6 Steps To Enable Individual Social Responsibility At Your Organization


Tanya works as an administrative officer for a large real-estate firm with global operations. Her company has made CSR commitments for the environment and sustainable practices in line with their business objectives.

As a real-estate firm developing properties means that they need to cut trees and make way for large projects in the city. Therefore, the company decided to make afforestation a priority. Tanya is passionate about educating less fortunate children in her neighborhood and spends time every week at an orphanage engaging your people. Over the years she has observed that the school lacks funds for basic infrastructure and even though she has asked her circle of friends it never adds up to much. She is in a dilemma knowing her organization won’t be supportive since the focus areas and priorities are different.

Supporting Personal Passion

Every organization running CSR initiatives are expected to focus on core areas of interest aligned with their business goals. This often leaves employees who contribute their energies on other pursuits feel unrepresented. Yes, employees need to follow their heart with initiatives that matter to them.  What if organizations can pitch in with support for people like Tanya who contribute through ‘individual social responsibility’?

Individual social responsibility can be defined as prosocial actions to do good for society by people in their personal capacities. It can range from helping elders in an old age home, creating learning material for schools, teaching young adults life skills among others. Often these individuals form a collective and do more together or continue their good work in their own little way. Key elements of such engagements are personal accountability, stakeholder relationships, passion to improve society and ability to spot opportunities. The issues of scale and funds are some of the constraints that hinder better and sustained impact.

If you are leading or shaping your organization’s corporate social responsibility policies there is immense value in making your plans more inclusive. It is in your organization’s best interest to tap the power of employee volunteering. Such acts spread positivity among other employees and for others outside the firm. Research studies also indicate that employees who volunteer their time are more engaged at work and give them meaning and a purpose in life.

Here are 6 steps to help you make your process open and fair while helping leaders make appropriate decisions.

Gauge the interest within: Your volunteering surveys and informal conversations can give you insights on where and how your employees currently give back their time for CSR.  If you haven’t yet run a survey consider asking questions about their current engagement, how much time they devote, what skills they offer and why they volunteer with those specific institutions.  Have there been requests from employees to support causes they participate in? If you see a lot of interest your organization is probably ready for ‘individual social responsibility’ championing.

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Define your approach: It can be confusing and unmanageable if organizations receive a flood of requests for support. Some organizations allocate a certain portion of funds for such initiatives while others try to blend it within their overall CSR framework. However, to ensure there is consistency and transparency, organizations need to define a clear approach and process to enable such opportunities to be surfaced. Very often employees want organizations to be aware of what they do and be heard. They may not even need funds – just encouraging words can go a long way.

Outline a clear process:  Explain why your organization is willing and open to supporting employees with their causes. Earmark a certain portion of funds which we can invest in say the top 5 initiatives which employees can bring to the table.  Even by getting all initiatives tabled they get the spotlight and attention they deserve – which is motivating for employees .Announce officially  the commitment for individual social responsibility and that the organization will evaluate and decide which ones to go with in a fair and open process.

Spell out the criteria: Keep it simple so that employees don’t feel overwhelmed by the process. Here are some steps:

  1. a) Employees to present their proposals as projects to the CSR committee
  2. b) Employees need to be involved directly and lead the initiatives they propose
  3. c) Employees need to work with the internal teams to conduct due diligence (e.g., financial review of NGOs, provide references of companies who are currently engaging with the entities, formal request for support from the institutions themselves)
  4. d) They need to commit to a minimum of 6-8 months of continuous involvement
  5. e) Must have a succession plan in which they nominate employees who can carry on the good work
  6. f) The project must highlight the long term view and the impact it creates (people it will reach/impact, the value etc)
  7. g) The project must have ways to scale up or improve other similar initiatives (school curriculum development for example can be extended to other schools who have needs).
  8. h) Employees need to report the progress and impact periodically

Enable the initiatives:  To ensure these initiatives are successful your internal systems and processes need to be in place and flexible. Can employees get access to funds in a simple, transparent manner? Can they expense claims based on actual bills? Are the key stakeholders involved in improving the process? Provide easy to use templates for employees to bring proposals to the table. Participate and understand what the projects aim to deliver. Make visits to the places the funds will reach. Remember to recognize great work.

