Tag Archives: Investors in People

CSR for Small Businesses – Suppliers

supply chainWelcome to the penultimate post in the CSR for smaller businesses series and thanks for your patience since the previous articles. 

Today’s post is going to look at getting more out of supply chain relationships, which in itself can almost be an oxymoron. Discussions with suppliers can tend to amount to a brief discussion on price and then either an agreement or not. Too many businesses undervalue the power of deeper relationships with the suppliers that provide the vital resources needed to enable your business to operate.

Price is ultimately the deciding factor in the majority of business purchase decisions but don’t be blinkered by hard bargaining. Opening up your decision making radar beyond just cost can deliver impressive returns in varied ways. 

Here are some of the CSR related benefits available and how to get them:


1. Keep it local

Isn’t it easier to deal with a supplier that you could easily go and talk to? Customers also  like to see their money being kept in their community, so tell them you use local suppliers. Sourcing products locally will also help lower your own carbon footprint by reducing travel miles.


2. Build relationships

Even if you don’t have a current commercial agreement always keep suppliers on good terms in case you need to go back to them. If you feel you have to leave a particular supplier explain why and give them the opportunity to improve. I’ve already underlined the focus on cost but at the end of the day people buy people. You will alwayshave more success at negotiating with somebody you have a stronger relationship with. Don’t forget the thoughtful presents or cards but try to remember other events rather than Christmas when gifts get lost in the season!


3. Question environmental credentials

How green are your suppliers? Do they have similar standards to your own? If you have an environmental management system such as ISO 14001 can you encourage your suppliers to do the same? Can you help them get it by sharing knowledge or resources. How about hosting an environmental workshop? Understanding the environmental impact of your supplies will become increasingly important as carbon footprint measurement climbs the priority ladder. Check out the recently published PAS 2050 if you want to begin to measure emissions per individual product. Larger contracts, both public and private will require environmental accreditation all the way down the supply chain.


 4. Value social engagement

As above but do you have a similar approach to the local community or engaging with staff? Can you share training resources or events, team up to support a charity or share spare resources for community benefit? Do your suppliers have Investors in People accreditation?


reduce5. Challenge packaging

Do you know what do you buy most of? Do you really need all of the packaging that comes with purchases? Can you order in bulk? Can the packaging be reused and returned with each delivery? Do a quick audit on your annual buying and look for opportunities to reduce costs by reducing or reusing packaging materials.

One company I know were buying over 500 individual identical unit items per year and transporting each nationally. Just by having an simple conversation with the supplier to put multiple units on a pallet at a time without all the previous packaging saved hours in preparation time at the warehouse, thousands of road miles (therefore fuel) and hundreds of tonnes of waste. In this great example of relationship building the buyer shared the cost savings with the supplier as an incentive.


 6. Share information

At the core of building relationships it comes down to the sharing of information or resources. Almost every business uses items such as copier paper, coffee, sugar, toner, envelopes etc. Can you join with other neighbouring businesses (or schools, churches, community groups, etc) to get a better price for supplies and reduce packaging?

Share good practice. If your business has seen benefits from gaining ISO 14001 or Investors in People, encourage your suppliers to do so as well. It can only help enhance the level of professionalism and reduce your level of risk.


7. Fairtrade and Recycled

Have you compared products or services like for like? Even in today’s challenging economic times increased customer expectations and awareness is still reinforcing the market for ethically sourced and environmentally friendly items. Have you made a cost / benefit analysis of your supplies against those that are Fairtrade, high-recycled content materials etc?



The quality and price of your source materials are paramount but always take a little extra time to compare the cost, the environmental benefits and the social opportunities before you make your final decision.


Have you ever changed supplier for green or non-price related reasons?


CSR for Smaller Businesses – Employees and Workplace

Welcome to Part Four of the series on CSR for smaller businesses. Today’s post is going to look at every company’s most valuable resource, employees.


 Happy Employees

As in previous posts, the idea is to provide jargon free advice for activities that are simple and inexpensive to implement. At this point in the series it’s still about looking for shorter term benefits to justify a deeper and more strategic look at CSR a few posts down the line.


