What’s a Chief Responsibility Officer?

Rangan et al. argued that well-managed CSR creates social and environmental value, while supporting a company’s business objectives and reducing operating costs, and enhancing relationships with key stakeholders and customers.[1]  Rangan et al. joined others in recommending that companies establish an independent full-time position to oversee CSR and sustainability (they referred to this position as the “Chief Responsibility Officer” (“CRO”)) and who would have access to the CEO and input into the company’s business strategy.  Rangan et al. emphasized that it was important for the CRO to hold that position as his or her primary responsibility, noting that too many companies delegated CSR oversight responsibilities to human resources or operations managers who were only able to devote a portion of their time to that job while continue to spend most of their time on their day-to-day line responsibilities.

The CRO should be given the resources to do his or her job in the form of a dedicated CSR unit that would be formally and publicly tasked with coordinating and integrating CSR initiatives across the organization, even if responsibility for implementation of the various initiatives remains dispersed throughout the company.  While the CRO cannot attend every planning meeting or event, representatives of the unit can be knowledgeable participants for each program including have decision rights in the design and execution of programs.  The knowledge collected from the activities of the CSR unit will allow the CRO to elevate strategic CSR topics and priorities to the highest levels within the organization quickly and effectively.[2]  Rangan et al. conceded that coordinating a company’s CSR initiatives in a strategic manner is a challenging task given that companies may be engaged in a diverse set of programs that include philanthropy, value chain activities and wholesale business transformation that may be driven and led by a range of actors including community affairs managers, operations managers and members of the executive team.

Rangan et al. pointed out that having CSR represented in the C-suite serves as a catalyst for the strong leadership and support for CSR initiatives that must emanate from the senior executive team in order for those initiatives to capture the imagination and energy of employees and other stakeholders.  The CRO should be sure that CSR is taken into account when business strategy is being discussed and established in the boardroom and in meetings among senior executives and should take the lead in communicating with operations managers about how budgets and performance metrics for particular programs have been established taking into account CSR priorities.  The CRO should also join the CEO in engaging with stakeholder groups to explain the company’s CSR strategy and obtain feedback and address concerns.  Finally, the CRO should be responsible for ensuring that the company adheres to the continuous process of auditing and evaluating its CSR activities necessary for a coherent and effective CSR strategy.

[1] K. Rangan, L. Chase and S. Karim, Why Every Company Needs a CSR Strategy and How to Build It (Cambridge MA: Harvard Business School Working Paper 12-088, April 5, 2012), 21.

[2] Id. at 21-22.

For further discussion of the model proposed by Rangan et al. for developing a CSR strategy, see Strategic Planning for Sustainability prepared and distributed by the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Project.

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