Shifting Culture: The Hidden Tool in Achieving CSR Goals

By Corey Pembleton, Intern, Open Spaces Learning

There are several important aspects involved in achieving CSR-related goals at the organizational level – one of the most important being a shifted corporate culture. A recent study in The Journal of Systems Research has shown that culture, being a key driver of CSR, heavily impacts both strategic long-term planning and CSR achievement. Shifting culture alone is not the only way that an organization can achieve its goals, but it is one of many tools, that when used together, can result in successful, continuous results.

Professor Eric Flamholtz of the Anderson School of Management at UCLA has found that organizational culture has the potential to be one of the most resilient forms of competitive advantage. Once established, a strong corporate culture is inexpensive to maintain and nearly impossible to replicate. This emphasizes the importance of building a strong culture within all levels of organization.

Corporate culture shift: important to more than CSR activities

A 2013 study completed in the Journal of Business Research  found that a cultural shift is the missing link that not only fills in the gaps necessary to reaching CSR or sustainability goals, but also that of employee engagement and financial performance. Organizations that are dedicated to meeting desired CSR outcomes locally or internationally must not only establish short-term plans but also incorporate being socially or environmentally responsible directly into their existing culture. The same study shows that the perceived fit between corporate culture and CSR activities within an organization directly affects corporate performance. It is in the alignment of existing corporate culture and desired CSR outcomes where a shift is needed to find enduring success.

Aligning current culture with the organizations v2

Aligning culture to CSR goals with big results

The real game changers of CSR in the past decade have found the alignment between these two elements to be vital in meeting organization-level goals, and gaining the most return on investment. Overcoming the hurdles that stand in the way of achieving financial, environmental and social goals often begins with first re-aligning culture to match what the goals are in the first place. This has been shown to be necessary with companies involved in everything from transport and industrial production to retail and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). With the use of a Cultural Assessment tool any organization can determine where their current culture sits at all levels within an organization’s’ hierarchy. This is the first step in determining what stage of engagement currently exists, what the likelihood of CSR strategy success is, and what support tools can be used to support those strategies. Once culture matches your goals, the room for achievement grows without end in site, as IBM has shown us with their influential Service Corps program.

IBM has become a transformational company in CSR activity, while achieving desired goals and enhancing corporate performance in the meantime. IBM introduced their Service Corps (think Peace Corps) in 2008 – a division that sends employees to developing countries and emerging economies to provide different ICT services for small businesses, local, and national governments. To date IBM has invested $70 million and has positively impacted the lives of 140,000 people through the Service Corps. Attaining their CSR objectives are not the only benefits that have been found. By actively involving their employees, IBM has shifted its culture to directly align with the socially responsible goals of the Service Corps. A shift in culture has resulted in 90 percent of the employees involved in the Service Corps gaining excellent leadership opportunities while also increasing their desire to finish their careers with IBM.

If the potential for success in achieving coveted positive social and environmental impacts can be met by strengthening and aligning corporate culture to match those anticipated goals, why isn’t every company doing it? John Elkington, a world leader on Triple Bottom Line business practices believes that:


“Organizations can [also] get trapped into viewing sustainability as a way to minimize risk


to increase their good corporate citizenship, and lose their capacity to entertain both”


Too many organizations in different sectors are self-limiting in their approach to meeting the CSR goals that are set out to be achieved. Like all anticipated outcomes within an organization, they are complex and require a considerable effort necessary for full implementation. Goals exist to be met, and in the economy of the 21st century the importance of socially-responsible goals being met are of considerable importance even when compared to financial goals. Organizations that are serious about meeting their CSR goals need to get serious about transforming and aligning their culture to match it.

Corey Pembleton v2


Corey Pembleton is currently enrolled in the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED), ranked #1 by Corporate Knights for undergraduate business programs in Canada. He is focused on bringing equitable change within the private and public sector in developing countries through sustainable urban growth and business practices. You can contact Corey at or via Twitter: @pembletonc

Join the conversation

Pings & Trackbacks