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July 31, 2008

Richard Bandell:CSR starts with your staff

Some 10 years ago, the mere suggestion of implementing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme would have seen the chief exec laugh you out of any boardroom. But now such a scheme is seen as an established method for attracting, retraining and motivating staff. So why then are so many organisations failing to consult this, their most important stakeholder group, when constructing such a programme?

Without the buy-in of employees, CSR programmes have no place in today’s business world. It’s all very well deciding to support a Sea Turtle Sanctuary somewhere on the East Coast of America because you visited it once on holiday. But if it means nothing to the rest of the company, then you will fail at the first hurdle. No one is going to support and dedicate time to a cause that they have no established links with.

The truth is not only should we be ensuring that our clients are effectively and continuously communicating with their employees, we need to ensure that we are motivating and engaging our own people by involving them in the development of the CSR strategy. And not at the final stage either; employees need to be consulted at all stages, starting with the planning process.

Taking ideas on board
CSR programmes are an essential part of our corporate strategy here at BI, however like many organisations, we found that despite initial excitement when the programme for that year was launched, the dedication and level of interest soon faltered away. If anything, it became more of a burden, which was seen as an encroachment on the day-to-day work of the company.

Holding a consultation with our associates, we found that while CSR was high on their agenda and important to them, they wanted to us to be given the opportunity to work on a project with a strong focus on benefiting the local community. A wish to develop new skills and resources that they would not normally use in their current roles was also expressed. Taking all of this on board, it was back to the drawing board.

Responding to the feedback we received, we were immediately launching a project that would be more motivational for our associates than simply asking them to get involved with something that management thought they would enjoy.

A valuable business exercise
Take this year, for example. We organised a fundraising event on behalf of TreeHouse, the national charity for autism education, and Save the Children, with the objective of raising £100,000 to be split between both charities. Partnering with schools in our local area, we arranged for the school children to take part in the largest game of Chinese Whispers at Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium.

In the weeks leading up to the event, our associates worked with all the children from the 13 schools involved, helping them practice the game, highlighting the value of face-to-face communications, teaching them the value of giving to others and raising awareness of the work of TreeHouse and Save the Children. They also worked on fundraising activites to raise money, including publishing their own book called ‘Whisper..and the birthday party!’, which was illustrated by the school children taking part and sold in Waterstones stores across Milton Keynes.

This project allowed our associates the opportunity to develop their skills in negotiation and people, budget and time management. It is experience and training that you just can’t get in a classroom. In addition to being in line with our CSR policy, it was a valuable business exercise for every one of our 120 associates and has created long-term relationships with all the schools involved. And to top it all, we smashed the £100,000 target and set a new Guinness World Record for the longest game of Chinese Whispers!

With research telling us that pay and career prospects are just as important as the conscience of the business, for existing and potential employees, we need to ensure that we are listening to our internal audience and delivering on CSR programmes for them.

Richard Bandell is managing director of the BI Group

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