CSR Update for Appletree

Corporate Social Responsibility is something we hear more and more about in business. Instead of keeping our heads down and just working hard for our own ends, CSR is about looking into the wider community and environment. It’s about looking at the impact we have and about seeing where else we can all help.

In 2010 we published our first CSR Report, to set goals on what more we could do and to share our results with you. Click here to read our report – it’s on our website. I updated our progress in a blog post in January (click here to read it) and since then we’ve completed one more task on our list – we had double glazing fitted to the office windows! They had an almost instant effect and as well as keeping us warmer, will definitely help reduce our heating bill and oil consumption.

So then we started looking at what to put into a more up to date CSR report. We weren’t sure what to do, so recently I met up with Jo Sandford from Creating Synergy – a CSR consultant who helped us with the first report. On Jo’s advice, we’ve decided not to publish another report, but instead to up our game. There’s a new standard called the Responsible Business Standard and we’re going to go for it. There are three levels – bronze, silver and gold – and we’re aiming as high as we can! We started by completing a survey run by the Organisation for Responsible Business to find out our starting point and what needs to be worked on. You can do the survey at www.ORBuk.org.uk. Jo and I then went through the results, to see what we need to work on. As Jo is an assessor for the standard, she’s given me some great advice on what we need to do, to achieve the standard.

What do we need to do? Here are a few of the activities I’ll be carrying out this year, before Jo comes to assess us:

  • Write an environmental policy for Appletree
  • Document our waste and recycling policy, so that new recruits know what to do
  • Write to our suppliers telling them that we’re going for the standard. We can’t always buy ‘green’ (although we often buy local) but we can spread the word about it
  • Carry out a survey of our clients to get feedback from them and see where we can make improvements
  • Write up our complaints procedure and tell our clients about it.

So not much, then! I’ll let you know how we get on with this lot and then the level of standard we get, once we’re finally assessed.

If you’re interested in achieving the Responsible Business Standard, complete the survey on the ORB website and send me your results. I’ll send them on to Jo who can assess them for you, and give you advice on what to do next.


What gaps are in your communication strategy?


The fourth assignment for my CIM Professional Certificate in Marketing involves creating a communications audit on the organisation I have based my assignment upon. After I had fathomed exactly what was required, I started to enjoy analysing every aspect of communication the organisation did, including the ‘external’ stakeholders involved, such as the media and pressure groups, the community and those involved in corporate social responsiblity.

This may all sound complicated, but there is no need to get apprehensive (unless you haven’t done much about communications in your business). First you need to work out all the different aspects of communication: websites, social media, blogs, PR, newspaper reports, articles written online and paper published, recommendations, networking (off and online), participation in events in the local social diary, corporate social responsibility and involvement in local groups. There are probably more you can think of, depending on your kind of business.

Go on the web and find out what other companies, especially your competitors, are doing to publicise the communication strategies they have in place. Sometimes a little light secondary research can reveal a lot about them, as well as yourself. How visible are you, both off and online? How much information do you make available about your company and the things that you do? How easy is it to find?

Then you need to work out the impact your communication strategy has on your business and your stakeholders, which includes past, present and potential customers, your competitors and suppliers, as well as the general public. How well do you communicate with them on the areas that are relevant to them? What kind of things do you need to tell them? How frequently do you perform this and what have the results been? Have you achieved your objectives from these ventures? What strategies do you have in place to continue, improve and achieve success in your future endeavours?

I have only just scratched the surface on this subject, but hopefully to get the strategic juices flowing. Being visible to the appropriate stakeholders could make a real difference to your business, not only to publicise what has been going on and any future projects, but to increase awareness, explain more succinctly exactly what you do and what you are aiming to achieve, increase networking opportunities and relationships that could evolve into joint ventures and other likely connections, and much more besides.

Let us know what you are doing within your communication strategy – it would be exciting to find out how successful you’ve been and what tactics you have thought up to set the communication wheels moving as smoothly as possible!

CSR: A lesson learned by listening


Very interesting phenomenon happened the last time I went to the Compton Day Care Centre for my CSR Assignment in Listening.

I arrived to greet my service users, and met with the usual happy response, but there was someone else in their midst! Another volunteer was there, in his early 60s, seeking reminiscences from the service users, and he was there to get them to talk about what they had done in the past.

