Towards and Internal Change Management Perspective of CSR: Evidence from Project RESPONSE on the Sources of Cognitive Alignment between Managers and Their Stakeholders, and Their Implications for Social Performance

Maurizio Zollo, Mario Minoja, Lourdes Casanova, Kai Hockerts, Peter Neergaard, Susan Schneider, Antonio Tencati

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Purpose: This paper aims to juxtapose two separate perspectives on corporate social responsibility (CSR) in terms of their ability to explain the cognitive alignment between managers and stakeholders on what constitutes the social responsibility of the focal firm, and to explain social performance.

Design/methodology/approach: The authors take two perspectives: that of stakeholder engagement, which has historically characterized the debate on CSR; and that of internal change processes required to integrate CSR in a firm's operations. The authors analyze data from 427 interviews, of which 209 were with managers and 219 with stakeholders of 19 multinational firms in eight sectors, to assess the extent of cognitive alignment between managers and stakeholders on the conceptualization of CSR for the relevant firm, to determine which of the two theoretical perspectives is connected with the degree of cognitive alignment, and to determine which of the two is connected with the perception of corporate social performance (CSP).

Findings: The data examined show no evidence that the degree of sophistication in stakeholder engagement practices is connected with either the magnitude of cognitive gaps, or the level of CSP; whereas the degree of integration in internal operations is connected with both narrower cognitive gaps and higher CSP.

Originality/value: This paper tackles for the first time the problem of measuring and explaining the gaps between managers and stakeholders about their cognitive representations of CSR. The key result of the analysis is that the standard conceptualization of CSR as a stakeholder engagement process does not suffice neither to explain the variation across firms in their managers' cognitive alignment with stakeholders, nor to explain inter‐firm variation in social performance. The strongest explanation for both alignment and performance comes from the extent to which the firm has actually invested in internal change processes aimed at integrating the principles of CSR in the operations and strategies of the firm.
TidsskriftCorporate Governance - The International Journal of Effective Board Performance
Udgave nummer4
Sider (fra-til)355-372
Antal sider18
StatusUdgivet - 2009