Using Internal Marketing to Engage Employees in Corporate Responsibility

By David Grayson Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility Cranfield University, UK and M. Isabel Sanchez-Fernandez Economics and Business Sciences Department, University of Extremadura, Spain Visiting Scholar at Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility

Using Internal Marketing to Engage Employees in Corporate Responsibility

Corporate responsibility (CR) – also known as Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Sustainability, Corporate Citizenship or Responsible Business – is gaining currency around the globe. The concept involves creating innovative and proactive solutions to societal and environmental challenges, as well as collaborating with both internal and external stakeholders to improve CR performance.

While we could say that CR is definitely on the agenda of most competitive organizations, there remain significant challenges concerning how to embed CR into everyday processes and cultures (Bartlett, 2009). One of these challenges is engaging employees on the CR journey.

CR can be strategic and considered like any other profit-optimizing strategy. For both academics and practitioners, the altruistic and strategic views about the purpose of CR coexist. Recent studies attempt to integrate the concept of CR and corporate strategy (Galbreath, 2006; Bies et al. 2007; Maxfield, 2008), suggesting the use of the same framework that guides the core business choices to make CR a source of competitive advantage for the firm (Porter and Kramer, 2006). Bagnoli and Watts (2003) assert that firms with good corporate citizenship strategies are conducting a profit-maximizing business. Recently, Fernandez-Kranz and Santaló (2010) have empirically demonstrated that companies in more competitive industries have better ratings because CR is driven by strategic considerations independently of any additional altruistic motivation.

In addition, involving stakeholders in corporate strategies is considered a good policy which provides companies with competitive advantages (Walsh, 2005). In this sense, employee integration in CR, as relevant internal stakeholders, should be evaluated as a strategic capability for the organization (Sharma and Vredenburg, 1998). In fact, Sharp and Zaidman (2010) have observed a tendency for more and more participation by employees in CR activities as a part of their obligations as employees. This is interpreted as an indication of the penetration of CR values into the organizational culture of these companies, and symptomatic of the success of the process by which the CR strategy is integrated into their organizational behaviour. As such then, companies who want a suitable strategy for implementing the idea and the challenges of CR could develop and put into practice an internal marketing (IM) plan to help engage employees in CR.

In this context, IM seems to be a good tactic for achieving successful development and implementation of CR strategies by engaging employees in CR. Although IM was first proposed as a way to deliver high levels of quality in service industries (Berry, 1981; Grönroos, 1981), nowadays it is considered a paradigm of organizational change, management and implementation strategies (Ahmed and Rafiq, 2002).

IM could be considered a technique for managing employees in the achievement of organizational goals (Winter, 1985), when organizational goals include CR goals. The CR approach to business management stresses the importance of every stakeholder, both external and internal. IM programmes could be developed in order to align internal communications with an external marketing image to ensure that the social organization promises will be accomplished. IM has a role to play in CR strategies because it can reinforce and emphasize the process of transforming an organization into a responsibility-focused entity.

From a critic’s position, Fonteneau (2003) argues that the only way to legitimize and lock-in the trust of citizens in companies is to consider employees’ rights and needs in the first place. It is important to remark upon a very simple and underlying idea supporting the link between CR and IM: to build trust and commitment in society, any organization must intimately know and understand its people and itself (Ahmed and Rafiq, 2003). In our opinion, there are no contradictions in pursuing and aligning organizational goals and employees´ goals. Based on the Total Quality Management thinking (Barnes and Morris, 2000) the IM virtuous cycle is simple: by satisfying and motivating employees an organization should be in a better position to generate a higher quality of service, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and higher productivity and profits (Ahmed and Rafiq, 2003). In fact, empirical results demonstrate that a significant relationship exists between IM efforts and organizational performance (Sanchez-Hernandez, 2008).

Although the usefulness of IM is recognized by academics and practitioners, some critics claim that the term is just a new synonym for good human resources management, organizational development or simply good effective communications with employees.

But IM is not a label. Ahmed and Rafiq (2002) have clarified that IM is the use of marketing-like techniques such as segmentation, market research and marketing mix (including communication) to motivate employees towards organizational goals. They have delimited the boundary between human resource management that is empowered to use formal mechanisms thanks to the contractual nature of employment, and IM by using a definition supported by Kotler (1972) who states that marketing consists of persuasive actions (non-coercive) to induce positive responses in other social units.

Thus, IM and human resource effectiveness are distinct. IM implies the co-ordination of human resources management, and so the former (IM) represent the antecedent of the latter (Ewing and Caruana, 1999).

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