Author(s), Title and Publication

Brunton, M., Eweje, G., & Taskin, N. (2017). Internal stakeholders: Walking the walk or just talking the talk? Business Strategy and the Environment, 26, 31-48. DOI: 10.1002/bse.I1889


While organizations recognize the need to engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainable initiatives, the research focus is more often on communicating with external stakeholders rather than internal audiences. In order to explore employee perceptions of CSR communication, a two-phase mixed-method study was undertaken by the authors. In Phase I, a series of one-to-one semi-structured interviews with 20 CSR managers in New Zealand organizations determined the scope of the study and provided content to inform a questionnaire survey for staff in these same organizations. In Phase II, a quantitative online questionnaire seeking feedback from employees resulted in 161 respondents from five organizations. This paper reveals the influence of the perceived value congruence between managers and employees in influencing internal stakeholder perceptions of CSR and sustainability initiatives. The goal was to identify whether CSR communication in small to medium enterprises (SMEs) was meeting stakeholder communication needs, was perceived to represent a legitimate identity, and was seen as integral to the culture of the organization by employees.

The results indicate that managers articulated the importance of communicating CSR initiatives and policy to their employees, and consider the process as a significant organizational communication strategy, based on the premise that CSR was central to both their culture and identity. The positive relationship revealed in the survey between organizational culture and face-to-face communication shows the preference of employees for this approach over mediated communication. However, the comments also highlighted a level of frustration with a perceived top-down approach. Additionally, the positive association of organizational identification with all initiatives illustrates the importance of this construct in influencing employee perceptions of CSR activities.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should (1) place a special emphasis on face-to-face communication with employees as it is positively associated with all organizational initiatives, (2) be aware that a ‘top-down’ approach may undermine effective communication, (3) be willing to ensure they ‘walk the walk’ through a cultural integration of CSR, especially when considering employee initiatives, and (4) increase perceptions of congruent values between employees and their organizations as this creates a more favorable identification with all organizational initiatives.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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