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A Responsible Business' Greatest Asset - Its People

29/04/2015 22:33 BST | Updated 28/06/2015 10:59 BST

When you think of responsible businesses, you may think of those that give to charities, help the community, or reduce their carbon footprint.

And all of that plays a part, but it isn't the whole story. Last week, businesses from across the UK celebrated Responsible Business Week, demonstrating that being responsible goes far beyond charity.

For example, Research from Business in the Community (BITC) showed that the top consideration of job candidates is how employers treat their employees. That ranked even higher than how they treat customers and how reliable their products are. And competition is stiff for employers to attract and retain their staff. The unemployment rate is at its lowest since 2008, and job creation is high, which means employees have more choice.

If you really want staff your staff to be loyal, you have to enable their development at every step of their career. That involves supporting them to do their current job, helping them progress on that job, and eventually, helping them to move onto the next job.

It also makes business sense. If salespeople are trained with product knowledge and sales techniques, they will sell more. If customer support staff gain better people-management skills, they will deliver higher customer satisfaction.

The barriers for most are time and money. Some employers don't see how they can afford it. But I think the better question is, how can they afford not to? A study from IPPR and JP Morgan showed that during the recession, the UK's drop in training was four times greater than any other European country. It's difficult when money is tight, but training is arguably even more important when business is tough.

Another factor in all of this is that people are working longer than ever. That means it's possible that four generations of people could be working side by side in the near future. That's why BITC suggests that businesses need to adapt training to meet the needs of an age-diverse workforce. Development needs to happen at every age and stage of someone's career, and employers need to consider how to meet varied needs.

Just to clarify, corporate social responsibility is important. At my company, we offer paid volunteering days for staff, and have a generous bursary programme to help support people into learning who otherwise couldn't afford to take City & Guilds courses. It's a key part of being a purpose-driven organisation.

But as employers, being responsible goes beyond charity. We can't afford to take short-sighted approaches to staff and ignore their development.