Tuesday, December 15, 2009

17 ways (I counted) to bring CSR reports ALIVE in the business

An interesting discussion on Justmeans with Gil Friend, founder of Natural Logic,  and Dave Stangis of Campbell  Soup Company prompted this post. I mentioned in one of my  Justmeans updates that I had been designing a questionnaire to seek employee reactions to a client Company's first CSR report. You can read the ensuing discussion yourself, but one of its offshoots relates to one of my mantras. That it is incomprehensible to me how much work goes in to the publication of a report, and how little goes into ensuring it reaches, and touches, one of its primary stakeholder groups, the Company employees. I will explore that a little here.

The publication of a report is the start of its long life in the organization, until it is reborn again with the next report. During its lifetime, the report can serve several useful, I  might say imperative, objectives within the organization. Of course, the report is not the sole vehicle for internal work, but it is a good platform as it covers such a broad range of the Company's activities. Here are some of the ways you can put your report to use in the organization:

Senior Manager Round Tables - Starting with the CEO, discussion sessions on specfic themes in the report, or aspects of the report, with random groups of Managers.Round Tables could be designed as open discussions about material issues, the challenges and the dilemmas, based on what is presented in the report. This also serves to ensure Senior Management read the report (!), and reinforces their commitment as they are seen to walk the talk.  

Group discussion sessions in organic teams - Using single sections or even cases studies or paragraphs in the report, conduct conversations about the content within organic teams , based on focused questions of the specific sections - Why is this important? What can we learn from it? How does it relate to our job? Does this feel like a fair representation of the Company.? What could we do better? Who are the stakeholders affected? How does this fit with our overall sustainability goals? What can we contribute? What should we think about or do before the next reporting cycle?

Fun activities for familiarization with the report - (Gil Friend suggested something like this and i agree) - ranging from quizzes, report trivia, team competitions, report crosswords, report awards (best photo, best case study, best quote), best rewrite (!) etc. This might include report memorabilia :)) such as "I reported 2009" T-shirt, "Reporting leads to  better performance"  mousepads, " This is my CSR report coffee cup" printed on guess what, a coffee cup. What about starting a graffitti wall, much as Anita Roddick described in Business as Unusual? Not everthing has to cost money.  

Employee survey - I think it is absolutely essential that Companies survey their employees to see how many are taking an interest in the report, what they think, and what they would improve.

Training activities - Every Company spends so much on training, this often includes leadership or strategy training - the Company's sustainability report is a window to the Company's leadership, or should be. The CSR report should be an essential part of leadership training. Even if the report is awful, the dialogue that training workshops generate could be useful in helping to make it better in its future rebirths. Equally, the report can serve as material for training exercises in identifying business opportunities, risks or ethics training for employees.

New hire orientations - Every new hire should be directed to read the report, and part of the new-hire orientation program should include a discussion about their impressions. Is that such a hard thing ? You join a Company, you want to know about it. Is reading the CSR report such a burden ? When I joined Procter and Gamble in the days before anyone had even dreamt (or had nightmares about) CSR reports, I was given a copy of "Eyes on Tomorrow" by Doubleday and Ferguson,  a very detailed and at times rather stodgy history of the Company, but i read it from cover to cover.

Performance Scorecarding - Perhaps the Company has a Balanced Scorecard, or some other form of performance management system. If so, sustainability performance is probably in there somewhere. If not, the commitments or intentions stated in the Company's report should be measurable, and measured. The results should be widely communicated.

Different Communication Formats - Exec summary, briefing papers, webcasts, video summaries, posters, Q&A briefs etc, use of company intranet forums if they exist, perhaps even an online marathon with Senior Management and the Reporting team who respond to quesitons live in real-time.

Did I miss anything ?

In many cases, unless the reporting is a one-person show (and, regrettably, it sometimes is) , many employees will have contributed to the data and information contained in the report. Doesn't it make sense for them to be consulted about the report once it's issued ? Not only as a way of showing them respect, as core stakeholders, but also as a way of gaining essential information about whether their input was appropriately reflected.

I think you get the picture. When planning your report, make sure you plan beyond publication - at least six months ahead. Plan six months of intensive employee familiarization, understanding of and engagement with the report. At worst, employees become aware and can be more adequately equipped to support the Company's sustainability objectives. If this is all they pick up, it's a benefit.  At best, they become so engaged that they begin to see sustainability opportunities in everything they do, speak out passionately against unsustainable practices and turn every external interface into one in which the Company's values and sustainablilty practices are promoted. Give me a CSR report, tell me about the process of writing it, and I will design an employee engagement process for your Company around it. Why ? So that your next report will be even better. Why ? So that your business performance will benefit.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at: www.b-yond.biz/en

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