Conference Notebook: Make that Change!

Conference notebook: panelists talked about how employees can be ambassadors for positive social change. CSR is a hospitality hot topic.

Corporate social responsibility may have its skeptics, but CSR/CR reporting in the global workplace is gaining in significance and relevance, as is the necessity of engaging multiple stakeholders through empowerment and a shared vision.


Those were among the major takeaways from an intensive summit staged in London at the end of October, where the key topics were sustainable development, stakeholder engagement, sustainability reporting, and change management. At the conference, experts from companies throughout Europe shared their experiences and best practices. 

The corporate titles of the speakers alone reveal how companies are now taking these issues seriously. At one session, Ericsson’s Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships, SAB Miller’s Sustainable Development Advocacy and Policy Manager, and Munich Airport’s Director of Strategic Sustainability Management discussed the importance of strategic communication to stakeholders through corporate responsibility reporting and sustainable development goals (SDGs). According to the executives, investors and suppliers are the most difficult groups to get on board; investors don’t know yet how to measure SDGs which are linked to strategy and profits, and suppliers don’t feel CR reporting relates to them. In the ensuing discussion, participants concluded that defining SDGs is great for feeding into key performance indicators or KPIs, but previous existing actions should not be abandoned or replaced by this format.

To align CSR reporting to corporate strategy, senior executives from IKEA (the Group’s Strategic Communicator), Sky (its Engagement Manager), and ING Bank (the Head of Sustainability Programs) led the discussion. For them, corporate strategy and corporate reporting go hand in hand. In fact, it is a CSR chicken and egg dilemma: does reporting drive the strategy or does strategy drive the reporting? ING Bank’s Sandra Schoonhoven concluded that writing the report gives a company the opportunity to reflect on its strategy and critique what is going well and what needs to be improved for the following year.

The executives offered three suggestions for producing effective corporate reports:

  • make CSR actions relevant for the company;
  • invest time in people and the writing of reports;
  • and have fun while writing the reports.

At another session, executives from InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and Pirelli shared some of the challenges of engaging employees in global companies and the concrete actions they have taken to deal with these issues. Pirelli’s Chief Sustainability and Risk Governance Officer, Filippo Bettini mentioned the company’s integrated communication platform which involves all stakeholders in a ‘global stakeholder dialogue’ which starts at the local level and spreads out globally. At IHG, which has some 350,000 employees, 90% do not work directly for the corporation; rather, they work for franchises which they consider to be their employers more than IHG.  For this reason, IHG’s Global Director of Corporate Responsibility, Lisa Basford, focuses on employee engagement first and foremost. She suggests promoting the company purpose, creating ambassadors to tell the company’s stories, speaking in ‘employee’ language, and using social media.

Ambassadors or ‘change managers’ were common terms used throughout the summit. For Barclay’s AVP of Citizenship and Reputation, Manon Welter, a change manager challenges existing perceptions and perspectives, and inspires people to do things differently. Belron International’s Head of Environmental Efficiency, Justin Bazalgette, added that change managers challenge status quo, prefer disruption to complacency, and do not have all the answers. Both experts agreed that embedding CSR is a journey that change managers understand. 

Their top tips included:

  • establishing a common framework (especially for a global company);
  • getting senior management to buy into the framework;
  • empowering employees at all levels;
  • nominating ‘champions’ or ambassadors;
  • encouraging friendly competition; and
  • focusing on the improvement process, not the CSR scores per se. 

During the breaks and lunch, a discussion ensued on how we as educators, mentors, managers, and leaders could best prepare future employees for their role as change managers.

The overall consensus from the industry experts was that it is unnecessary to do anything at all, that change management is inherent in the Millennials’ DNA. Millennials live and breathe positive social change and are much more receptive than we were at that age.

So I decided to test that supposition. Upon returning to EHL from the conference, I asked my students how they perceive their role as future change managers and the responsibilities that go with it. Their response: “What’s a change manager?”

There may be a way to go before the gap between employer's expectations and Millenials' real skills closes. But as Michael Jackson sang: 'If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make that change'...

Dr Laura Zizka
About the author

With more than 20 years of international teaching experience, Laura Zizka, PhD, has been a faculty member at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) since 2002. As an Assistant Professor, she teaches Business Communication, Academic Writing, and Crisis/Strategic Communication to undergraduate and graduate students as well as coaching Student Business Projects and undergraduate theses. Since 2017, Dr. Zizka has begun teaching similar courses online in the Blended MBA (EHL).

Since completing her PhD in Management, Dr. Zizka has presented papers at education, hospitality, and management conferences and published papers on various communications topics linked to both higher education and the workplace. Her main research areas include communications, higher education, hospitality management, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) education, and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)/sustainability actions, initiatives, and reporting. She is also interested in the gaps between higher education and the workplace.