Your Company's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Program Will Fail. Unless You're More a Leader Than a Manager.
We hear of and see companies of all sizes and levels of development showing off neat and well presented CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs.
Those programs always look great and ambitious on Web sites, advertising in grandiloquent words how well they are helping poor children on the other side of the world, or save the rainforest.
But quid of our neighborhood if you happen to be located far away from the rainforest?
Wherever we live, who can honestly declare that, say, in a 15km radius from our home or place of work there is no one in need?
Let us tell you about one company, a major real estate firm to be precise, in California (USA), who moved from the usual CSR scheme made to look good in corporate communications to a real plan aimed at helping people and developing the local economy.
In other words, a CSR plan aimed at making a difference.
In real life.
This is the reason why we will not share with you the name of this real estate firm or even tell you in which city they operate:
To the opposite to the vast majority of companies out there, they do not see their corporate social activities as a mean to attract new business; only as a mean to do good.
So, like most real estate companies, they must ensure that the properties they are selling look their best to attract potential buyers.
Doing so include, among other things, to clean up bushes and maintain gardens.
The obvious choice would have been to contract a landscaping company or directly hire gardeners.
Instead, they decided to look around and see if there were not a better ‘out-of-the-box’ solution.
By doing so, they noticed that only a few blocks from their offices there were that orphanage ‘specialized’ in run-away kids and children with serious legal problems; most of those kids were doomed to eventually fuel the local gangs and end up dead soon after celebrating their 20 years old birthdays, or spend most of their lives in jail.
Our real estate firm decided that the properties landscaping caretakers would be those kids.
To that end, they developed a series of training programs (e.g. motivational, technical, skills development) with the help of a locally renown landscaping firm and then approached the orphanage.
The first reaction of the institution management was to appreciate the effort but to turn down the offer, on the ground that the landscaping would mostly concern rich mansions and that those kids would be more interested in burgling the estates before running away with their loots than taking care of the bushes.
The firm insisted and they eventually agreed to make a test with three teenagers of different levels of difficulties.
The trial was a long and difficult process, on the edge of failing more times that can be recalled:
Kids would not come to the training sessions, or when they were dragged there they would not listen or participate spending most of their time on their smartphones, and above all – they refused any manual work arguing that “drugs dealing does not require any physical effort and is much more lucrative!”.
Eventually, after almost 8 months of hard work, the firm’s trainers (who were not professional coaches but volunteers), after so many failing attempts, found a way to reach to those kids and get them interested in the program.
And then, at last, came success:
Those teenagers were declared ‘new life champions’ and became mentors to the other kids of the orphanage.
This program is now running for almost 7 years and an average of 80% of this institution troubles kids are today saved from the street and the gangs:
They live a normal, honest life, married with kids and the rest.
The drop-out rate (those who go back to the previous life path despite doing well for some time) is limited to a mere 2%.
Of course, the program has been fine-tuned throughout the years; many heard of it and almost no one knows who’s behind it!
And still, it is alive and kicking:
The reason being that the real estate firm’ management and a handful number of volunteers are clearly enthusiastic about it, and therefore do the necessary to bring as many colleagues as possible on board and keep their interest alive.
Enthusiasm is key to a successful true CSR program
A really meaningful Corporate Social Responsibility program cannot be decided in a boardroom.
What can be decided in a boardroom is to put the resources necessary to launch a CSR scheme and keep it alive.
Deciding to save the rainforest can, and is, a great idea (after all, the future of our planet depends on it!) – as long as the individuals in charge of the scheme find a real interest in it, that they are highly motivated and that they work hard (even, and in particular, after business hours) to make a difference.
The key to a successful CSR program is enthusiasm.
The enthusiasm will be triggered by an infinite number of factors, depending of each individual culture, believes, education, walk-of-life, etc.
Therefore, there is not one recipe that works for all.
The only requirement is to allow each individual to freely express themselves, as long as they do not offend nor exclude anyone.
