In the must-haves for a successful Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program to yield a desirable Return on Investment (ROI), I consider the “holy trinity” of CSR components to be that the program is Strategic, Integrated, and Authentic. In many ways, authenticity is perhaps the most important of the three for while a CSR program can lack strategy and may stand-alone without integration, and still experience some modicum of success, the entire program will fall apart if it is revealed as anything less than truly authentic. Employees will become disillusioned, the communities that your company impacts will turn against you, and the media might very well eviscerate you, causing tremendous loss of profit or market share (see the recent falls from grace of Wells Fargo, Volkswagen, and Uber).
As I discussed last week, authentic employee engagement can yield tremendous benefits in attracting talent and in reducing turnover, absenteeism, and employee theft. Authentic community engagement can go a long way in creating mutually-beneficial partnerships with those most directly impacted by your company. Now, I’d like to focus on the other two pillars of CSR, creating authentic sustainability and corporate philanthropy programs.
The jury is out. People want companies to “go green.” In fact, Millennials demand it. But, what exactly does that mean as far as constructing an authentic sustainability plan? I suggest that any company that is undertaking minimal amounts of sustainability for “show” or merely to cut some expenses in the budget, is doing it wrong. The companies that are most successful and that see the greatest returns in the market place, as well as to the balance sheet, are the ones that authentically strive to be industry leaders in sustainability. Understandably, smaller and startup companies are not likely to have the capital to put into a green building construction project, but there are a variety of ways that you can authentically build your sustainability program. When viewing sustainability, it should always be a 360-degree approach to all stakeholders, internally and externally. This might sound like a lot of work to gain authenticity, but it will pay off in spades.
Let’s be clear. Simply having recycling containers around your office or putting up “Don’t Leave Me Turned On” stickers by light switches, might save a few dollars, but it won’t go far in the way of authenticity.
image: Sorana Secu
Let’s continue with our example from last week: Your company has a new food item going to market and you want to appeal to those consumers who specifically seek out healthier alternatives. How can you strategically integrate authenticity throughout your CSR program that may give you a competitive advantage?
For sustainability, the company will want to look at three elements: operations, ingredients, and externalities.
Operations: is your business generally operating in a sustainable manner? Do you have written operational procedures in place to ensure that you are creating, marketing, selling, and delivering your product in the most sustainable manner possible? Are your offices and your manufacturing facilities being operated as sustainable as possible when it comes to energy, water, and other resource usage? Areas to review for sustainability include electronics/computers, HVAC, lighting (natural and otherwise), plumbing, landscaping, printing/duplication, file management, onsite power generation, composting/food waste, etc.
Ingredients: Are you sourcing truly sustainable, natural, organic ingredients from the geographically closest sources available? Are you using sustainably harvested and fair trade ingredients? Are you limiting excess sugars, transfats, and processed materials? Packaging is also an extension of ingredients as far as minimization of materials that might not be compostable or recyclable or, worst case, harmful to human health (e.g., BPA liners). Could you use a biodegradable, wax-paper carton instead of a plastic tub? What are other, more sustainable ingredient alternatives or unique ways that you could package your product?
Externalities: What are your impacts on the planet from shipping your ingredients to production and distribution of your final product to market? Could it be produced in multiple locations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions/shipping costs? Are you operating your offices/manufacturing facilities as efficiently as is possible? Have you utilized “sustainable design” techniques in developing your business as well as production of your product?
The final, and most important element of authenticity concerning sustainability is to make sure that you are measuring your results and reporting them. There are lots of ways to do this using the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but perhaps the easiest and least expensive one is using the B Corp B Impact Assessment. The B Impact Assessment is a free application from B Lab. It will enable your company to identify your strengths, challenges, and areas for improvement when it comes to sustainability and, in the process, provide you with an industry comparison to similarly-situated businesses.
Again, nobody expects a new business to take on all of this at once, but having a comprehensive, strategic, and integrated plan will go a long way to demonstrate your authentic commitment to sustainability to all of your stakeholders.
An authentic corporate philanthropy plan is not one that simply gives money away to the founder’s favorite charities, but rather is one that authentically addresses impacted communities’ needs, as well as employee engagement strategies. To that end, it’s always best to identify groups who may be negatively impacted by the production process and/or are proximate to the company’s headquarters. Rather than just giving money or product away to those communities, authentic corporate philanthropy meets the community where it is and is an on-going discussion, providing the help that the community actually desires. It must not be a one-time action that may be viewed as a publicity stunt or a way to simply ameliorate a PR problem. It should be a story that is connected to your business and that can be conveyed in an easily understandable message to the community and your workers. An authentic corporate philanthropy strategy should be thought out, defining how the funds will be allocated, the boundaries around and requirements for fulfillment, and, ideally, the expectations regarding use for the funds and metrics for measuring success. The more that the corporate philanthropy program is designed, the more authentic (and successful) it will be.
