This is the first article in a series that will demonstrate how you can make your business better without any preaching about saving the planet or becoming a charitable saint, but please try your best if that is important to you.
One definition of Corporate Social Responsibility is:
“To balance economic, environmental and social impacts whilst maximising commercial benefits.”
It is entirely up to you where your balance point is. The key thing to remember is by considering all three aspects it can make your business more profitable and better for those who work there, your suppliers, your customers, your community and the environment.
Think of CSR as an ethos that helps you make decisions rather than a range of do-gooder initiatives and you’ve already learnt a valuable lesson.
I’ve spent years talking to smaller companies and trying to understand what will make a difference to them. Their answer is nearly always ‘What’s in it for me?’ My answer is more profit, greater longevity, integrity and a smile.
Here is a list of quick wins you can do today, at little or no cost that can have a tangible impact:
1. Take the ‘C’ word out of CSR!
The phrase Corporate Social Responsibility has been around for a while now and often confused with other terms such as sustainability, corporate citizenship, responsible business conduct, ethical business, environment, philanthropy, charitable etc. They all mean slightly different things but getting hung up on terminology is missing the point at this stage.
It is just good business practice that focuses on areas that, especially for smaller businesses, are not at the centre of your business radar. Think of this as the start of a process that will open up your vision to risks and opportunities that you can begin to manage more efficiently and gain an advantage over your competitors.
These tips apply to all small and medium sized businesses regardless of your product or service.
2. Don’t get caught up in a price war
Competing solely on price is a dangerous game and not to be played by the faint hearted. You should be aiming to win and retain custom by delivering a perception of added value. If you charge the same price your competitor why would they buy from you? Even the smallest companies have a brand. What is yours saying?
3. Check those energy bills
Many company’s bills are paid by the finance department without regularly checking the meter. I know of one company that was owed over £30,000 because the meter was being read using the wrong units! It pays to read it yourself, check your tariff and check your bills.
A green tariff would be better and they’re getting much more price competitive.
We all know about energy being used whilst equipment is in standby mode. Even if something doesn’t have a little red light and a formal standby mode it could still be using energy whilst plugged in.
In the UK recent figures suggested that on average businesses waste 20% of their energy. What’s 20% of your energy bill?
4. Use recycled paper
What’s in it for me? – Recycled paper today can be as good as your normal paper and at a similar price. Ok, but what’s in it for me? – You can do it without any effort, your staff will appreciate it (even if they say they’re sceptical) and any visitors will notice if they see the packets as they walk around the office. The question should really be ‘Why not do it?’
This rule is more about the thought process and you can apply it to anything you purchase. Is there a recycled option at a comparable price? Just ask.
5. Charities and Good Causes
Get a charity to work for you! This isn’t as mercenary as it may sound.
We are encouraging mutual benefit through a little relationship building. Do you have spare resources i.e. staff downtime, waste materials or media access you could trade in return for access to contacts or free PR? Support good causes but don’t just hand over a cheque.
Just about every business I know gives resources away each year with 90% reacting to random requests. I’m definitely not saying don’t give money to charities, just be smart and have a plan.
5. Flexible working
This isn’t just about letting people work from home it is about accommodating employees whenever practical to the business. Being flexible with hours, i.e. staggering starting and finish times to avoid rush hour / child minding, allowing people to work their 35 or so hours over four or six days, job sharing, etc. It’s the flexibility that both you and your staff will benefit from.
Remote working from home is a great idea where appropriate. The biggest obstacle is management overcoming the fear of not being able to look over employees shoulders to check on them. If you can’t trust your employees it doesn’t really matter where they are. It may need a change in management style but if an employee has a certain number of defined and measureable objectives to achieve it is a no brainer. In many cases productivity is seen to rise by 20 – 30% on top of energy savings (travel to work included), reduction in space requirements. You biggest problem may be stopping your staff work too much!
6. Engage with your staff
Communication with your employees has never been more important. Make them feel like they are part of the longer term solution not the shorter term problem. Newsletters, accessible management staff and transparency often reap unexpected rewards and stimulate innovation.
7. Get training
We will emerge someday on the horizon from the current economic position. Will your staff be ready to compete at the highest level? Now is a great time to access funding and improve your employee’s qualifications whilst improving retention and productivity rates.
8. Government money
Are you fully exploiting your excellent to approach to being responsible by winning public sector contracts? Best price is not always the deciding factor in this competition. Governments are really pushing low carbon economies through their own spending power. Has your company got an environmental or community competitive edge?
If you do need to make redundancies make sure you fully understand proper procedure. As well as ensuring compliance can you look to help those being made redundant with their next career step? Working in partnership with appropriate external agencies maybe all that it takes.
10. Silver linings
With every recession come new opportunities to do business. There is a substantial ‘green’ agenda to just about every country’s economic stimulus packages. How can your business make the most of these?
Well, that’s the start of the journey. You might think ‘that’s just good management’ and you’d be right. The first lesson in CSR is its just good business practice.
Please recycle any additional CSR tips for smaller businesses in the comment box for others to share!
See you next week.