A company that wants to make a difference will not develop a ‘grand’ sustainable development program.
It will allow its employees to work in small, highly motivated groups – than can go from helping a local senior citizen house to teaching illiterate adults… or saving the rainforest! -; each group is composed of individuals (where hierarchy is irrelevant) with the same interests and motivation, hence developing and keeping alive enthusiasm.
But also for CSR to work, the firm cannot force anyone to be part of any sustainable development program:
It has to be a personal involvement; otherwise it will be doomed to fail – for lack of enthusiasm.
Company’s clear leadership is a must.
Unfortunately, a great majority of companies are not able to develop a true, meaningful CSR program sustained by employees – therefore they rely on those ‘off the shelves’ plans that fit any, but lack of real meaning beside having the mandatory CSR chapter in their Web side and other legal publications.
Why is that?
For the main reason that, for employees to feel entrusted to develop their own sustainable development scheme, they need to ‘feel good’ at work, they need to believe in their company and therefore agree with its values.
In other words, for a firm to be called a true ‘citizen company’, it needs to have a real leadership – rather than a so-called ‘good management’.
A leadership that ensures that all employees, regardless of their position or role, believe in their leaders and company, adhere to its vision (CSR being essentially a part of it), share its goals and care about its growth and reputation.
Those are the required conditions for employees to feel confident enough to be enthusiastic (how can they be happy and enthusiastic if they work for a firm they oppose and a manager they think little of?), develop a program, implement and keep it alive, despite all natural obstacles that will naturally complicate everything.
Steps to success
Here are the six action points necessary to successfully develop an effective CSR program (without particular order):
1. Make a strategy clear to everyone
Many companies developed a CSR program because they see their competitors having one, and they feel it is becoming more and more a ‘must have’ to conduct a business; but they never really thought about it and are not planning to give it more than a brief thought in at least the next couple of years.
For a firm to succeed and make a real difference, a clear strategy must be developed and approved and shared by everyone in the organization – including by those who are not planning to be ‘sustainably’ active.
2. Make it interesting
A successful sustainable development program must pick everyone’s curiosity.
Many are those who are not welcoming CSR and sustainable development in their everyday lives, and even more so at work.
Those colleagues foreign to any CSR programs must nevertheless participate to the minimum, if only by being interested to know how the program performs!
For a CSR program to be successful, it is important that a proper communication strategy is developed (if only to colleagues and family), and that communication is made so interesting that everyone will want to know ‘what’s next’ and naturally grieve from setbacks and proudly celebrate successes.
3. Make a procedure
At the beginning, all will be good and well.
But after few months, regardless how successful the program might be, many will lose interest and will drift away from it.
This disinterest will come rather sooner than later if the natural difficulties are serious and numerous.
The best way to avoid such discouragement is to develop and implement early in the program’ life a clear set of procedures that covers all possible issues, and therefore will ensure that all involved will know what to do in case of questioning, keeping their enthusiasm intact.
4. Make a list of requirements
What are the requirements necessary to make this CSR program a true success?
As soon as the CSR team is formed, they must list the requirements necessary to achieve the scheme.
For instance – taking for example the real estate company we talked about earlier -, define the training topics necessary, develop program’ team skills, define criteria to select trial candidates, etc.
By doing so, team members will exactly know what to do and in which order, hence avoiding discouragement and drops off.
5. Make a decision on who will be leading the program
Any group needs a leader to succeed – not necessarily a manager.
The team must select their leader, whose main duty is to constantly remind everyone of the program’s goal, fuel the enthusiasm, avoid bickering, keep the project’s spirit alive.
6. Make a clear path to avoid problems
Difficulties are part of life, and the CSR program will get it shares!
The sustainable development team must meet on a very regular basis to foresee problems before they arise or get too big, and find early efficient solutions to implement.
This will help to keep the group cohesion and fix issues as they arise.
What do you make of CSR programs?
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