As I stated, there should be a “story” that connects the philanthropy to the business itself. Years ago, the nonprofit I founded was the recipient of a large sum of money from Major League Baseball. While it was great to receive the funds and fun to get the picture taken with the oversized check, the fact is that there was zero connection between MLB and the organization. None. How authentic did that look to the media or to the league? I suggest that it didn’t look authentic at all and that the return on investment in that exercise was negligible for MLB.
Authenticity is the secret sauce of CSR plans because it ties directly to an emotional feeling that all stakeholders desire to have. When done well, authenticity leaves all with a positive feeling about the company and the products they produce. When done poorly, it can undermine the entire CSR program. The businesses that implement successful CSR programs do so in a way that is not only strategically integrated and makes business sense, but do so in a way that is authentic. And it is authenticity that elevates the plan into a social imperative that is compelling for communities, employees, and customers.
In today’s world of knock-offs and over-publicized, self-congratulatory acts of charity to garner media attention, what it means to be “authentic” has been severely diluted. Maybe that Rolex watch you bought on the streets of Manhattan will impress your friends and family. Perhaps that Louis Vuitton bag you found at that swap meet in South Central L.A. will not only be functional, but fashionable. In those cases, authenticity might not matter; you may only be going for a “look” and whether or not the product is “authentic” may not be of any real consequence.
On the other hand, when authenticity is a key factor in your decision-making as to the companies you will support, the products you will buy, and the places that you will work, then authenticity may make all of the difference. You might take notice of the business that “adopts a highway,” but their real motive may be merely to advertise their name on a highway sign while they operate in a manner that fails to minimize their impact on the environment or doesn’t treat their workers well. Perhaps you’re conscious about your choice in personal care products; you seek out ones that are chemical free. Without any regulations around the word “natural,” you purchase a product that you think will be “better” or “safer” for your family, only to find ingredients on the product label that you can’t pronounce, have numerous number combinations before words (i.e. “1,3 undecipherable word”), and contradict what most people would find to be “healthy” or “natural.” Believe it or not, it’s completely legal – whether it’s ethical or authentic is another story.
Thus, is the slippery slope of authenticity. When does it matter, when does it not? I would posit that when it comes to developing and executing a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) plan, authenticity is one of the three “must haves” to make it effective and to achieve the maximum return on investment (ROI). Without having a strategic, integrated, and most importantly, authentic, CSR plan, your business risks significant criticism in the media, with your target consumer base, and among the talent pool that you need to attract and retain to be successful.
When it comes authenticity, it must be embedded throughout the four pillars of CSR: Community Engagement, Employee Engagement, Sustainability, and Corporate Philanthropy. Obviously, there are a myriad of ways that authenticity can be strategically aligned with both your product and throughout the CSR channels. In the interest of keeping this blog post brief, I’ll focus on one example. Also, it’s important to note that when it comes to developing your CSR plan, oftentimes, the intersection of the four pillars will become blurred, with initiatives often crossing into multiple categories.
Here’s the example: You have a new food item going to market and want to appeal to those consumers who specifically seek out healthier alternatives. How can you strategically integrate authenticity throughout your CSR program that may give you a competitive advantage?
For starters, your “community” should be viewed as both consumers as well as the geographical communities impacted by the production of your product (I will address employee engagement in the next section). To that end, if you want to appeal to health-conscious consumers, limit the ingredients to as few as possible and to only those considered to be “natural” or organic. Maybe apply for organic or non-GMO certification. Utilize as many locally-sourced ingredients as is possible to reduce your product’s carbon footprint. Apply screens for ingredients (local, organic, natural, etc.) up the entire supply chain to ensure authenticity.
Engage the community (local to your manufacturing and/or company headquarters) as much as possible, prioritize the hiring of locals, philanthropic giving to community-based organizations, and create community-enhancing/helping charity events/projects. Open up your facility to weekly public tours. Allow the community to use your meeting rooms for their community organizing. Invite local politicians to have a “town hall” exchange with your workforce. Provide opportunities for members of the community to participate in R&D trials and sampling events, seek their feedback, and pay them for their time.
