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Good CSR starts with your employees. Here’s how to involve them

Employees are your company’s most important asset if you want to create lasting social change. In this article Canadian CSR expert Paul Klein shares tips on how to involve and engage your employees.

Behind each of these desks you van have an employee who can make a valuable contribution to the social change you want to create. Make sure to involve your employees. [Photo: JumpStory]
From CSR to lasting change – a series in 7 episodes

This is the third chapter in our series on how corporations can create real and lasting social change through your CSR efforts.

The series is based on the book “Change for Good – An Action-Oriented Approach for Businesses to Benefit from Solving the World’s Most Urgent Social Problems” by Paul Klein.

The series consists of the following articles:

1. Paul Klein has a message for corporations: Drop CSR Lite and make lasting change
2. So you want to create real social change? Here are 9 good questions to begin with
3. The Impakt Model: How to find your way to create change for good
4. Here are the 7 building blocks of Change for Good
5. Good CSR starts with your employees. Here’s how to involve them
6. Will a strong CSR profile damage your reputation? Check your risk here
7. 7 steps when you want to go from talk to action

You are sitting on top of a gold mine. And although it is not visible at first glance, the gold lies just below the surface, waiting to be dug out.

We are talking about your employees. Their knowledge. Their competences. Their commitment. And, not just what is included in their formal job description, but all the experiences, sorrows and joys that have made them the people they are.

These are almost unimaginable resources that can make a huge difference to your company’s  efforts to create social change – if you manage to uncover and share them.

For Paul Klein, a Canadian expert in helping businesses benefit from solving social problems, any company’s social change programmes should start with you exploring what your employees are passionate about. Because what’s most important them should be the fuel that drives your social programmes forward.

First step: Uncover the essence of your company’s social purpose

Do you know your company’s social DNA? Do your employees?

Not all, but many companies have arisen from a desire to solve a problem. Pharmaceutical companies want to improve people’s physical or mental health. Many food companies wish to produce foods protect the environment, treat animals ethically, and are affordable and healthy. Some bicycle manufacturers exist to promote public health, reduce pollution and give everyone access to cheap transport.

What social problem was – or is – your founder concerned with?

You can call it the company’s social DNA. It flows through who your company is, what is does and how it is helping to make the world a better place . But sometimes it can become an afterthought  if not elicited regularly and systematically.

Be sure to create spaces where your founder or CEO can share stories about what their personal motivation was to start the company. This can happen both in large forums and smaller, more informal spaces, such as over a lunch with five or six employees or at social events.

Doing ths can work systematically to create a public narrative about why your company exists and what social or environmental problem(s) you strive to solve. And remember to have a video produced where your founder tells his or her story. And make it a requirement that applicants for positions in your company watch the video and familiarize themselves with your social DNA.

Here’s a bit of inspiration from Carlsberg. In this video CEO Cees ‘t Hart explains about the company’s purpose and responsibility for society.

Second step: Listen to your employees

Your founder’s voice must be clear and distinct. And the employees must have no doubts about the company’s values.

But their voices must also be heard.

They are what enables you to deliver the services and products you are known for. Without them you are nothing.

Therefore, you must listen to what matters to them. And you must listen carefully. And curiously.

During the covid-19 crisis, Carlsberg introduced bi-weekly videos from Cees ‘t Hart, informal virtual fireside chats and Q&As with the company’s top management.

The employees have also been involved in the strategy for Carlsberg’s sustainability programme. This will continue. Employees will help drive progress on sustainability from within, writes Cees ‘t Hart in the company’s latest ESG report.

Listening carefully can be difficult

Listening carefully can be harder than you might think. Because not everyone finds it easy to express what is really important to them. Therefore, you must create spaces where they feel safe. Don’t be afraid to make such activities a little crazy, a little funny, a little playful. As long as they rhyme with who you are as a company.

You can, for example, let the employees paint a picture of your company in ten years – or write a press release which is scheduled to be sent out on November 15th 2032.

Exercises of that nature free your mind, and you become much wiser about what desires, dreams and potentials your employees hold. At the same time, it forces you to decide who you are and who you want to be.

Here are four ways you can start listening more deeply to your employees.

1. Write letters to yourself

Get your employees to write letters about who you are as a company, what you believe in, and how you would like the world to look when one day you go out of business. It provides plenty of input that you can gather into a narrative that can guide you on your way to creating social change.

2. Begin meetings with an employee story

Start meetings with a moment where one of your employees can tell a personal story related to your company’s values ​​and social purpose.

3. Start with recruitment and onboarding

New employees come in with all their senses open. They are eager to understand the place where they will spend a large part of their waking hours. Therefore, there is almost no better time to tell them how you contribute to creating social change. It is also a good time to hear what social challenges they are concerned with and how their abilities and commitment can be brought into play so that it benefits themselves, the company and society as much as possible.

4. Include questions about social change in employee interviews

Do you ask the employees how they perceive your CSR activities in your regular talks with them? If not, why not?

It is important to signal to employees that you take social change as seriously as you take their other work. Therefore, employee interviews are a golden opportunity to hear what your employees think is good and bad, what could create greater social change, and what tasks could motivate them themselves. Simply ask them: Where do you think we could do better? And what role could you play in helping us solve social challenges?

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