Source: EHL

In all industries, the importance of corporate social responsibility initiatives and reporting is relevant and growing. For the hospitality industry in particular, CSR is both a necessity and a challenge. As one of the industries whose activities have consequences for the environment, many practitioners believe the hospitality industry has a responsibility to promote positive social change by engaging employees, owners, and customers in their CSR initiatives.

This idea was one of the major takeaways from a 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, Lisa Basford, Global Director of Corporate Responsibility for the Intercontinental Hotel Group, shared IHG's vision and strategy for CSR communication in hospitality.

In 2016, IHG was listed among the top 100 in the Global RepTrak: The World's Most Reputable Companies and the Global CSR RepTrak Leaders rankings. With 350,000 employees worldwide, 5,999 hotels, 314 million guest rooms, and a dozen brands, communication is one of the greatest challenges the Intercontinental Hotel Group faces. If we consider all the stakeholders this entails, communication becomes an intricate web of CSR messages, initiatives, motivational activities, expectations, and engagement.

For Lisa Basford, the greatest asset in implementing IHG's CSR strategy is the employee. Employees who are already on board and aware of the company's CSR initiatives understand its purpose and are more committed to the company. Nonetheless, communicating with all of these employees is complex. Many employees associate themselves and their jobs with the brand franchise, rather than the umbrella company of IHG. To improve the consistency of CSR messages across all of the properties, IHG uses internal social media and video, holds meetings, gives presentations, and annually promotes the 'IHG Foundation Week' of volunteer work, charity, and fundraising.

In an email interview following the conference we asked her how IHG approaches these complex communications activities.

Q: What are the best ways of engaging your employees on an individual property, local, and global level?

Engagement with hotels can vary massively, depending on the region and the hotel. The majority of our hotels are franchises and our route to those hotels is through the IHG Owners' Association. We promote our programs and share success stories in owner meetings and via regional conferences. Where possible, we also communicate directly with hotel-based colleagues through company intranets and websites. Of 350,000 colleagues working in IHG-branded hotels, the vast majority do not actually work for IHG, but for the owning company.

The second greatest asset – and challenge – is the Owners' Association. Like the employees, the owners, too, may not immediately identify themselves with IHG, especially if they own competitor hotels as well. To communicate CSR initiatives to the Owners' Association, there are traditional meetings and conferences, but Basford suggests a much more effective method. She tries to engage the owner stakeholders as ambassadors or advocates who can tell the IHG story to their employees. Their endorsement of IHG's broader CSR strategy is then firmly embedded in their employees' work experience.

Q: What are the greatest challenges in stakeholder engagement?

That's an interesting question. I guess I would split the audience into advocates (those who are aware and supportive) and adversaries (either unaware of actively reject your message). However the biggest challenge (and therefore the biggest opportunity) is the middle ground. If they are not actively supporting, they might as well be rejecting. These are the people we need to work with to understand their business needs and ensure they can understand the role CR can play in delivering their objectives.

For all stakeholder groups, it is important to communicate via relevant channels: for example, activities promoting sustainability can be communicated to kitchen staff through posters; to other employees or future employees through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (#IHGcares); to analysts, academics, and advocates through official CSR reports; or to existing or future customers through the corporate website. In short, there is no one way to communicate CSR activities inside or outside IHG; rather, it is necessary to mix the channels, language, and purpose at a global, local, and individual business unit if needed.

To conclude our conversation, I asked Lisa how to better prepare the future generation within our academic programs.

Q: How can we (academics, training programs and potential employers) prepare the next generation of hospitality professionals to be 'change managers' and advocates of positive social change?

I think the key here is to be able to turn theory into actions. As a commercial business we are delivering for our shareholders. Whilst there is a growing awareness amongst businesses and shareholders that responsible business is, it is still not fully embedded in the majority of companies. Students, who can demonstrate positive behavioral change and link this to commercial success, will win here.

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