Have a story that says and shows, “We care about our community: the people that buy our product, the communities in which we have a physical presence, and the world itself.”
Assuming that you have authentically engaged your community, congratulations, you’ve now piqued the interest of workers desiring to work for a company that might have a greater purpose! The next step is to utilize your integrated CSR plan to engage your employees and, if you’re successful, become an employer of choice – a company for which everyone wants to work. You can do this by engaging your employees in an authentic way. Spoiler alert: just adding a ping pong table won’t do the trick!
The work environment should be underpinned by a clear mission, an inspiring vision, and a defined set of values. Having these elements alone will go a long way to engaging your workers in a meaningful way. The work environment should also be healthy, safe, and fun. Further, you can utilize your employee engagement work to tie back into Community Engagement projects in the geographical community (say, time off for volunteer work or “dollars for doers programs”), company day-of-service events, charitable giving via matching or employee involvement in corporate charitable giving decisions. Explore alternative hierarchies that rely more on self-managed teams rather than top-down directives. Utilize 360-degree feedback loops, open books policies, non-traditional compensation, profit sharing, and employee ownership plans. Have regular, scheduled company-wide, social events.
Really, any employee engagement that goes beyond what is traditionally considered as a “typical” employee-employer relationship of “work for pay” will go a long way in providing authenticity to your company’s CSR plan.
Have a story that says and shows, “We care about our workers as people and want them engaged in the business itself – not just producing our product and profits, but in the decisions necessary to run our business.”
In my next post, I will cover how authenticity can be embedded into the other two pillars of CSR (Corporate Philanthropy and Sustainability).
Image: Dave Gray, The Connected Company
I have previously suggested that one of the ways companies can build happier workplaces with more engaged workers is to have less hierarchical organizational structures. Sure, hierarchies have their place in command and control, top-down environments such as the military, government and police forces, when decisions need to be made expeditiously, when lives are on the line and accountability is of the utmost importance. But generally, nobody likes being told what to do – especially not Millennials. Thankfully, we are starting to see cracks in the traditional corporate paradigm and companies are starting to explore alternative structures that have been showing tremendous progress in productivity as well as in worker satisfaction. But in order to be successful, there needs to be buy-in from the top of the organizational chain, from management, a recognition that “power” must be redistributed, and ego must be checked at the door. Less hierarchy can be threatening to those who have lived with it for their entire working careers, so making the shift to flatter, self-managed organizations can take some getting used to for older workers.
Reinventing an organization or starting one with a flat hierarchy is not for the weak leader who relies on power to make accomplishments happen; rather, it relies on a strong set of leaders who understand that less hierarchy leads to a more engaged and nimble workforce.
The benefits of a self-managed or “flatter” organizational structure are numerous. According to the Morning Star Self-Management Institute, some of the benefits of self-managed organizations are:
Self-managed organizations need fewer formal meetings, are fluid with job titles, are transparent within their team regarding performance, resolve their own conflicts (but can call on assistance from others to help mediate, if necessary), focus on team (rather than individual) performance, and self-set salaries (with peer calibration), and enjoy equal profit sharing.
Even a simple change in vernacular can make a difference as far as the psychology behind worker satisfaction. You’ll note that several leading companies no longer refer to “employees” or even say that “employees are our best ‘assets.’” Workers aren’t fungible. They cost money to hire and even more to replace. They are truly “human resources.” Playing with the terminology a company uses to refer to workers can help improve a work environment and culture. See Wal-Mart’s “Associates,” DaVita Village’s “Citizens,” KIND Healthy Snack’s “Team Members” and Johnsonville Sausage’s “Members.” Sometimes a name change can make all the difference.
As an African proverb states, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Reexamining our hierarchical workplaces will allow the entire company to go farther in a way that is ultimately more satisfying for workers.
For more information about self-managed organizations, including some case studies, I highly recommend checking out Frederic Laloux’s website and book on Reinventing Organizations.
photo by Richard Foster
Who doesn’t want to be happy at work, right? We spend more time at our occupation than we do with our families and friends. Studies continue to show that happiness in the workplace is not only a cost-saver, but a worker’s unhappiness at work can be quite costly to an employer. If we’re trying to build businesses to last, to be successful, and to fulfill our needs, this is an issue that we need to get a handle on now – especially, as Millennials continue to enter (and take over) the workforce and demand jobs that are fulfilling, satisfying, meaningful, and connected.