Consider the issues: While opening up on individual social responsibility don’t take your eyes off the core CSR focus areas. Consider the bandwidth of your CSR committee and how much time they can spare. Be sure of how many and to what extend you can support initiatives. Sometimes, the initiatives can bloom into a very large engagement. Have a plan to review the engagement and also step back if it isn’t adding value to employees and the communities you support.

Overall, there is immense value in engaging your employees and supporting their interests in ways that work for both the organization and the communities. Having a clear and simple process and strategy can improve your chances of succeeding in your pursuit of promoting ‘individual social responsibility’.

Shall We Brand An Athletics Meet?


Lina proposed a branding idea to the leadership team of RayStar Service Centre, a captive unit of a leading travel company and listened as the group debated the pros and cons of event branding.

Lina is the head of HR and she has been tasked with improving employee morale which has seen a dip in recent times. The organization isn’t faring too well either with the travel business slowing down a bit. Lina is very passionate about sports and been a state level basketball player for many years before making her mark in the corporate world.

Manish (CEO): “Lina, thanks for bringing this proposal to the table. When we met as a group, we had reviewed our current state of our business, looked at how our employees were feeling disconnected and what we needed to do more to re-engage. I appreciate your interest in sports and can see the drive you have to make this happen. We are evaluating other proposals as well. Before, we get there I would like my leadership team to share their views.”

Imam: (Business Head – IT): “Lina, it might help for us to get a gist of what this proposal is about. We can give our views thereafter.”

Lina: “Our employees are well connected and know what is going on in the corporate world. I have heard many of them share how TripMate and HippHop are branding large scale events in the city and country and that they are getting influenced by how those organizations are having more brand awareness in the talent market. You are aware that some of our employees recently moved to these entities. That apart, we haven’t as a brand been present in terms of an event we can own and call it ours. I am sure if we invest in one big ticket event – either as a sponsor or creating one theme we will be in the news”.

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Imam: “Ok, so we feel that there is a need to be more aggressive in our brand building effort. I am surprised however that we aren’t known as much as TripMate and Hipphop despite us being around longer than them in the industry. Also, our profile as a captive doesn’t warrant us to be out there actively pitching for events. We don’t have customers in the country per se – we do all our work for our parent company. Yet, I do understand that doing something which relates to our audiences may help us improve our standing. Were you considering an external event or was it internal?”

Jane: (Business Head – Emerging Countries): “Lina, I agree with Imam. Is there really a need for doing something like sponsoring or owning an event? Can’t we just participate and get some basic brand visibility? Also, if our employees are feeling low, we should do an event for them, first – right?”

Lina: (looking flustered): “I meant we can also do something for employees first and see how it shapes up. But, if we do it externally, there will be more takers and we will get all the media attention we can ask for. I am very excited and know this sports meet will be a big hit. You can see how well some of the recent sports events such as professional league kabaddi was received. Our athletes are doing well in global events as well. We have stars in the making right in our country.”

Dipak: (Business Head – Marketing): “Folks, I have been listening in to this discussion and have a point of view. From a marketing perspective this makes a lot of sense. It is important to be visible and be known in an area that we can promote and project. However, I am unclear on why we need to be doing a sports meet? Why not do something which impacts travelers? Why not a travelogue on TV? Why not an arts exhibition? Or support travel journalists? Or our employees like Jane mentioned. Incidentally, we can also check if there is an opportunity under the CSR themes that the government has defined”

Imam: “These are good suggestions. Do we know if our employees want an event or our travelers see it as a need which will change how they perceive us as a brand? Dipak, do we have any research that explains what they currently think? Or why can’t we sponsor some athletes whom we can nurture. Or better still, can’t we create an academy to train these athletes. ”

Dipak: (realizing he spoke too soon and wasn’t prepared with insights): “Hmm. Well. We have been considering a survey for a while but getting new business was a priority for the last few years. We can do a quick study if budgets permit.”

