Tag Archives: social responsibility

The Two Faces of Social Responsibility

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

In his July post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asked about the relevance of social responsibility. Although I already posted my initial thoughts, I’ve been thinking more about this question:

 “Have those that know quality raised their voices to explain to organizations that being socially responsible is not about philanthropy (giving money for social good), but about [doing well by doing good]?”

Based on my experience working with the development of the ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility a few years ago, and the various articles I’ve read and discussions I’ve had with people about this concept over time, I think the thrust of social responsibility boils down to the following two points:

  • Are we operating ethically and responsibly?
  • Are we making the world a better (or “less bad”) place?

Although many discussions and perceptions of social responsibility are anchored in the second question, most of the guidance in ISO 26000 focuses on the first question! Only two of the ISO 26000 core subjects (human rights & the environment) really align with the philanthropic “corporate treehugger” mentality (discussed by Tim Mohin recently in Fast Company), and all of the core principles reflect shared values that pertain as much to the quality of life within the organization as outside of it.

Also, WORLD can mean a multitude of different things, and any definition you adopt should be perfectly OK. The ISO 26000 core subject of “community development” means that we can do well by doing good in any community – whether our own, or ones in general. You don’t have to make everyone’s world a better place, just someone’s world.

The Mohin article also notes that one goal of social responsibility initiatives in an organization is to “bring a conscience to the corporate structure” – so even if an organization is doing no philanthropy, as long as they are engaged in continually improving the well-being of a community (even if that community is within the organization) – they are still contributing to social responsibility.

At the same time, it’s possible for the most philanthropic, non-profit organization that’s doing AWESOME things to make the world a better place — to not be socially responsible at all by not adhering to ethical and responsible business practices.

Is Social Responsibility (SR) Mainstream or on the Fringe?

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

In his July post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks about the relevance of social responsibility:

“Is the world growing more responsive to the needs of being socially responsible (SR)?  Is SR mainstream thought, or still in the fringe?  Have those that know quality raised their voices to explain to organizations that being socially responsible is not about philanthropy (giving money for social good), but about [doing well by doing good]?”

Is SR mainstream thought, or still in the fringe? I think it’s a combination of both. The concept of social responsibility (aka corporate social responsibility) is not new – in fact, it’s been part of the fabric of the continuously improved Baldrige Criteria since the early 2000’s. With the 2010 publication of the ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility, the concept has been formally segmented into 7 “core subjects” which include organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement and development. In addition, there are 7 “core principles” which include accountability, transparency, ethical behavior, respect for stakeholder interests, respect for law, respect for international norms of behavior, and respect for human rights. Undoubtedly, many organizations embrace these core principles as part of their fundamental ethically-driven value systems.

So people have been doing it, companies have been doing it, but the formalization of social responsibility is what’s new – and still, in many ways, on the fringe.

From the research perspective, there is still much to be explored – we have just set foot on the fringe. I wrote an article (scheduled for the October 2012 issue of the Quality Management Journal) that explored emerging themes in quality management research. One of the things I discovered,  by doing a citation network analysis and exploratory text mining, is that there is much work to be done in exploring how social responsibility can be applied as a quality management practice. Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming article:

…rigorous research into either what to do or how to do it following Ahire et al. (1995) is absent. Ascigil (2010) explored social responsibility in Turkish firms for the QMJ, but no broader examinations are yet available. Because the concept map indicates that QMJ research has effectively integrated strategy development and culture concerns into its examination of quality impacts of business results, hubs within the QMJ may provide an effective starting point (e.g. Grandzol & Gershon 1997, Kujala & Lillrank 2004, Handfield et al. 1998, or Cameron & Sine 1999).

Regarding Paul’s second question, I believe that it is quite common to conflate social responsibility with philanthropy, and that as a community we should seek to really understand the difference – and apply it in our organizations. To accomplish this, we need to ASK WHY we are doing what we do MUCH more aggressively, and make these motivations (and the directions for the flow of our profits!) much more transparent to our customers and stakeholders. Only then, in my opinion, will we make the lofty ideals of social responsibility and ISO 26000 more real in our organizations and communities.

If you’re looking for more information about social responsibility or ISO 26000, the March 2011 issue of ISO Focus+ is a must-read.

How to Achieve Transparency: One Approach

Point 1: Transparency in business and in government means that you know what’s going on (or can find out). You have access to information about the organization’s processes and results, it is clearly presented, and it is understandable. It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand accountability when transparency does not exist. In the emerging ISO 26000 standard for social responsibility, both transparency and accountability are important.

Point 2: In data management, we struggle with the concept of provenance: how to track what happened to your data at every step of its journey – from being collected, to being operated upon by a host of processes and algorithms, to being evaluated, analyzed and visualized.

McClatchy reports today that the U.S. government is having problems with both. In “Where did that bank bailout go? Watchdogs aren’t entirely sure”, Chris Adams describes the murkiness of the issue:

Although hundreds of well-trained eyes are watching over the $700 billion that Congress last year decided to spend bailing out the nation’s financial sector, it’s still difficult to answer some of the most basic questions about where the money went.

Despite a new oversight panel, a new special inspector general, the existing Government Accountability Office and eight other inspectors general, those charged with minding the store say they don’t have all the weapons they need. Ten months into the Troubled Asset Relief Program, some members of Congress say that some oversight of bailout dollars has been so lacking that it’s essentially worthless.

Bottom line: achieving transparency requires successfully managing provenance. But in the case of the bailout, are transparency problems an information technology issue, or a policy issue?