Getting to the context of CSR – Letting mentally handicapped people contribute

I think that we are becoming to preoccupied with communicating about CSR, on the business case and on showing the value of CSR on the balance sheet, when it is really about business doing a difference in society. We think that when one lives in a welfare state like Denmark, where the government will tender to all your needs there wouldn’t be any need for locally context based CSR activities other than sponsoring the local football club. But the thing is that there are plenty of opportunities for companies to make a real difference to people who really appreciate the effort.

As one of the many activities I engage in is my work with the Danish association LEV. LEV is a private national association for retarded people, relatives and others that were formed in 1952. Basically covering handicapped people ranging from Asperger and ADHD to people with Downs and other relative heavy diagnosis. People, who can function in society, but need varying degrees of support and structure in order to do so.

One of the biggest issues that these handicapped people have is that they are being shoved away in state sponsored initiatives and offers, where they are isolated from the rest of society. One could call it that the “blanket of the welfare state” has covered them protecting people from harm, but making them unable to move. This is of cause done with the best of intentions shielding the weak in society from all the bad things that could happen (and maybe also shielding society from them). But an unfortunate side effect is that these people become isolated, their personal development stagnates and they feel that they are not offered the opportunity to contribute to society like everybody else.

However, I’m sure that there is room for one or two people in every workplace that is not exactly fitting into our perception of normality. I am also sure that many institutions have tasks that are waiting for employees, who will take pride in doing the tasks that we normally never get done, because they are routine and mundane. It may well be that an employee who is disabled does not have the same skills and resources as the rest of us, but they have something to contribute that we all can benefit from.

Some companies have already discovered that working in close corporation with local NGO like LEV on specific areas can actually make CSR very real to employees and customers alike. Even though they have not framed the initiatives as CSR in their own communication their activities are testimonials to some of the values that guide them.

To many companies CSR have become something that is detached from the day-to-day operations. Initiatives that are within communicated as CSR are more or less reduced to CO2 emissions, Codes of Conducts, Signing charters and different forms of philanthropy. But it does not have to be like that. CSR can actually be much more concrete, down to earth and close to the employees. By inviting a handicapped person into the organisation one gets a real idea about the values and ethical outlook of the company one is part of. The handicapped that are willing and able are more than happy to be invited into companies, where they can earn their own money and contribute on an equal basis with other employees.

I’m not saying that it is easy and it does require that the people who are involved also knows what they are going into, but the organisational benefits are huge. Not only to the individual handicapped person, but also to the employees that work with them and to the company as a whole.

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Getting to the early adaptor using IMC – Strategies for implementing CSR

When trying to implement any kind of new innovation within an organisation or in a social context it is not without importance how and with what tools this is done. With CSR or Business ethics it is even more important because it is hard if not impossible to remove or erase what has already been done. What is important is that you get the ethics of your business into the DNA of your organisation, as Wayne Visser would put it. While this might not seem a like an enormous task it is not as complicated as it might seem. It might take a while for it to sink in but if you keep it simple and stay close to your strategy at hand you will get there eventually.

First of all one needs a holistic but structured approach. What you need to do is to answer the What, Why and How and When of your organisational CSR. This is not to say that this is a simple four step model or the only way of finding out what is important but it makes sense to establish a clear platform from were your business ethics can be expressed.

You need to define what is important to your organisation. If you are consulting company it might make much sense for your organisations members to talk about carbon footprint even though it is a very ‘hot’-subject in the CSR community. What might make more sense is to talk about how you see your relationship with the customer, how far will you go in coaching them, and at what point will it be important to say stop or escalate a issue to your management. If you are a designer it might be important to look into the people who produce your cloth. Are their any child labour and what about women’s rights in the factories that produce your unique designs? It is the ‘What’ is important to my company, and to me that should be in focus not what is the hot issue in the news or what the marketing department tells you will sell.

When you have made it clear what you stand for you need to investigate why these issues are important to You and not somebody else. It might seem trivial but if you can’t answer why something is important it will be really hard to persuade your employees, management, customers and suppliers why change is such a great idea. There is no one-size-fits-all on the Why of CSR and Business ethics. You might have personal reasons why this issue is important or it might be part of the collective memory of your organisation the central issue is that it is an ethical issue that you feel strongly about. This dos not mean that you should be blind for other would be subjects out there, but if you are going to build you business on ethical grounds than it should at least have a strong foundation and answering the Why will help you do just that.

What you have looked at the What and Why you turn to How. You have gathered some thought on how you are going to interpret the issues, which are important to you into some kind of guideline for the whole organisation. The How can have many forms it can be codes of conduct or code or ethics or it can be less visible as part of the standard operating procedures that you ask everybody to follow. In my experience the later is the better because it directly influences human behaviour, but one as an organisation you might have to make a clear statement both inside and outside its boundaries and then a code could be a good option. Both because it create a clear statement to your employees and management on what is acceptable behaviour but also because it tells your external stakeholders and not least your customers what you stand for.

Last one in the initial exercise is to plan the When and this is where you need to think about your early adaptors. You now know your What, Why and How of your organisational ethics now you need to let your invention grow. You know that your idea about the ethics of your organisation is founded in its DNA and the idea behind and know that it is rooted in your product and cultural heritage.  This means that you need to identify who you want to communicate with and find an appropriate channel that will enable you to reach these people.

However, you need to communicate the same message to all stakeholders not only the ones that you want to adopt your innovation. As you only have one opportunity to communicate your message and reach the people who will act as agents for change you have to use all the channels at your disposal. Integrated Marketing Communication is concept that is designed to make all aspects of marketing and internal communication such as advertising, publications, sales promotion, public relations, issues management, media relations, direct marketing and not least CSR to work together as one unified and powerful force, rather than permitting each to work in isolation. The combination of marketing and public relations tools lets an organisation influence for instance the image, public reputation and employee attitudes through the consistence and persistence of a few powerful messages.

“[IMC] is a process which involves the management and organization of all ”agents” in the analysis, planning, implementation and control of all marketing communication contacts, media, messages and promotional tools focused at selected target audiences in such a way as to derive the greatest enhancement and coherence of marketing communication effort in achieving predetermined product and marketing communication objectives.” (joep Cornelissen, 2008 among others)

The selected audience in this case is your agents of change. So even though all members of your audience will have the information at hand about what you are communicating it is the agent who is in your mind when you design your message. He or she properly already known to you or at least your vision of such a person, he is competent both as a person but also as a technician. It is a respected person who has their own values but is loyal giving the person credibility among his peers. It is a person who lives for the future and is willing to take a limited risk in trying something new her or his fuel is passion and the willingness and ability to transform a vision into something more tangible (such as your vision for a ethical business platform). It is a self-starter and motivator that do need fuel to run but ones started will interpret your vision and make it his or her own.

One of the main features about the change agent is that it does not have to be a employee it can be a customer who likes your product and buys in to your corporate culture and want to be evolved. It can be a supplier who sees the long-term benefit of a close relationship with your organisation or a junior member of your staff who buys into your idea. The innovation can get hold anywhere where there is a change agent present who displays the features that you are looking for.

Next week I will try to have a go at how you can use different types of communication channels including social media to get your change agent motivated and not least engaged in your strategic CSR efforts.