Studies have shown that happy employees have:
In fact, in 2016, the U.S. retail industry lost approximately $9 BILLION DOLLARS to voluntary entry-level turnover! Say that again out loud -- $9 BILLION DOLLARS lost last year!
You might not be able to buy happiness, but not having it sure can cost you!
So, in the interest of helping both workers and business owners tackle this critical issue of worker engagement, here are five tips on how to improve your workplace.
1. Focus on Purpose
In my last couple of posts, I have written about the importance of purpose in the workplace. Purpose will often dictate a worker’s satisfaction with his or her job, the company, and even with themselves. The need to create a purpose-driven company with a clear mission, an inspiring vision, and authentic values that everyone within the company can incorporate into their work is absolutely critical. These elements will help you identify and recruit people who will fit in and commit to the “cause.” A purposeful environment will help to inspire workers as they go through the ups and downs of their lives. Purpose will allow you to place the right folks in the right positions. Remember: the “sweet spot” of purpose lies at the intersection of personal purpose, company purpose, and role (in the company) purpose.
Dan Pontefract, The Purpose Effect
2. Be Creative with Compensation
People want to be paid a “fair” wage. While nobody wants to go to work thinking that they aren’t being paid enough, it has been shown that people will work for less salary if they are working in a company with a robust Corporate Social Responsibility program. But what’s making companies stand out these days is not so much paying the “market rate” (or above market rate) salaries and providing “traditional” benefits (healthcare, dental, vision, retirement); it’s the non-traditional compensation and amenities that some companies are offering that provide workers with incentive, work satisfaction, and in turn, happiness. Some of these creative incentives could include:
3. Embrace Feedback Loops
Just as workers don’t want to be underpaid for their efforts, traditional employee evaluations are not an enjoyable experience by anyone. While workers appreciate feedback so that they know what they are doing right and where they could improve, a system that is set up for a manager to evaluate an employee alone, is usually not a satisfying experience. The manager isn’t comfortable, the employee dreads the annual event, and often times the process is one that is either mandatory and perfunctory, forgotten until the next year, or it is one that is setting up an employment separation (either by choice or not). Instead, I suggest utilizing a much more satisfying and helpful, 360 degree feedback loop process where the worker is being evaluated by more than just his/her manager (others in management, co-workers, customers, direct reports) and the employee is able to do the same – all at the same time. Adults getting together and, like adults, having positive, interactive conversations where at the end of the session, agreements can be made to improve certain processes/behaviors, and the entire team can move on in a more successful manner. In fact, I would suggest that this be done more frequently than once a year. If workers can connect with peers on a human level and be motivated by the folks around them to maximize their performance efforts, they will be more successful, and they (and everyone with whom they connect) will be happier.
4. Examine Hierarchy
Top down organizations have their place in our society. Take the military or government, for example. But some innovators, recognizing that rigid structures aren’t necessarily the most satisfying for workers, are reinventing organizations into less hierarchical, flatter, and self-managed workplaces. And they are seeing remarkable results. By doing so, these types of companies are empowering workers to make their own decisions based on the company’s values and culture, they are using stakeholder models for decision-making, discipline, conflict resolution, and problem-solving. They are freeing up executives to focus on “big picture” items to drive an organization forward, rather than focus on the mundane. These types of organizations treat workers as “whole individuals” in which the work experience is an extension of self as opposed to leaving one’s true self at the door, coming into work to do a job, and then leaving, unsatisfied with the work experience.
5. Utilize Volunteer Opportunities & Gratitude
One final way to keep workers happy and engaged is to encourage them to utilize the business for volunteer opportunities and share gratitude. A company looks externally with volunteer activities in the community; expressing and encouraging expressions of gratitude looks internally at feeding the worker’s soul. A recent study on employee engagement found employees say that opportunities to support causes or issues they care about (64%) are as important as wellness programs. Building in a company-wide, day of service is one way companies engage workers, but other companies allow for their workers to choose their volunteer activities – skills-based and otherwise. The best combination is to allow for both: meet workers where they are as that will allow for the greatest happiness result! Matching volunteer time (dollars for doers) with a donation to the nonprofit supercharges the impact and the happiness quotient. Lastly, creating a culture of gratitude has been shown to build “social capital,” engages workers, and enhances worker happiness. Who doesn’t want the personal touch of regular expressions of gratitude from one’s co-workers? As I teach my 6-year old, expressing gratitude “fills buckets” – both for the people you express it to, as well as for oneself.