It’s not necessarily an area that CIOs might think of as close to their hearts but some IT leaders have found driving the Corporate Social Responsibility CSR agenda to their credit.
Speaking to Alastair Brown, CIO at RBS international Banking, it’s a sideline to his normal working day that he gets a lot out of.
He finds it breaks down those siloes within the organisation and brings people together.
He’s been involved with IT charity Byte Night, which brings the plight of young homeless people to the IT community by inviting them to sleep rough for one night.
In five years, he has grown support for the event within RBS to 25 people who last year raised over Â£30,000 for the charity.
For Brown the team-building aspect of supporting this charity cannot be ignored and as managers, it’s worthwhile considering setting aside some resources for similar endeavours.
Brown notes that the financial services industry has taken a lot of flack recently and staff morale has been improved by the virtuous feelings people get when they involve themselves in charitable activities.
For RBS to support those activities, it reinforces for staff the message that the company does have values that are compatible with their own sense of right and wrong and this can be a massively motivating force at work.
RBS has long had staff engaged in charitable activities, but Brown was charged with the task of co-ordinating them into a coherent effort, considerably increasing their effectiveness as a result.
This experience has coloured his view of what it takes to make a CSR agenda a success.
He says most organisations already have an official CSR initiative, so the key is finding where those resources have been placed.
Usually it is within the marketing or corporate communications departments.
Once they have been found they can be directed towards the ad-hoc initiatives driven from the shop-floor.
Often a number of unrelated altruistic activities are being conducted by staff, off their own back and this is where the well-spring of CSR efforts resides.
Brown says his role is to marry these two elements together so that the grass-roots efforts of staff can get the muscle of the company behind them.
It’s not to steer these efforts and certainly not to take credit for them.
CIOs often face a big challenge with getting their department to integrate with other non-IT elements of the business.
CSR is a fantastic opportunity to do this without anyone feeling like the integration is being forced.
On top of this, everyone involved gets to feel good about themselves and the company they work for.
The bonus is, participants learn new skills and sometimes, as RBS staff have done, come face-to-face with their ultimate customers in a different way.