With my nose slightly put out of joint, I settled down to watch what would happen. I had been in that same situation some weeks before, and it would be interesting to see the service users’ reaction.

The difference this time was that all the service users were forced to pay attention to this man, whereas I spoke to only those who were interested. He started by telling them all about himself and then announcing what he wanted them to do.  Then he started firing questions at them to see if any would respond.

Of course the service users are polite and well mannered, so they answered his questions with as much enthusiasm that they could muster.  It appeared to him that they were waiting their turn to have their say, but actually some were silently and invisibly protesting (over the weeks I’ve learned to notice the signs). He tried to gear the subject about what happened during the War, directed towards the service users that were least interested in that subject, and ignoring the ones that would have given him some information if he had given them 1 to 1 attention.

He made another faux pas by offering to bring in pictures of the surrounding area to try and jog their memories, and by bringing in a set of old coinage so they could talk about that. He also made the mistake of telling them local information they didn’t know, whereas those of more mature years prefer to give advice and tell you their knowledge, to suitable appreciative responses.

Gradually the conversation dwindled, and he left. Immediately afterwards the service users announced how boring he had been, and wasn’t it terrible that he was coming back for a further five weeks! Blimey, what had they been saying about me after my first visit? It had taken me about 3 weeks to get accepted, but then I hadn’t forced any questions on them, had let them talk about any subject they wanted, and had given personal attention to those who had been quiet.

Then it struck me! The majority of these service users weren’t interested in the past, they preferred to explore the present and even the future. During the latter part of the morning there was a private conversation going on in the corner about a new nail bar that had opened locally, with questions for explanations about the services on offer – gels, extensions, even nail piercings – what on earth were those? Giggles were exchanged about crazy nail polish colour names, and jokes were passed about dolling themselves up for their fancy men!

What had I learned? You won’t get much voluntary information from your subject unless you adapt to their terms. Firing questions won’t necessarily bring the answers you want or expect, whereas investigatory questions that let the other respond to what they have in their heads, or relate to their immediate circumstances, will bring forth much better dividends. You have to bring yourself down to their level, empathise with their needs, be aware of their surroundings, and work with their responses accordingly. Barriers will be put up if they sense you’re probing too hard, or if there is nothing in it for them.

This is the difference between marketing and selling. Also, frequency in attendance, as in networking for business, will allow others to get to know, like and trust you, before they feel they can open up to their innermost thoughts and reveal the information you crave. It is most unlikely that someone will immediately react favourably to a stranger, so forcing inappropriate questions without a sort of ‘warm up’ over time will never produce satisfactory results.

CSR: Frequent visits loosens tongues and makes listening easier


It’s beginning to get quite noticeable how the service users are getting used to me turning up on Wednesday mornings at the Compton Day Care Centre. I get big smiles when I enter, and my sweet old lady starts telling me all sorts of things even before I get a chair to sit down.

There was one particular day when I was late (dealing with a client’s needs took priority that morning) and they all repeated, “We thought you weren’t coming today”. The service users were all seated at the table making window ornaments (with notable patience as they waited for the right colour pen to be passed around). My sweet old lady was having her nails painted, and her concentration was so much she fell asleep with her hands splayed as she waited for her nails to dry.

I had a lovely talk with the male service user, who told me several times he had been in the merchant navy, the Egyptians they rip you off, his twin brother had been extremely bright, his nickname had been the Village Poacher, his best friend had been a German prisoner of war called Hans, and all he really liked doing best was to listen to others talking. In spite of the repetitions, which often appeared at random within the same sentence, it was nice to get him to open up, as usually he wasn’t able to get a word in edgeways.

It is great to listen to the flow and ebb of subjects as they are passed around the circle. On one occasion the general discussion was about debt; one particular service user told me in great detail all about her monthly outgoings from her pension, and what her landlord allowed her to make improvements to her house.  Health is another much-touched-on subject; another told me about after she had had a bad fall, her son took her home with him for a year so she could recover fully. All spoke lovingly about their various pets, and how much comfort they gave them.

The service users bon humour comes to the fore when they regularly rib each other, especially when it comes to mobility. With their various Zimmer frames, sticks and wheelchairs, they joke about jogging around the village green, rushing up to the dining table, and running to the loo!

