How to Foster Your Company’s Future Leaders Through CSR

You can fuel your succession planning through CSR.


It’s likely you understand the customer-sided benefits of corporate social responsibility (CSR). After all, 80% of people purchase products made in an environmentally and socially responsible way whenever they can, but what may be less obvious is that CSR can be key in nurturing your company’s future leaders.

CSR can cultivate the attributes of a good leader — resiliency, flexibility, collaboration, and high emotional intelligence — by teaching novice employees the valuable skills they desire and letting them rub elbows with leaders they’d have otherwise never met.

A 2016 Gallup report found that 59% of Millennial employees list growth and learning opportunities as two things they look for when applying for a job, while the numbers for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers sit at 44% and 41%, respectively. A consistent, straightforward CSR initiative provides employees with a forum to nurture those skills to help them become compassionate, competent future leaders.

Giving Back Is Good for Employees

Employees find intrinsic value in CSR. I mentored college students when working with the Clinton Global Initiative University, and I witnessed how these young people made social responsibility an integral part of their career aspirations. They wanted to actively participate in building a corporate culture focused on more than the bottom line.

While your employees are reaping the benefits of CSR, employers have something to gain from it, too. Consider employee retention, which is important to maintain in what many would call a transient employee market. In a 15-year longitudinal study, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that young adults hold approximately five jobs from age 22 to age 28, which is the typical range in which companies are likely to recruit their next star employees.

Use in-house CSR opportunities to appeal to this demographic and prompt these employees to look internally instead of externally when searching for their next career move. These undertakings can help boost employee engagement and retention because your employees get the chance to grow, learn, and give back to their community.

Improved engagement and retention rates translate to higher productivity and lower hiring and training costs for your company. You can also benefit from early-career employees gaining firsthand knowledge of local and international markets that are appealing to those looking to move up in a company or strike out on their own.

Let CSR Build Your Future Leaders

It’s easy to see why CSR is important to your company. But how do you make sure a CSR program helps young, potential-rich employees grow into future leaders? Use these three tactics:

1. Keep an open mind. Early-career employees are likely to have strong opinions about where the future is headed, how they can help, and what they want to learn. Listen to those suggestions, and tailor your CSR program in ways that fit their needs.

According to The CEO Force for Good’s “Giving in Numbers” study, the most successful companies commit to CSR that aligns with the values of their employees, their customers, and their communities. Millennial employees respond to transparent, inclusive ideas and goals. Keep an open ear to employee concerns and ideas to make sure your initiatives are geared in that direction.

2. Stray outside the norm. Don’t deny differences; acknowledge and learn from them. Simon Zadek, a senior fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, says most companies go through five stages as their CSR matures: defensive, compliance, managerial, strategic, and civil.

The companies that get to those more enlightened stages do so by engaging with members of our global society to understand how opinions and expectations about CSR are evolving. That includes engaging with their own employees and seeing how different opinions and realities can result in a broader common good.

3. Live it. According to the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey, many Millennials believe they can work on those problems through their jobs. Cultivate a giving culture in your internal workflow and your external CSR initiatives. The more entrenched a philanthropic mindset is at every level of your company, the more naturally it will come to employees and, subsequently, mold the types of leaders and executives they mature into.

Leverage all the benefits that CSR can offer your company. Sure, it feels good and looks good to customers, but don’t miss out on the very real ways that CSR can nurture your future leaders. It might be just the ticket to mold youthful employees into the leaders who can ideally guide your company in the years to come.

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