Using Corporate Social Responsibility to Win the War for Talent

New research indicates that there are five steps that can help business leaders increase CSR’s effectiveness as a lever for talent management.

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It is by now an article of faith that employees who are skilled, creative and driven to satisfy customers are essential for differentiating a company from its competitors. Increasingly, success comes from being able to attract, motivate and retain a talented pool of workers. However, with a finite number of extraordinary employees to go around, the competition for them is fierce.1

There is growing evidence that a company’s corporate social responsibility activities comprise a legitimate, compelling and increasingly important way to attract and retain good employees. For example, in a bid to burnish their images as socially responsible companies and thereby attract and retain talent, CEOs of high-profile companies such as Home Depot, Delta Air Lines and SAP recently pledged to deploy millions of employee volunteers to work on various community projects.2 Their efforts appear to make sense: Jim Copeland, Jr., former CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, puts it this way: “The best professionals in the world want to work in organizations in which they can thrive, and they want to work for companies that exhibit good corporate citizenship.”3

In general, CSR initiatives reveal the values of a company and thus can be part of the “employee value proposition” that recent studies indicate is the lens through which managers must view talent management today. CSR also humanizes the company in ways that other facets of the job cannot; it depicts the company as a contributor to society rather than as an entity concerned solely with maximizing profits. As other researchers explain it, “a paycheck may keep a person on the job physically, but it alone will not keep a person on the job emotionally.”4 Moreover, because of the many forms that it can take, CSR often serves as a genuine point of differentiation for the company.

It is not surprising, then, that so many companies engage in so many CSR initiatives. Indeed, many companies big and small, including blue-chip names such as Cisco Systems, General Electric and IBM, view employee engagement in CSR as a “strategic imperative.”5 Yet few if any companies have figured out how best to reap the returns of such CSR engagement. We consider “internal marketing” to be the most apt rubric under which CSR can be used to acquire and retain employees.



1. E. Michaels, H. Handfield-Jones and B. Axelrod, “The War for Talent” (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2001); and C.A. Bartlett and S. Ghoshal, “Building Competitive Advantage Through People,” MIT Sloan Management Review 43, no. 2 (winter 2002): 34-41.

2. B. Grow, S. Hamm and L. Lee, “The Debate Over Doing Good,” BusinessWeek, Aug. 15, 2005, 76-78.

3. Quotation from “Responding to the Leadership Challenge: Findings of a CEO Survey on Global Corporate Citizenship,” white paper, World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland, 2003.

4. L. Berry and A. Parasuraman, “Services Marketing Starts From Within,” Marketing Management 1, no. 1 (winter 1992): 24-34.

5. Grow, “Debate Over Doing Good,” 76-78.

6. E. Gummesson, “Using Internal Marketing to Develop a New Culture: The Case of Ericsson,” Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing 2, no. 3 (summer 1987): 23-28; W.R. George, “Internal Marketing and Organizational Behavior: A Partnership in Developing CustomerConscious Employees at Every Level,” Journal of Business Research 20, no. 1 (January 1990): 63-70; and P.K. Ahmed and M. Rafiq, “Internal Marketing Issues and Challenges,” European Journal of Marketing 37, no. 9 (2003): 1177-1186.

7. M. Porter and M.R. Kramer, “Strategy & Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility,” Harvard Business Review 84, no. 12 (December 2006): 78-92.

8. “2004 Cone Corporate Citizenship Study,” December 8, 2004, www.; and P. Ellen, D.J. Webb and L.A. Mohr, “Building Corporate Associations: Consumer Attributions for Corporate Socially Responsible Programs,” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 34, no. 2 (spring 2006): 147-157.

9. P. Kotler and N. Lee, “Corporate Social Responsibility: Doing the Most Good for Your Company and Your Cause” (Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley & Sons, 2004).

10. For example, for the past several years Wal-Mart has been a top corporate donor, but research revealed that because of its fragmented giving, few people could recall what or whom Wal-Mart supports. Now it is giving its CSR a sharper focus. From Grow, “Debate Over Doing Good,” 76-78.

11. S.C. Clark, “Work/Family Border Theory: A New Theory of Work/ Family Balance,” Human Relations 53, no. 6 (2002): 747-770.

12. World Economic Forum, “Responding to the Leadership Challenge.”

13. B.E. Ashforth and F. Mael, “Social Identity Theory and the Organization,” Academy of Management Review 14, no. 1 (January 1989): 20-39; and C.B. Bhattacharya and S. Sen, “Consumer-Company Identification: A Framework for Understanding Consumers’ Relationships with Companies,” Journal of Marketing 67, no. 2 (April 2003): 76-88.

14. S. Sen, C.B. Bhattacharya and D. Korschun, “The Role of Corporate Social Responsibility in Strengthening Multiple Stakeholder Relationships: A Field Experiment,” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 34, no. 2 (spring 2006): 158-166; and D.B. Turban and D.W. Greening, “Corporate Social Performance and Organizational Attractiveness to Prospective Employees,” Academy of Management Journal 40, no. 3 (June 1997): 658-672.

15. I. Maignan and O.C. Ferrell, “Corporate Social Responsibility and Marketing: An Integrative Framework,” Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 32, no. 1 (winter 2004): 3-19.

16. C.B. Bhattacharya and S. Sen, “Doing Better at Doing Good: When, Why, and How Consumers Respond to Corporate Social Initiatives,” California Management Review 47, no. 1 (fall 2004): 9-24.

17. Sen, “Role of Corporate Social Responsibility,” 158-166.

18. M. Bergami and R. Bagozzi, “Self-Categorization, Affective Commitment and Group Self-Esteem as Distinct Aspects of Social Identity in the Organization,” British Journal of Social Psychology 39, no. 4 (December 2000): 555-577.

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Comments (2)
david mark
I'm impressed about your article on CSR. We need more of it as a research pivot to alleviate poverty in Africa. Most of the multi- national firm needs to put in more efforts to ensure eradication of hunger and unemployment in the system.
Jamie Roux
CSR initiatives have become a huge issue in South Africa as well. We have the added problem of setting right the wrongs of the past (and making many mistakes while doing that!), but all in all the social responsibility of companies are not negotiable. Recently a senior ANC minister even went so far as to say that wealthy individuals should take responsibility for poor people in their private capacity - "adopt a family" sort of idea! This is taking it too far.