In spite of longevity, the oldest service users prove they are not to be outdone. Last week my sweet old lady was in particularly fine form, bright and alert, and kept interjecting poignant and pertinent comments with a wink in her eye! The exertion soon tired her out, and by dinnertime she was snoozing peacefully in her chair. The oldest service user, the 97 year old other male, had returned from a couple of weeks’ absence, and was very pleased to hear I had missed him. The district nurse came round to give him an assessment, and he was so determined to prove he was fit and healthy, he virtually skipped around the coffee table to show her his mobility skills.  A lovely sight!

CSR: Listen for the unexpected from the most unlikely of sources


For my next visit to the Compton Day Centre as part of my CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities, I decided to see if I could talk to one particular service user who hadn’t had much of a chance to speak his opinions. There are plenty of eloquent ladies who voraciously voice their points of view, and even though this is highly entertaining, the two gentlemen who sit together don’t always get a word in edgeways.

So I broached the subject of what happened to them during the War. This brought an interesting reaction: the ladies couldn’t see why I wanted to talk about such an occurrence that happened such a long time ago, whereas the male service user I had pin-pointed out immediately sprang to life, sat up straight and looked eager. This is what I had wanted. Even so, I let the natural progression of things run their course, learned that plenty of the ladies had managed quite successfully during the War, even with their men-folk away fighting, and one announced she had been a land-girl in the local fields. Her main focus was being a dairy-maid and having to milk a long line of cows twice a day – obviously a lasting impression.

I left them discussing rationing and turned my attention to the gentleman in the corner. He looked very pleased. Being very elderly, he told me many times he had been in the merchant navy, how they had swindled him out of everything, how hard it had been and how long the hours they had to work, and that he had been posted to sail around India and then down towards Northern Africa. It was important to let him talk, even with the repetitions, and he told me he still has nightmares about it. My heart went out to him.

After a jolly game of bingo, in which I helped my sweet old lady remember which numbers had been called, and she won a game too (so good to see her pleased little face), the service users were left to talk amongst themselves. One particular lady in the corner, small, dainty and extremely well presented, called me over. She had a particular story to tell me about the War.

In spite of her appearance, my dainty lady had performed deep and mysterious tasks during the War. She had undertaken ‘hush hush’ work which she had spoken to no one about since the end of the War, and certainly not during it, not even her family. Further tentative questioning didn’t reveal anything further about it, obviously the sense of loyalty towards secrecy was still a strong force, but I was still amazed that the most unlikely looking service user had such a dark and interesting history to tell.

What a fascinating morning! And what a sense of achievement to have listened to these two service users, both to get things off their chests that may have been sitting there for many years.

CSR: Listen first and speak afterwards


Another installment of my CSR placement at Compton Day Centre; you can read part 1 and part 2 here to catch up.

I arrived to find a state of excitement: they were celebrating my sweet old lady’s birthday. There was a birthday cake which was divided up amongst the company and devoured! My sweet old lady revealed she was born in 1914, before the Great War started (making her the oldest service user there), and a whip-round of dates established birth-years ranged from 1914 to 1926.

I asked who could remember Compton in the old days, in particular when the train ran through it on the disused railway line. After much muttering that it was a shame it had closed down, and realising that it was about 50 years ago, reminiscences abounded forth about how convenient it had been to get to Newbury to do a bit of shopping, how the pram could be stowed away in the guard’s van, and that everybody, particularly the children, enjoyed the day out.

Celebrations continued with glasses of wine and sherry, which resulted in pink cheeks, giggles and loosened tongues. One of the helpers described how naughty her little boy had been that morning, and, to the chagrin of one of the male service users, the subject developed into having babies and how home-births were normal in their day. One service user announced all her six children were born at home.

Next it was time for some keep-fit exercises, specially formulated to be accomplished sitting down. Everybody (except the put-out male service user who was still pouting about the baby-talk and simulated having a snooze) joined in with as must gusto as they could manage, accompanied to instructions and music from a tape. Much amusement arose when some went the wrong way, or got their left mixed up with their right.

Next was a general knowledge session, graduating from easy to quite difficult, with a large percentage of the questions answered correctly. Appreciation was shown when individual service users provided the correct responses, and a particular question about earthquakes in Japan woke up our snoozing male service provider who spitted out his vitriol about the Japanese during the War. It was important to reign back enthusiasm in answering the questions, to give the others a chance to think and answer first.

I left the service users tucking into fish and chips, a treat they all relished!

