Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) hosted by PR Week magazine here in New York.  Joining me around the table were my counterparts at some of world’s leading brands – including McDonald’s; Chevron; Campbell’s; P & G; and L’Oreal.   The often lively discussion covered a range of the usual topics you’d expect such as CSR reporting, employee engagement, stakeholder engagement etc. But we also discussed one of those issues that we often overlook; namely the role CSR plays in breaking down silos within corporations.

I often refer to CSR as a horizontal issue in a vertical world.  By that I mean, CSR within a large, global company like Microsoft spans different product and business groups.  When you think about operational issues like supply chain management, human rights and environmental sustainability you quickly realize that these issues - really corporate functions- require a cross group, companywide approach.  I spend a lot of time here at Microsoft working with my colleagues in our product and business groups on these issues – developing consistent policies – based on our corporate mission – our corporate values and Citizenship mission and commitments. 

There was a robust discussion yesterday about how CSR actually helps breakdown silos within companies.  I know a lot of people across Microsoft – in many different groups – not because I am particularly outgoing or social but because it is my job!  How can I do my job if I don’t know my colleagues in our global corporate procurement group – working hand in hand with them on supply chain management issues?  How can I do my job if I don’t know my colleagues in our online privacy group and work with them on issues related to free expression and the protection of human rights?

While the specific issues may differ significantly from company to company, each of us talked about our horizontal work.  In fact, our conversation led me to think about some research Chris Pinney did for the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College on CSR competencies.  While the work highlighted a number of “core” competencies for people working in CSR, for me one of the most important is what I will call the collaboration competency.

Everyone around the table agreed that CSR can and does break down silos within an organization.  Furthermore there was consensus that that cross company collaboration is key to driving successful CSR programs.  None of us would have been on the panel today if we weren’t effective collaborators within our organizations. 

So, if you happen to be reading this because you are interested in “having my job” – here is a bit of advice - the collaboration competency is key and essential for successful, sustained CSR.