Manish: (stepping in): “Team, we need to revisit our branding approach. It doesn’t seem clear to me as to what we want to do – for our employees, first. To me, that was a priority we were initially focused on, right? What is the connection of sports with our business? Can you consider what is most appropriate and come back with a strategy and a plan?”

Lina and the team troop out murmuring why they weren’t able to arrive at a concrete solution in this meeting.

Reflect on this case study and share your views.

How can you help the group arrive at a suitable approach and a decision to get to their branding initiative? Keen to hear your thoughts. Do share them here.

When Actions Speak Louder Than Symbols


In my earlier post I shared a case study – ‘Why Don’t We Make Symbolic Gestures To Show Our Commitment To Employees?’ that gave Dinesh food for thought on engagement interventions to resurrect their organization.

I have heard and witnessed many actions that have sent strong messages to employees in organizations.

Here are a few:

  • CEO sending home an employee who was dressed inappropriately – reinforcing the need to dress in a way that represents the brand and values of the organization.
  • A leader sending a company-wide mailer asking the employee who printed a 400 page photography manual for personal use on the company printer to personally come and collect it from his office.
  • A business leader who rips up notes on meeting rooms that divide the company by business units and makes it first-come-first-serve to improve collaboration.
  • A company where every employee – leader or otherwise shares commons spaces and cabins and special privileges are done away with.
  • A CEO from a mining company who went first into a tunnel to prove that it was safe for workers, right after a tragic accident.

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Dinesh is in an unenviable spot with a management team that believes in symbolic gestures while refusing to address the core issue of trust and credibility. There are many examples of how leaders can take measures or actions that send a definite message which resonates with employees at all levels.

However, doing symbolic actions in isolation can lead to employees mistrusting the intentions of the organization and further diluting the engagement that exists.

Which intervention will work and why? That will mean listening to employees and seeking their views on what they value the most. Missing this important step is a surefire way to fail.

What also matters is the timing. Do an intervention right after a crisis and it will seem like a knee-jerk reaction. Do it later – and the leaders can be branded as inefficient?

The key point is that no matter what intervention is done the intention must be authentic and transparent to everyone.

Can Combining Forces Help Corporate Social Responsibility?


On Saturday, June 13, I had the opportunity to participate as a panelist in the 2015 Rotary CSR Roundtable at Bangalore where NGO representatives, corporate communication leaders, CSR practitioners and academia gathered to debate the subject – ‘Integrating Two Worlds – Corporates And Communities’.

The first panel on ‘United Effect:  When CSR Partners Collaborate’ discussed CSR collaboration, reporting, the importance of trust in the partnerships, criteria for selecting partners and governance models.  In the other discussion, when I joined the panel on ‘Integrating Two Worlds: Corporates & Communities’, the topics of debate included the role the impact of CSR on employee engagement, the role of CSR communicators and practitioners in enhancing value, the focus on individual social responsibility and the linkage with retention.

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The audience raised pertinent questions and asked the panelists to consider ‘CSR as post-paid’ – in terms of maximizing the power of funds available and measuring outcomes more effectively. Another feedback which the panelists received related to addressing the ‘right issues’ rather than what matters to the corporations. In that sense, it seemed that many felt the need to work more collaboratively and through the eyes of others.