Listening is vital to receive the entire question or statement before you give an answer, so that you don’t get the wrong end of the stick. Concentration is needed, as well as immediate comprehension, to process the information listened to, in order to provide a relevant and suitable answer. Waiting your turn so others can get a chance, even if you know the answer, is not only good manners but a necessary discipline which should be cultivated and valued. Delaying your response until the end of the question or statement will enable all the facts to be gathered in before formulating your answer, guaranteeing its practicality and relevance. Pausing before speaking to gather your thoughts is another good trait, to prevent blurting out inappropriate comments.

CSR: If you don’t listen you may miss something vital


I started my first CSR (corporate social responsibility) placement at the Day Care Centre in Compton on Wednesday 19 January (read all about it here). The idea was to “develop my listening skills”, a requirement proposed by Chantal.

I arrived to find the service users (this is the correct term for the users of the Centre) slowly making their way from the bus to their seats. I noted they all had preferred chairs, and an empty one started a rumble while they worked out who was missing. The staff busily pacified them with a cup of coffee and a mince pie left over from Christmas.

I started to talk to my nearest service user, a sweet old lady who reminded me of my mother-in-law. My open-ended questions that could have prompted conversation resulted in “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember” accompanied with an apologetic look from her soft brown eyes. She commented I had nice teeth, and then asked if I was married. I showed her my wedding ring, and then asked her about her many rings on her fingers. I learnt she had had two husbands, who both had been very nice to her, and that she had had three children but one had died. One was living abroad in the Cotswolds and another, her baby, still lived at home.

A bustle from behind turned out to be the local vicar and his team who had turned up for their monthly morning service. Lots of greetings ensued and introductions made (the vicar with new service users plus a lot of interest in me and why I was there). Sympathetic confirmations were made about one member who had passed on recently, with an announcement that his funeral was the next day. Sheets with the words of the service were passed around, and the vicar and his laymen took centre stage, complete with electronic piano in the corner.

Much appreciation was voiced about the late arrival of the empty chair’s occupier, her transportation having been delayed.  The vicar announced the order of the day and the service began. Everybody listened attentively to the prayers, and joined in as much as they could to the hymn (‘We three kings of Orient are’). I found solace in the vicar’s words and listened to form my own interpretation of them.

During the general confusion while the vicar and his party made their leave, I listened to the other service users’ conversations and heard one announce she had been living in Compton all her life. I made a mental note to talk to her the next time I visited.

An announcement for bingo created much excitement, with several service users perking up. I positioned myself next to my sweet old lady, who looked very pleased. The number cards and big colourful pens were passed around, with nobody quibbling about their colour. In the first game everybody listened, and the exultant cries of ‘Bingo’ coming in quick succession towards the end caused much appreciation. The second game needed the staff to remind service  users that their number had been called, and I’m ashamed that my observations superseded my listening resulting in my sweet old lady missing a number. During the third game it was obvious that the concentration was too much, with many dropping off, only to wake up at the end and ask if such and such a number had been called.

Finishing promptly at 12.30pm, with delicious smells emulating from the kitchen, my sweet old lady spoke up to say that they had very nice dinners here. She enjoyed very much coming to the Centre to have such nice food, and that they made it here themselves. Staff started the procedure of moving everybody to the tables ready for lunch, and I was led away by Mrs Paul to show me the fire evacuation procedures, which she should have done at the beginning but was busy fetching the late service user whose transportation had failed to arrive. Listening and retaining information was vital here.

I asked her about Applepie Hill, as the vicar had said I worked just on the other side of it. Mrs Paul pointed it out to me through the window, and then asked about the area in which I worked. Having confirmed the location, the conversation worked around to the farmer who owned the field behind Chantal’s house, who had employed Mrs Paul’s husband as Dairy Manager before the farmer had sold his dairy herd. Mrs Paul herself was a farmer’s daughter, and until 10 years ago had only worked with dairy cows. Listening to the stories from the Compton locality will enable me to piece together what I have already gleaned, and appreciate my local surroundings better.

So today’s session showed me that listening will enable me to learn new information, that obvious questions won’t necessarily allow me to find out what I want to know, that using the environment as aids will help find a way to get people to talk, that allowing your mind to wander and stalling your concentration for just a tiny bit may arise in something important being missed, and picking up and retaining facts in the form of questions to ask later at a more convenient time may be more productive than an instant request.