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I met PwC Canada’s James Temple at a roundtable of CSR and sustainability leaders brought together by Edelman in Minneapolis in 2011 to discuss how they planned on moving forward on their commitments and what roadblocks they saw ahead.

I was the chosen facilitator for the hour and luckily for me, I got to ask all the questions!

The conversation was busy, high level and revealed a lot about the challenges these practitioners were facing as they worked to change the systems within their multinational corporations. While the roundtable was operated under Chatham House rules, the relationships that were formed that day continue to flourish.

Longevity is a true asset in this sector – and James has continued to be a wonderful resource and a much-needed mentor for those looking to pursue a career in the CSR field – critical as generations turnover across our workforce and expectations and mindsets on corporate social responsibility shift globally. He recently also facilitated a webinar to explore some of the latest trends in building a career in CSR. I asked him to pen some highlights and top tips for readers and here’s what he had to say:


 

I recently hosted a webinar focused on exploring trends and insights about building a career in corporate responsibility as part of what’s become a semi-annual conversation between hundreds of prospective practitioners and sector trailblazers.

As practitioners in a field that continues to transform, the conversation was dominated by the importance of networking and how to best leverage relationships toward pursuing a meaningful career. Joining me for the discussion were Paul Klein, president and founder of Impakt; Jerilynn Daniels, senior manager of community investment and marketing at RBC; Alex Daprato, partnership marketing associate at TrojanOne; and PwC Canada’s Sustainability Manager Klaudia Olejnik.

After a quick review of the CSR industry, we switched to discussing our panelists’ respective careers. Specifically, how they got there, if they would recommend breaking into the field today or if integrating a CSR mindset into any role is the way to go – and what they felt some of the key capabilities were that would help set an emerging leader up for success.

We also ran a live Twitter stream to help with on-the-spot responses from across the globe. Most of the questions focused on how to transcend the passion behind the industry to a sustainable career focused on embedding and implementing a complex change management strategy.

And how do we do this in a way that facilitates breaking into an increasingly complex field?

What struck me most was a single word: enough.

Too many times we focus on trying to be everything to everyone, but how can we understand corporate cultures in a way that doesn’t become overwhelming and can be communicated effectively? Could this be a building block to create the foundation for a career in CSR?

The panelists suggested that when thinking about who to talk to and what to ask, great networkers should remember that the CSR field is broad and diverse, and that practitioner experiences will be dependent on a variety of factors, including age, maturity of the organization that they are working for, geographic location, cultural norms and industry, just to name just a few. And framing good questions will be key to helping uncover the right information to inform decisions about a career in CSR and the tools needed to succeed.

From the hour-long conversation that featured numerous questions from an active audience, here are three recommendations to help enhance the networking experience:

  1. Brainstorm CSR related scenarios through open-ended questions

Great networkers focus on asking strong, open-ended questions during an informational interview and look for ways to create a knowledge exchange that’s mutually beneficial. When meeting with established CSR professionals, panelists recommended spending time working through scenarios or situational examples to compare diverse perspectives and ideas.

  1. Build a rapport that highlights genuine authenticity

Use networking time to build a rapport. Try to highlight a deep understanding about social issues, examples of continuous adaptation, or the ability to synthesize complex information in a way that can be re-communicated across diverse arrays of stakeholder groups.

  1. Use a shared language and keep the conversation focused around value creation for both people

In CSR, business language can be technical and complex.

Get back to basics, keep things clear and concise and remember to talk within the confines of a person’s role. Don’t overwhelm your mentor with general questions about how to change the world – they probably don’t know how (none of us do)! Instead, share complementary ideas that allow you to learn from each other.

Remember that curiosity is the name of the game, and you’ve got to check your ego at the door: CSR is a profession, not a persona. Let good communication skills guide your networking conversations, don’t let your passion to be a change-maker get in the way, and follow-up with those you’ve met to thank them for their time.

Combined, this might sound pretty basic but it’s the art of synthesizing complexity that will set you apart – and will make sure people remember you for your tact and talent.

About James Temple:

James Temple is the Director of Corporate Responsibility for PwC Canada and has a dual role leading the PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada Foundation. In this capacity, James provides oversight to the Canadian Firm’s internal Corporate Responsibility strategy, representing the ways PwC integrates good social, environmental and economic values into its business operations.

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