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My key take-aways from the discussions were:

  • Trust and credibility among NGOs and corporations needs further strengthening – the concerns of openness, transparency and reliability were highlighted
  • Most felt that the 2% CSR guidelines has resulted in a more positive behavior among corporations. NGOs are seeing a difference in the way corporations engage after the Act has come into play
  • There are immense opportunities for corporations and NGOs to exchange ideas and lessons – however, this area lacks focus and attention
  • NGOs and corporations have diverse approaches of arriving at partnerships – the former expect companies to be invested for the long term, get leaders involved, have a vision, be accountable, stay hands-on and look beyond ‘numbers’ as a ‘mathematical model’ to arrive at a benchmark for success. On the other hand, corporations expect NGOs to set clear goals, be credible, think of areas of mutual interest and stay committed.
  • Lots of conversations revolved on ‘shared value’ (how businesses-NGOs can partner effectively for common outcomes), ‘board room CSR’ (the way CXOs are involved more on CSR spend and delivery) and the skills demand gap (where corporations have a role in understanding the processes and systems for supporting NGOs in doing their best).
  • The combined CSR spend available across the country got discussed more in terms of how it is now becoming an ‘industry’ in itself with mushrooming NGOs and opportunities to collaborate more.
  • A call for companies to be CSR ‘certified’ was made and the need to encourage social entrepreneurship got discussed
  • One panelist called for organizations to ‘avoid starting CSR if it can’t be sustained’ highlighting the need for long term goal setting.
  • There were calls to integrate CSR ownership with performance management and to ensure every employee got involved and recognized.
  • Fears of CSR getting the unkindest ‘cut’ when it came to budget reductions were raised. Most organizations looked it as a ‘good to have’ option and that needed change.
  • Measurement of CSR impact is misunderstood and rarely considered. Organizations continue to look at ‘soft’ measures such as improved team work, new skills which employees learn and continue to take a ‘heart over mind’ approach.
  • There seemed to be reluctance among practitioners to overtly communicate CSR citing factors such as perception among stakeholders and the need to be ‘low key’.
  • On the growing importance of CSR practitioners as boundary spanners there is a need for communicators to play the role of a catalyst, map talent with the most appropriate need. The opportunities to impact morale and pride were immense. With a view on the inside and outside CSR practitioners were able to transcend boundaries better than other employees within organizations and therefore play a critical role in CSR.
  • There are expectations from industry bodies to facilitate CSR involvement although organizations were themselves better placed to overcome trust issues and lead direct and local engagement for the communities they serve.

Overall, the interactions helped to surface key issues and bring relevant concerns to the fore in a non-judgmental manner. Excellent work by the Rotary Club for organizing and bringing stakeholders of CSR closer.

Why Don’t We Make Symbolic Gestures To Show Our Commitment To Employees?


Dinesh works as the Internal Communication Director for Tibre Corp, a leading multinational in apparel technology which has over 10,000 employees in 3 cities across the country.The company is going through tough times – hit by a lawsuit on the technology it uses, has reported a loss of 2 crores for the 3rd year and is losing employees by the dozen.  The leadership is concerned about the decline in employee morale and erosion of trust with the top management.

Joanna, the HR Head is keen to change the way the employees perceive the current situation and invites Dinesh for a discussion. Reflect on their conversation and share what you think will help them with chalking out their plan of action.

Joanna: “Hello Dinesh! Thanks for taking the time to meet up. I wanted to speak to you about the need for some serious interventions in our company.”

Dinesh: “Good to meet you Joanna. Go ahead – let me know how I can be of help.”

Joanna: “You know how things are currently and the mood in the organization is reflective of the situation. We are losing market share, the business leaders are unable to defend the lawsuit and the losses we are making and our employees are getting frustrated.”

Dinesh: “Hmm. It is a challenging time indeed.”

Joanna: “In recent focus groups I have had with many employees across our locations what comes out strongly is the need for them to hear more from leaders and to see them in person. They are also expecting us to take some dramatic action that will prove our commitment to their existence in the company.”

Dinesh: “What do you mean when you say they want to hear more from leaders? Also, what is your idea of a dramatic action?”

Joanna: “As in, they want leaders to communicate often – talk about what is going on, what we are doing as a business and how we can get over the situation. Dramatic action – I meant, like a symbolic step which provides them with confidence of what we are as a company. You know, stuff like removing policies that employees don’t like, or declaring our commitment to diversity, changing our office timings to make it more flexible, sending more employees on overseas assignments etc

Dinesh: “That’s interesting – aren’t leaders anyhow supposed to be meeting and engaging teams? Are they not doing so currently? On the second part – in terms of a symbolic gesture – how about leaders deciding to give up their salaries for a month or two or take a pay cut?”

