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That was the focus of one of the panels at Net Impact 2011 featuring Avon’s VP of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, Tod Arbogast; LinkedIn’s Head of Employment, Branding and Community, Meg Garlinghouse; and Jones Lang LaSalle’s SVP of Sustainability Strategy, Michael Jordan.

Representing companies that are often called out for their out of the box thinking on social responsibility and sustainability, the speakers discussed a range of topics including the always debatable definition of corporate social responsiblity, measuring employee engagement as well as the skill sets that go into the makings of a CSR director.

Main highlights:

CSR: Burden or Boon?

“CSR should die as a term. CSR departments tend to take away from possible impact. Just like ‘global’ is part of everything we do at LinkedIn, so is CSR,” Garlinghouse emphasized, noting, “Employee engagement is key for CSR, not separate departments.”

Jordan picked up where Garlinghouse left off adding that businesses must leverage engaged employees and identify champions early on for successful CSR programs.

“CSR has a direct tie-in with our business. After you’ve built the business case and identified regional champions, work together on identifying and building in efficiencies,” he advised.

“Build friendships, be seen as pragmatic and capture early wins. Then leverage those to go further and faster,” Arbogast said.

Measuring Employee Engagement

But how do you measure the efficacy of employee engagement?

A survey I conducted a few months ago with Smartbrief on Sustainability asked whether companies were measuring employee engagement on CSR. With over 70 percent of respondents saying they did not measure employee engagement, how were these panelists identifying wins and scale?

Once again, there was a healthy difference of opinion across the panel. While Garlinghouse emphasized company mission, the other two focused on operational procedures and policies.

“We recruit on the notion of social impact. These conversations happen during the interview process,” Garlinghouse alluded, noting LinkedIn’s entire modus operandi is based on “creating economic opportunities.” LinkedIn also offers employees the opportunity to do whatever they feel passionate about one Friday a month. “They have to come to work but they can pursue whatever they are interested in,” she said.

“For us, measuring the progress of your platform from awareness to implementation to operational strategy has always been key,” added Jordan.

Defining CSR With Strong Stakeholders

Responding to an audience question about resourcing for CSR initiatives, Jordan emphasized that most of Jones Lang LaSalle’s sustainability activities have been client-driven. “There is a clear business case because our clients are demanding sustainability strategies,” he said.

For Garlinghouse, employees have been the most forthcoming about corporate social responsibility initiatives. “Our CEO is very involved. Also, our employees are really committed to our company mission,” she said.

Skill Sets for a CSR Officer

Arbogast, who joined Avon in late 2009 after successfully leading Dell’s Giving program for a number of years, is a well-sought after speaker at the Net Impact conference each year. This year too, he was asked what aspiring professionals could do to become effective CSR officers. He laid out three crucial skills sets:

  1. People’s Person: Know how to communicate with people from all kinds of backgrounds and perspectives.
  2. Conflict Resolution: You must be a skilled mediator. Know that business cases will vary from group to group and you must be willing and diplomatic enough to finesse the tension lines and bring about resolution.
  3. Business Pragmatism: You must be a realist and know the business inside out. For CSR and sustainability programs to be effective, you need to understand what drives decisions and action.

Originally written for and published on CSRwire’s Commentary section Talkback on November 9, 2011.