Before we head into the suggestions and examples I’d like to point out what this post isn’t. I’m assuming that your organisation is complying with the appropriate employee related legislation. If it isn’t or you’re not sure, go and check first. We can’t build on unsound foundations! This is about looking at the business opportunities for going beyond compliance using available time and financial resources.


Areas covered will include looking at how we can improve recruitment, increase productivity and increase retention.


Let’s get straight into how you can benefit:



1.    Its good to talk

How well do you know your staff? I’ve seen countless times where employees have unveiled hidden talents not listed on any CV, application form or job description that can benefit your organisation. To get the best out of your employees you need to know each of them as individuals. If your recruitment, appraisal and management processes are from a template and managed like a conveyor belt you’ll get products not employees. Right now amongst your staff you may have an eco-warrior, a Twitter or blogging expert, a charity fundraiser extraordinaire or a fitness guru, who could all potentially add further value to your organisation at little additional expense. If you can tap into people’s true passions and exploit complimentary skills you’re onto a winner. We’ll look at how to utilise skills such as these throughout the post.



2.    Recruitment

In an increasing number of recruitment situations, especially for higher skilled positions, potential employees are grilling businesses on topics such as work-life balance, values, environmental position and volunteering opportunities. For higher skilled jobs those seeking employment can be confident of a decent salary and being able to demonstrate a commitment to CSR can add real value. This is even more prevalent with graduates and Generation Y’ers as CSR, sustainability, ethics and climate change are further integrated into the academic curriculum and are saturating the internet and other media. Can you exploit your ethical credentials to these types of job seeker’s questions to attract better employees?



3.    Get the staff out of the officevolunteering

Getting your staff out of the office and supporting a good cause works well for many reasons. No matter how small your business you can spare at least a couple of employee hours (especially at low periods) to paint a fence, read to a child, clean a river bank etc. Any time spent away from work will be more than made up for by an energised workforce, not to mention the new skills, change of scenery and feeling of satisfaction. The business will benefit from improved reputation, stimulated workforce, and who knows maybe even a little networking or new client or supplier from the relationship.


I would suggest at least having a company volunteering event as a group to build team spirit and for more formal appropriate PR opportunities. It’s also worth offering your employees the chance to take some time volunteering for a charity they feel personally close to. Offering volunteering as a contractual benefit is an inexpensive, yet effective way of adding value to employee packages.



4.    Charity begins at work

We’ll brace the subject of the business supporting good causes and charities in later post. This post is about employees supporting appropriate causes at work, i.e. allowing themed fundraising days and also making individual donations through their pay slips. By allowing managed use of company time or resources to support a particular cause you can break up routine and engage with appropriate causes. It’s good for morale and can also generate some positive PR.


Charitable giving can be painlessly facilitated through payroll at very little cost which effectively reinforces the company’s ethos of being a good citizen. Each employee can select their own charity or you could suggest a good cause that the company supports formally. There are external organisations that specialise in establishing and managing such projects at very reasonable costs. Not all employees will take up this offer to make a small donation each month but at least you will be seen to be facilitating this and play your part, even if nobody takes it up!



5.    Flexible working

We looked at this from an environmental perspective in last week’s post. This time I’d like to look at it from an employee and productivity position. We’re not just talking about working from home this time. I want to look at all the options and why they can work in the right situation. There are numerous options to manipulate working hours or responsibilities including staggered hours, compressed hours, shift swapping, job sharing, flexi time and home working. In the UK there is now legislation requiring employers to consider flexible working requests but these options should be looked at as business opportunities rather that yet another burden. Larger companies such as BT report productivity improvements of 20 – 30% using these techniques. Home working in particular can offer interesting headaches such as employees working too much, not a problem many managers face in an office setting!



6.    Health

Your employees tend to be more productive when they’re not in bed sick. How much does it cost you if somebody takes time off? Here are a few suggestions to help your employees perform to their best of their ability:


·   Set up a company running / walking / sports team or club.

·  Promote cycling to or at work. There are tax incentives to purchase bikes in UK.

·  Encourage, pay for or subsidise yoga, Pilates or aerobics sessions at workplace or local venue.

·  Make the stairs a more attractive place than the lift! Pictures and paint make a world of difference.