Joanna: “Well, they are expected to meet their teams but you know with such challenging times they are always on the go – meeting clients and trying to keep the business afloat. They hardly find time to connect. Asking leaders to give us salaries or take a pay cut is asking a lot!”

Dinesh: “What about asking them to give us some privileges like the stock options or letting go of their bonuses? “

Joanna: “Well, that is tough to sell. You know they will not agree.”

Dinesh: “Hmm. Then I am unclear on the objectives of these symbolic gestures. What are you hoping to gain from it?”

Joanna: “You see – we want employees to think that the company is with them and that we are in this together. By taking some steps which will give them confidence.”

Dinesh: (looking amused) “Isn’t that a gimmick?”

Joanna: “No, it isn’t. We really want to rally our employees – we want them to feel good.”

Dinesh realizes that this conversation isn’t helpful and heading nowhere. He decides to excuse himself, buy more time to reflect on the situation and come back to the HR Head.

What can Dinesh do to make sense of what is being asked?  How can he help his leaders see how their intention of symbolic gestures can negatively impact their interests?

Keen to hear what you have to say. Do share your views here.

The Why And What Of Impact Based Corporate Social Responsibility


CSR spends are increasing globally to support the less fortunate communities and growing demands of society. The opportunities and avenues of CSR giving are large. If you consider the resources that organizations can tap, the growth of NGOs with direct access to the audiences you want to reach and the focus provided by governments globally in directing CSR thinking and investments.

While the possibilities are immense there is also limited understanding of the impact and value – direct and indirect, which organizations can get from their CSR investments.  The lack of clear benchmarks, measurement parameters and decision making approaches for CSR investments makes the exercise complex and intimidating for many CSR practitioners and leaders.

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Often, it results in knee-jerk reactions and short term plans that stifle the true goals of CSR giving. If the CSR approach is top-down the initiatives take the shape of ‘pet’ projects the management wants to do. If there is a ground-up approach, it can often lead to a mix of initiatives and effort that dilute the impact your organization wants to make.

From a purely altruistic purpose giving to any known cause can serve the need and take care of the legal expectations, if any. For leaders and CSR practitioners being sure of why and what needs to be invested are crucial insights for the success of initiatives and to ensure stakeholders get the best outcomes.  It also helps to know how aligned your initiatives are with the organization’s business objectives.

So how does one go about identifying the appropriate approaches and direct the most effective decisions? What will give leaders and CSR practitioners the confidence that their CSR investments will give them the best bang for the buck?

Here are a few recommendations to help shape your CSR investments.

  1. Aligned with organization’s business goals: Review your initiatives in line with the priorities you have set as an organization. Understand the level of engagement or maturity of your CSR initiatives currently –philanthropy focused, enabling operational effectiveness or improving the business model. If your business is part of a larger global network, think of how it links back to the objectives of corporate social responsibility broadly and what works locally vs the broad goals.
  2. Drawing insights for effective decisions: There are numerous sources to gather your insights from – the inputs from employees and what they believe are important issues to pursue, the trends observed in the industry, the state of sectors, the global impact of CSR, country information that offers direction on areas that need focus, government guidelines and academic studies on CSR and effectiveness. You may already have information from employees’ giving practices. If needed, run a survey to gather more inputs.
  3. Consider a resource based approach: Identify what investments you are already making to improve your CSR impact in terms of employee effort, time and management involvement. Define the reach and value of the initiatives – the number of stakeholders it impacts, opportunities for employees to give time on projects, the social and economic influence it has, the scalability of the project, the reputational risks it mitigates and brand value it adds.
  4. Partner on CSR practices: It helps to gain perspectives from other CSR leaders who are working in the same space. Invite discussions and debate on the subject. Learn from their challenges, concerns and practices. Understand what worked for them and what didn’t. Map how your organization fares based on the insights you can gather. How far along the CSR journey are you?
  5. Measure multilevel impact: Impact of CSR can be measured at multiple levels – on the individuals who participate, the communities you impact, the brand and reputation, the relationships and perceptions your organization wants to shape. Have measures to review the direct impact of the initiatives you run – participation, awareness and outcomes. Calculate the resources invested in projects and the direct and indirect value in terms of improvement in quality of life, number of lives touched and the overall social impact. You can also understand how much employee value their commitment with CSR and prefer to stay on with your organization.

