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RESPONSE – Understanding and Responding to Societal Demands on Corporate Responsibility

(A project funded by the European Commission 6th Framework Programme)

RESPONSE is the first attempt to study systematically CSR as both an organizational practice and an individual behaviour. There is only so much that can be accomplished with organizational initiatives such as codes of ethics and social reports or even the creation of specialized structures handling the diverse issues related to the company’s activities’ impact on society. The fundamental problem lies in facilitating the adaptation of individual mindsets, emotional attitudes and values to the appreciation of the full impact of decisions and actions on the well-being of internal and external stakeholders.

A second important distinction that we make is in considering the fundamental basis of the problem not only lying in the lack of “care” for the impact of corporate activities on society, but also by poor understanding of the complex set of stakeholder expectations companies face and attempt to satisfy. At the heart of the issue, as we see it, lies the gap between managers’ and stakeholders’ understandings of the company’s responsibility towards society. Why is it that some companies seem to have a much more refined sense of what societal actors expect from them, than other companies do? What factors might explain this crucial difference? And what can be done to attenuate, or even eradicate, those factors?

These are the questions that RESPONSE is trying to address in its 3 year study of corporate responsibility practices, with the help of 21 European and North American multinationals active in eight different industries, and more than 100 of their stakeholders.

In doing so, we move beyond explanations based on the industry and the cultural environment in which the company acts, to inquire about the impact of organizational and individual characteristics on the managers’ ability to understand stakeholders expectations. Organizational characteristics such as the firm’s strategy, its organizational structure (including its governance), its knowledge and learning management processes, for example, are important pieces of the puzzle. At an individual level, we want to understand how personal values, emotional traits and cognitive reasoning can explain the manager’s perception of its company’s social responsibility as well as the willingness and ability to integrate this understanding in the day-to-day decisions and actions.

Finally, we want to assess how effective different training approaches are in developing the individual traits that we find to be connected to socially responsible behaviour. Are the currently available executive education approaches sufficient to enhance managers’ consciousness of the social implications of their work? If not, what other approaches might provide the missing pieces?