engaging and communicating can help speed delivery of the multiple data collection requirements.


The Hot Potato has landed … and it’s okay!

By taking a PMO approach to CSR governance, Keysight has been able to support the program vision, business commitments and broader community by allowing us to:

  • Strategically manage CSR with key business priority and strategic decision-makers in place.
  • Clarify and drive accountability.
  • More easily gain alignment on resourcing and organizational support to meet CSR objectives across the company – functionally and globally.
  • Implement a defined process that identifies, consolidates, and prioritizes CSR needs while gaining executive alignment for resourcing and implementation.
  • Leverage work and resources to collectively drive program success, while minimizing resource impacts.
  • Proactively assess and prioritize emerging trends and future requirements.


So far it has worked for us, but certainly isn’t the only way to effectively organize for successful CSR governance. I’d like to hear from you! How has your company organized to meet CSR program needs? Do you have any learnings you could share that we should consider, or some best practices that have made a difference for your business?