·  Provide fresh fruit and drinking water, or a fridge for employees own food.

·    Have regular health topic awareness days to highlight issues like cancer, back pain, asthma ordiabetes.

·    Promote Fairtrade or organic products.

·     Have a quite room for reading and relaxing, away from any food & drink space.



Don’t forget emotional health. People tend not to talk about their own problems but 1 in 6 people are experiencing mental health issues at any one time. If your employees are having problems away from work these will almost always effect their performance in work. I’m not suggesting that every business should provide a counsellor but it costs nothing to provide contact details or website address for agencies and services to support just about every mental or emotional problem you may encounter. How about asking a masseur or beautician to spend a day giving neck rubs or facials at a discounted price for offering access to your workforce?


There will be local agencies that will be keen to help you with most of these types of initiatives at little or no expense, just make a call or search the internet.



7.    Physical environment

If you’re asking somebody to spend a third of their waking life in your business you need to make it as energising and pleasant as possible. Corporate grey, filing cabinets, no windows, poor lighting and poor ventilation doesn’t really inspire anybody to do they’re best.


One small business client we worked with the employees just wanted to put the radio on. Management did know they wanted this and the employees thought that management wouldn’t allow it! Just by allocating a short amount of time to talk about work space conditions with employees will unearth hidden gems of ideas that make a difference.


·   Do you provide showers or somewhere to change if people want to cycle to work?

·  Are employees allowed to decorate their own work space?

·  Do you consult employees about general work space decoration and colour schemes?

·  Is there adequate ventilation into the work space?

·  Could you have plants / greenery tended by green fingered employees?

·  How about an office pet?



8.    Being sociable

By this I do not mean early finishes on a Friday and an afternoon in the bar. Keep events formal but fun! Most businesses have a Christmas event (which should be properly managed) but what about an end of financial year or seasonal event? It could even by tied into supporting a charity. How about a ‘bring your child (or pet!) to work day’ may need some management but great fun and fantastic change to the daily grind. Be creative.

 Times Best 100 SME


9.    Get recognition

If you’ve got a great workforce tell people! Apart from the obvious aura given off by your business and its employees, the next best step is to gain accreditation such as Investors in People or look to enter a ‘Best Company to Work For’ type award. Don’t forget to put any of these onto your website (not hidden away) and recruitment literature.



10. Twittering, Blogging and Facebooking

If you’re a small business and you’re not using these tools you are missing out. Social media for smaller businesses should be better described as free PR, free advertising, enhanced internal communication and improved customer relationship management. Not one of them alone is a miracle answer to make millions but they can individually, or better still integrated together in to an online marketing strategy, really deliver impressive results. Who is the secret Twitterer / Blogger / Facebooker in your business? Twitter is a great way to gather information, make contacts or conduct research. I now have over 2000 people I can connect directly with on Twitter. Not a bad start when looking to promote, research or network, and all free. Come and say hello @davidcoethica.


Social media is also great for improving communications internally if managed properly. Yes, there is always room for abuse with social media but none more than photocopiers, stationary cupboards, employee room fridges, telephones and fuel cards, and we’ve learned how to manage these to our advantage efficiently. Don’t be afraid of new technology – use your internal champions. A company Facebook group could provide great free branding, lead generation and compliment (or stand alone as) your employee newsletter. As long as you have a clear policy on how all employees can use these tools during business hours you should see the benefits quite quickly.




All of these suggestions need managing and I understand that we’re all busy keeping heads above water especially at the moment, but think of these as investments to improve productivity and research potential initiatives with a return on investment approach. You will be surprised at the returns you can deliver quickly and with little financial input.


There are many agencies and incentives for businesses to engage in initiatives such as these, you just need to make a little time to discuss and find a champion to coordinate.


For inspiration take a look here at what benefits Google offer to their employees.


By taking extra time with employees you can easily reduce turnover, improve productivity and enhance recruitment. If you consider the cost of having to advertise, recruit, interview, train and allowing somebody to get to full speed in new position, then a short amount of time and maybe a small budget is worth investing in.


Please add a comment or example you’re aware of about great employee management for others to share.