Moving your CSR initiatives from a purely altruistic action to a robust approach will need paying more attention to insights and impact based positioning. It will expect a lot more effort from CSR practitioners to influence and change the mindsets within organizations and move stakeholders along the journey.

Moving Your Employee Print Newsletter Online? 6 Tips To Make An Impact


If you currently run an employee print newsletter and want to move to an electronic version consider the following tips to make your publication more relevant, improve readership and champion change.

While employee newsletters are still considered an important channel, print publications are gradually falling out of favor. Paucity of time, evolving demographics, changing reader habits and the growth of mobile are a few of the factors influencing the need to move to a web based platform.

Will employees miss the print version? Is the online version more effective? What do employees expect of an e-zine? How can you sustain interest in your organization’s e-zine? These and many other questions may cross your mind while considering a transition.

  • Seek feedback and gather insights: Ask your employees if they prefer an electronic version and what they expect to be different from the print edition. If you don’t already have insights which you can delve into, run a survey or do focus groups to gain perspectives on content, relevance and value employees derive currently. Reflect on what will work best depending on your employees’ profiles, distribution across locations and geographies and diversity.
  • Build a strong business case: It does seem intuitive that an online version will be beneficial for employees and the organization. However, unless you share the rationale to back your thinking such decisions can soon be undone. Spot the tangible and intangible benefits. Among the former are reduction in print costs, wider reach, quicker access to information and ability to measure the value of communication while the latter can include contribution to the feeling of pride, belongingness and personal branding. Look at the newsletter as a way to unify your organization – by increasing cross-business learning and appreciation, exchanging ideas and building a ‘boundaryless’ entity.

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  • Refresh the model: A print version needs a different approach to sourcing content, publishing and measuring impact. With an online version you will need to make it simpler and easier for the team to produce the editions and creating reusable templates – unless of course, you are outsourcing your newsletter to an agency. Word of caution: what works in print won’t work online – shorter headlines, crisp messages, images that tell stories and greater opportunities to offer feedback are expected from an online version. What can however work is a model where the content resides on a central platform and the e-zine links to the content either via e-mail or a mobile application which pushes information on-demand. Online content is easier to search in case employees miss the e-mail or the mobile notification. Measuring views and downloads are simple ways to ascertain with an analytics tool and it is easier to report insights from data you gather.
  • Communicate the change: Explain the ‘why’ behind the move. Give employees time to accept the change and partner on the transformation. Demonstrate how the change will improve communication, enhance information accessibility and help employees feel more connected with your business. Be mindful of older employees – who may prefer to read a print version. Create a PDF version for those who still prefer to print and read.
  • Co-create content: Involve passionate employees as content contributors. The success of an employee newsletter hinges on how involved employees are. Form an extended team of content writers, editors and ‘internal’ journalists. Give them ownership for sections on your e-zine. This will mean ‘letting go’ of control – often tough for communicators to accept. For example, have them curate content, interview leaders and teams and come back with stories from the trenches. Remember to recognize their contributions – by giving bylines, adding them as part of your editorial board or informing their managers when they make progress with initiatives that impact the newsletter.
  • Define your measures of success: The litmus test for the newsletter is to gauge your employees’ participation levels in contributing content and their engagement with the organization. Apart from measuring the newsletter’s ability to reach essential information and business perspectives in a timely manner you can also evaluate if employees feel connected to and committed with the organization’s goals.

Have other ideas which worked for you? Do share them here.