People and other organisms depend on natural resources such as fresh water, land, clean air, wood, and food for critical life requirements and wellbeing. It is well documented that today’s Western way of living and the spread of capitalism is having a detrimental impact on societies and the natural environment. As one of the greatest users of natural and human recourses, many companies have started doing their part in the journey toward Earth’s sustainability and are actively working on translating the idea of sustainable development (SD) into reality. Companies often address SD through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. CSR refers to as a company’s continuing commitment to integrate ecological, social, and economic interests in company’s operations and in its interactions with stakeholders. This commitment is usually done on a voluntary basis (Dahlsrud, 2008).
This PhD thesis aims to provide a better understanding of how the CSR adaptation process in private companies can be supported, which is of particular importance and interest since the economic interests (i.e., business case logic) of private companies often clash with CSR objectives. Consequently, adapting to CSR principles can be quite challenging for these companies. Many scholars have attempted to identify factors that can facilitate the CSR adaptation process. However, though any large-scale organizational change requires employees to learn new ways of doing their jobs, the role of learning or human resource development in CSR adaption has remained largely unexplored in the CSR literature. This PhD thesis contributes to this line of research by answering the following research question: Which internal resources related to learning at the organizational and individual level contribute to the CSR adaptation process in private companies?
With respect to the organizational level, we found that certain learning organization characteristics can support the CSR adaptation process. We found that stimulating group learning, leadership that encourages learning, and connecting to the local communities are LO characteristics that can directly influence CSR adaptation in a positive way.
With respect to the individual level, we found that CSR managers, those managing the CSR adaptation process, need specific individual competencies in order to do their jobs effectively. We identified eight distinct individual competencies (e.g., Balancing personal ethical values and business objectives). We also found that CSR managers have different job roles in the CSR adaptation process. We identified six of these roles (e.g., strategizing role) and showed that the business case logic influences the relative perceived importance of specific individual competencies within each job role.
To conclude, the key message of this thesis, and the answer to the research question is two-fold. First, because CSR managers are the ones who actually manage the CSR adaptation process they can play a crucial role in the CSR adaptation process if they possess the right individual competencies. In order to develop these individual competencies, CSR managers should take ownership of their learning process and seek opportunities to learn with and from others.
Second, leadership and connecting with external parties are of particular importance to the CSR adaptation process. With respect to connecting with external parties: on the organizational level, having good relations with external parties improves CSR adaptation, because such relationships stimulate learning processes within the company. Furthermore, on the individual level, relationships with external parties promote the development of the individual competencies of the CSR managers responsible for the adaptation process. With respect to leadership: on the organizational level, leadership for learning, referring to active support and stimulation of learning, indirectly affects CSR adaptation; it enhances employees’ learning behavior and therefore improve employees’ cognitive readiness and support for the changes needed to integrate CSR within the company. Furthermore, on the individual level, leadership competencies are essential for driving the changes needed in the CSR adaptation process.
This thesis contributes to the literature on the CSR adaptation process in several ways. First, this thesis addresses the issue of the CSR adaptation process from a learning or human resource development perspective and as such complements previous research employing the (human resource) management perspective on CSR. Second, it addresses learning from both the organizational and individual level, thereby providing valuable insights into if and how specific internal resources related to learning can contribute at different levels to the CSR adaptation process in private companies. Third, little is known about how factors on an individual level can support companies in their adaptation to CSR principles and their social performance at large (Aquinis & Glavas, 2012). This doctoral thesis is one of the first providing insights into this matter and demonstrates that learning-related influences on the individual level may be of value to the adaptation process. More specifically, this thesis adds to the literature by (1) identifying the job roles and individual competencies CSR managers need to effectively do their jobs within private companies; previous studies on CSR-related competencies often studied this topic from an educational point of view, thereby not fully addressing the complexity of the business context in which CSR managers operate; (2) by exploring how CSR managers can develop their competencies, which up till now remained unexplored in the CSR literature; and (3) by showing how certain organizational characteristics (i.e., learning climate) and personal characteristics (i.e., learning goal orientation) affect the development of CSR managers’ competencies.
There are several implications to be derived from our research with respect to learning (activities) for the benefit of CSR. For one, developing LO characteristics may help companies create favorable conditions for integrating CSR principles. By facilitating learning, companies provide employees with the opportunity to develop their “receptiveness to change”. As such, we suggest that companies experiment with employing LO characteristics to advance the integration of CSR principles. In particular, we suggest that company’s management show leadership for learning by endorsing learning behavior among their employees as this LO characteristic in particular seems to promote the integration of CSR principles. The management can stimulate such behavior by providing employees with continuous opportunities to learn (e.g., provide formal trainings and professional development opportunities), learn in groups (e.g., stimulate team work), and learn with and from external parties (e.g., stimulate stakeholder involvement).
Furthermore, it is important for companies to set up and structure a learning system within the company that enables customized learning, meaning a learning system that provides learning opportunities that fit’s the job and needs of individual workers. Companies can enable customized learning among CSR managers by, for example, providing them with flexible working hours and fixed budgets and hours that they can use for professional development. Such a learning system promotes meaningful learning and self-directed learning behavior among employees (Baars-van Moorsel, 2003), which, according to our research, can stimulate the development of CSR-related competencies.
To conclude, we hope that this thesis will encourage more research on the role of learning in the CSR adaptation process. Our research provides ample directions to further explore this topic. Furthermore, we hope that this research will inspire CSR professionals to start a dialogue with their employers about their competencies and professional development opportunities or that it inspires them to take control of their learning process and create their own learning network in order to develop their competencies, if needed. Moreover, we hope that by developing the relevant CSR-related competencies, CSR managers will effectively manage the CSR adaptation process and that higher CSR maturity levels are reached and more ambitious sustainability challenges are successfully addressed by private companies.