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2 Posts authored by: Michele Robinson Employee

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?

In a previous post, Keysight’s Senior Vice President Corporate Services and CSR Executive Sponsor Hamish Gray discussed the six-step journey Keysight took to evolve our CSR program and to meet emerging trends. I’d like to take a deeper look at the step in our journey that really changed everything! And by “everything,” I mean solidifying the strategic role corporate social responsibility (CSR) plays in business success.


Seeing the Forest through the Trees

The benefit of CSR programs to the planet are obvious: supporting community growth, mitigating impact on the environment, and supporting basic human rights for all people to name a few. The benefits to the company, however, can be lost in the process itself.


Let’s face it, from a company and shareholder perspective, the most critical role of CSR is to ensure related programs meet stakeholder requirements:

  • The investment community wants to invest in sustainable companies with minimal risk.
  • Customers need suppliers that help them meet their own CSR commitments, strategy and vision.
  • Current, and prospective, employees want to work for sustainable and ethical companies.


To support these varied requirements, companies must develop associated programs and logistics that ensure appropriate data collection is in place, manage detailed processes that monitor and measure efforts, respond to various reporting mechanisms, and actively communicate actions and results. In a global company such as Keysight, this often occurs across myriad functions, organization levels and countries. The result is a lot of great work being done in pockets of the company to meet specific requirements, but its collective benefit to the business gets lost in the details.


Corporate citizenship experts often tout the critical role that a sound CSR program plays. As a recent BSR report noted, one way to build appreciation for CSR is to "establish a compelling long-term value creation story that asserts the central role that sustainability plays in business success."1 I completely agree! But when you are in the throes of meeting stakeholder reporting requirements and measuring key performance indicators (KPIs) on specific program elements, it is easy to miss the proverbial sustainable forest through the trees.


Connecting CSR Program Goals to Company Objectives … Really?

At Keysight, we took the opportunity of our company formation to align our CSR programs directly to our company commitments for revenue growth, profitability and shareholder value. At first there was apprehension, perhaps even a bit of skepticism, that our CSR programs could be directly linked to the core business objectives. But as we considered all our programs collectively, the connection became clear.


Let’s take revenue growth as an example any company can relate to. There are many strategies to meet this objective, but in the CSR space, related strategies include having the right employee skillset to meet demand and enable faster new or adjacent market entry.


Keysight Penang International Science Fair promoting STEMFirst and foremost, the needed skillset for growth must be available to hire in the community. At Keysight, our CSR efforts support future engineer development programs starting in grade school through university students. This provides a baseline of future worker skills. Since Keysight formed in November 2014, the company has engaged roughly 275,000 students and future engineers through various science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education events and programs.


From there, it is critical to attract and retain the needed talent for growth. At Keysight, we enable this through a broad range of benefits to support employee hiring and retention, including ethical governance policies, philanthropy and volunteerism programs that align with employees’ interests.


Key to new market entries that support growth are solid and consistent ethical governance policies that meet worldwide regulatory and legal requirements. At Keysight, our strict focus in these areas enables us to more quickly enter a new product or region market and to integrate acquisitions because we are not continually having to re-invent the process.


These are only a few examples. At Keysight there are roughly 50 programs tracked as part of CSR. Each is directly linked to one or more business objective. Separately, these efforts may seem to support isolated company commitments, but when considered collectively, they become a solid contributor for meeting near- and long-term business objectives.


The "Aha" Moment Revealed!

As I mentioned earlier, there was a healthy level of skepticism when we started down the path of connecting our CSR program to business objectives. While each of our CSR governance team members own or represent multiple and deep-level CSR programs in their functions, and each participated in this mapping exercise, no one except me had seen the consolidation and rollup across our company. So, I was excited to present the outcome of our due diligence in this area.


I literally heard gasps when our CSR program and business objectives alignment was revealed. It was clear that, while everyone understood their actions in this space supported business commitments, they only saw one piece of the puzzle. When viewing all program contributions holistically and aligned with our companywide objectives, it was a collective “Aha” moment.


Since then, this realization has helped:

  • Develop a clear understanding of where and specifically how individual CSR programs impact business commitments and thus contribute to business success.
  • Enable our CSR governance team to more strategically manage the program by considering company impact in the prioritization of new initiatives and emerging trends.
  • More easily gain alignment on resourcing and organizational support to meet program objectives across the company – functionally and globally.


Again, this is not a new concept. Many leading companies have heeded the advice of industry experts and done this exercise. For those that have not yet, or are new to this space, as a practitioner of this advice I can unequivocally say it is well worth the effort!


Has your company aligned CSR goals to business objectives? How has it changed the view of such programs in your company? Alternatively, was there a different, more profound “Aha” moment from your organization’s CSR program development? I’d love to hear what has helped highlight the strategic nature of CSR programs in your company!



1. "Redefining Sustainable Business," BSR (Aron Cramer, Dunstan Allison-Hope, Alison Taylor, Beth Richmond, and Charlotte Bancilhon), January 18, 2018