We sometimes wonder why some extractive industry companies perform better than others in putting words into action regarding corporate social responsibility. There are no miracles, but here are some ideas that have guided the On the Ground experts at Boréalis in recent years.
Assessment of the Situation
As a first step, one must take the time to evaluate the business objectives of the company. This critical step is often overlooked. However, it avoids many mistakes along the way. Each situation has its own characteristics and there is no universal solution. The company management must consider the effects of the company’s activities, both on the communities and on the company itself. For example, if a company wishes to conduct geo-seismic research in a region, it must consider whether its knowledge of the territory is adequate, if data already exists, and so on. It must also consider its experience with the concerned communities and the experience of these communities with mining, oil and gas industries. Communities that have had good past experience will probably be more receptive than those that experienced conflicts.
One must next establish a plan of action. This includes questions about how to manage stakeholders, how to contact communities, etc. One must identify the key messages to be communicated and the processes to be implemented. At this stage one is trying to better understand what has already been accomplished and what remains to be done. At Boréalis, we try to identify good practices that have been successful elsewhere in the world that could help the company achieve social acceptability of the project. In general, our customers have already established processes that suit their situation. We therefore look to see how we can intervene to complete the job.
One must plan for the resources required. Very often one must hire local personnel. In some cases, the company will employ a placement firm to meet the needs. In others, it is best to hire experts who will provide timely support to the company. Boréalis offers such expertise through its On the Ground service.
Implementation of the Plan
Subsequently, the implementation of the action plan will require particular attention from managers. Implementing new processes and best practices almost always involves organizational change, and even a change in corporate culture. This is therefore a crucial step, because it is easy to fall back into old habits! Companies that are the most successful in this transition are generally those whose leaders are firmly committed to the change.
Consistency is also a desired quality. We have often seen companies that were carefully considering an action plan and the changes needed, but did not provide sufficient resources to ensure the transition. As is often the case in large projects, workers on rotation can forget to convey important information, while others are transferred to other positions, making it necessary to start all over again.
To avoid unpleasant surprises, we often advise clients to identify resource persons who will be responsible to support company managers. These resource people are also teamed with local officials who will be accountable for results. Ideally, one chooses someone who has experience in the implementation process, knows the best practices, and has enough perspective and independence to properly advise company managers. The problem is that these resource people are often difficult to find. Increasingly, large companies hire employees with experience in this, but many others do not have the required resources and must hire external consultants. In these situations, our On the Ground service is able to provide experienced specialists who can be deployed quickly.
The accompaniment period varies from one project to another, but usually is between three months and one year. External experts should be able to advise managers and employees involved in the implementation of new processes. They must also have specific indicators to assess compliance of the process. Is the information collected in the field sent to the managers? And if so, at what frequency? Is there a followup on information entered into the management system? Is the complaints process is well managed? Are we responding to plaintiffs in a timely manner? What is their level of satisfaction? The expert should be able to point out weaknesses and explain corrective measures.
Therefore, there is a guidance aspect that is very important. The expert helps employees realize that their actions have consequences in the short and medium term for the company. At the same time, the company must be careful not to develop a dependency on consultants: it is the company that must be accountable for the results and not the consultant.
At Boréalis, we believe that the expert must act as a vehicle for change: once the processes have been established and have been integrated into the organization, the expert may withdraw with the assurance that the company will be on track to achieve CSR goals.