Laura Anne de Jonge, Fielding's School of Human & Organizational Development
Our world has changed as a result of globalization, advances in technology, and rapid developments in communication. Corporate leaders are challenged to understand how increased interconnectedness, eroded boundaries, and diffused technology (Nederveen Pieterse, 2004; Splichal, 2009) impact their business and how they engage with stakeholders. In the midst of these changes, two factors remain constant: Business relies on society and society relies on business to contribute to a progressive economy (Porter & Kramer, 2006, 2011).
To better understand the interdependence of business and society in today’s changing world, an exploratory case study was undertaken. The purpose was to evaluate how one company’s commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) creates economic value in a way that also creates value for society. Porter and Kramer (2006, 2011) describe this as Shared Value. Specifically, the study considered a leadership approach that can be applied to extend CSR commitment through social media. Interviews were conducted with 21 employees of WestJet Airlines Ltd. (a Canadian-based, publicly listed, low-cost air carrier). In addition, data relating to WestJet’s CSR commitment and implementation and use of social media were analyzed. The study focused on WestJet’s strengths in leadership, CSR, and social media rather than on deficiencies, although opportunities for improvement were identified.
The foundational literature concentrated on three areas. First, CSR and its evolution were explored. In the study, the notion of a stalemate between ethics and economics (Driver, 2006; Friedman, 1970) was refuted and supplanted with the concept of creating Shared Value (Porter & Kramer, 2006, 2011). Second, the evolution of media and their impact on business were reviewed. The study considered how the shift of production and control of corporate communications away from businesses to the open Internet platform has required companies to engage with stakeholders in ways not previously imagined or expected. Third, classical and contemporary leadership theories were examined to ascertain their relevancy to CSR and social media. Based on that review, the study analyzed how business leaders and organizations can adapt to our changed world by applying Cosmopolitan Leadership (Wexler, 2005) to bridge CSR commitment and social media.
The study found that CSR commitment is demonstrated by a company’s business practices and actions aligning with its espoused values. Extending CSR commitment through social media requires a company and its leaders to tailor their approach to their unique business circumstances and stakeholders. Moreover, the study found that a company that recognizes and makes the connection between its own economic success and the success of society creates Shared Value that contributes economically, socially, and environmentally.
Keywords: corporate social responsibility, social media, leadership, CSR, shared value, airline, Cosmopolitan Leadership, WestJet, case study