Christine Bader worked at BP in corporate social responsibility (CSR). Writing in The Atlantic, she explains how big corporations still cannot get CSR right, despite spending millions of pounds on it.
Every business, even SMEs, should be paying attention to CSR. Don’t think of it as a way of getting your firm to look good, but as an extension of the kindness of your staff. While big business invests remotely and on a grand scale, smaller businesses can do their share with the personal touch.
Most of us put the odd coin into a collection box; brave souls take on fun runs and cake sales. Why not combine forces at the office and do more together for a chosen charity or local organisation?
Of course, an SME in Maidstone, for example, won’t have the same concerns or resources as a multinational running factories in Manila, but Bader’s analysis of how big CSR plans can fail has resonance for much smaller fry. She shows us how to avoid the pitfalls.
Tell the truth and talk to each other
In big companies it’s easier to hide the truth from bosses and more difficult to coordinate across departments. In SMEs it’s easier to work together and to get things done by telling the truth.
If you can’t meet your CSR targets, talk about it openly. Don’t hide anything. Let’s say your company commits to helping clean up litter in the local park. You think you can cover the whole space, but you realise that you can’t, because there aren’t enough volunteers in your department. Raise the issue at your next CSR meeting. Be open about the fact you need more people and see if you can get some volunteers from other departments. Do what you can with what you have.
Remember to reward the quiet ones
Bader recounts how a person in a company received an internal award for their handling of a major safety incident, while another member of staff who had prevented a calamity wasn’t acknowledged at all. That’s a bit weird, right?
Imagine the litter campaign has been going well for a few months. There is no need for intervention or management. It is at this time, when everything is ticking along nicely, that the boss should be rewarding or praising employees for their efforts. Remember that when CSR is going well, you won’t hear anything about it. And that’s a good thing.
Don’t do it for the money
Bader says consumers won’t pay extra to fund a company’s social responsibility efforts. Doing good works in the community isn’t going to see your postman give you a cheery nod in the morning or guarantee a warm welcome in the local pub. What it does do, in however small a way, is make the world a better place.
Isn’t that reward enough?