Papers Please!?! Credentialing Corporate Responsibility Professionals

I recently had the privilege of sitting on a panel with some real corporate responsibility luminaries: Ann Cramer from IBM, Stephen Jordan from the US Chamber's Business Civic Leadership Center, Bill Novelli from Georgetown, and Mark Shamley from the Association of Corporate Contributions Professionals. We went in-depth on the issue of the profession of corporate responsibility and the dialog quickly centered on whether or not CR professionals need credentials to ply their trade.

As Executive Director for the professional society for corporate responsibility, I'm sure you think my obvious answer is yes. Actually, my answer is I don't care. Or more specifically, I'm not married to the outcome, but I'm dedicated to the process.

Stephen Jordan asserted that a lot of the desire for credentialing comes from an excess of supply: there are tons of people who want CR jobs but there are very few of them. Maybe. I take a slightly different view.

We're going through a reawakening right now. Paraphrasing Henry Ford, the business that only makes money is a poor business. Leaders at every level of business and society thirst for managers who know how to make business better at delivering value for all -- shareholders, customers, and society.

Companies and markets exist to fulfill a social function: supplying goods and services that fulfill human needs. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, free market capitalism is the worst possible method of fulfilling these needs except for all those that came before. I'm a born-and-bred capitalist not for capitalism's own sake but because the evidence shows it's the best way of meeting humanity's needs. Corporate leaders call out for a clear path to improving their impact and they want practitioners who know how to deliver.

As Ann Cramer pointed out, right now it's too messy. The field has expanded rapidly but there's no clear career path. CR professionals are expected to be experts in communications, finance, risk management...the list grows every day.

And that's why I'm dedicated to the process, not the outcome. Within the CROA's Professional Development Committee we studied the historical professions and their attributes. We identified three core characteristics:

-        A distinct body of knowledge
-        Standards of conduct
-        A recognition by society of the profession
 
That third characteristic, the recognition, often gets institutionalized as a credential, but it's actually the last in a long series of steps that in and of themselves contribute to the profession and the effectiveness of the professional. At CROA, we've set ourselves on a course toward credentialing without fixating on the credential itself. In other words, we'll complete the individual steps towards credentialing for their own sake and may or may not end up offering a credential.
 
Earlier this year we published our Guidebook to Structuring & Staffing CR, which represented the first step toward defining the profession. The full set of steps include:
 
1.     Laying out what constitutes the profession - the guidebook establishes an initial list of job descriptions, including the knowledge, skills, and attributes (KSAs) of the professionals that would occupy different CR roles (EH&S, communications, sustainability, procurement, etc).
2.     Establishing a baseline of current practice - next we will survey professionals to find out a) the degree to which the KSAs we identified are actually in use, and b) the level of demand for credentialing.
3.     Outlining the body of knowledge - the core of what a CRO professional needs to know to be considered proficient and competent to practice.
4.     Identifying sources of knowledge - the CROA itself has no intention of going into the training business, especially since there already exists a plethora of qualified training providers and institutions of higher learning to provide the educational resources that would fulfill the body of knowledge. We will simply act as an aggregator, identifying the programs that will fulfill on the body of knowledge. As an example, we could set up a Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credit system. The CROA would designate which courses qualify for CPE credits and professionals would need a certain number of CPE credits to remain current.
5.     Developing a test - some way of verifying that professionals have achieved competency in the field.
6.     Issuing credentials - a seal of approval to practice.
 
Only the last two steps relate directly to credentialing. The other four steps have their own merit and each contributes to cleaning up the mess Ann Cramer points out. They would create a clearer career path for CR professionals and/or for any business leader looking to improve the impact of business on society.
 
With that background, I want to invite you to become actively engaged in this process. Here are three ways you can make a contribution today:
 
-   Download and comment on the Guidebook. We need more people -- CR practitioners, members of the business community, and the general public -- to comment on how we've defined the profession. Download and review the guidebook at www.croassociation.organd send us your comments. There's a space right on that page for you to leave comments. We promise to respond to every relevant comment.
 
-   Volunteer to take the survey. If you're currently a CR practitioner, we want to know your opinion on the need for credentialing and the state of the practice today. To receive a copy of the survey when it is released, send an email to research@sharedxpertise.comwith "CR Credentialing Survey" in the subject line.
 
-   Come to the Commit!Forum. At our annual conference in New York City on September 26-27 we will review the results of the survey and all our professional development work to date. Come and add your voice: www.commitforum.com.
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