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For business leaders hoping to leave their own mark, it’s no longer as simple as writing a check from their cushy corner offices. Corporate social responsibility requires equal parts talk and action.
That previous norm — what I like to call passive CSR — is no longer strong enough to position a business as a CSR leader. Getting involved in social issues also means your passion and motivations for involvement in a certain area need to be reflected in your corporate image and vision.
According to Cone Communication’s 2016 Employee Engagement Study, 67% seek volunteer opportunities within their current companies. More than half of those respondents want progressive service models, whether that’s micro-volunteerism, paid service leave, or opportunities outside the regular work day.
No matter your chosen industry, it's important for business leaders to also become social leaders and point their companies toward general causes that benefit people and society as a whole — not just the company's niche.
Establish New Standards
CSR is becoming much more of a heritage asset, meaning people prefer their service efforts to leave lasting effects. Rather than championing campaigns that make big splashes, businesses want to build and work toward causes that resonate with and get carried on by younger generations.
For instance, my working relationship with the Clinton Foundation allows me to be a mentor in its Clinton Global Initiative University leadership program. The program brings university representatives, experts and celebrities together to help students develop the kinds of leadership skills that can have short- and long-term ramifications for their surrounding communities.
But that’s just one example. By considering the following tips, senior leaders can successfully address evolving expectations of society and the workforce while staying true to their companies' missions:
1. Tell your tale. Leaders should use any means necessary to tell stories. Employees will see your passion if you share your own experiences and create a more emotional connection to the issue at hand.
An example I like is APIs Mobilize, a California-based nonprofit that focuses on educating and cultivating leadership in the Asian-Pacific Islander community. The founder is particularly good at storytelling in a way that directly uncovers the origins of an issue and reveals how to best tackle the problem.
On a more immediate level, use content to chronicle your life experiences. Whether it’s a more in-depth undertaking like a book or an ongoing narrative built in a blog, imagery and context help employees understand what they’re striving toward.
2. Put employees in on the ground floor. Get your staff involved early on rather than relegating CSR decisions to a boardroom. Bring employees in on meetings and events, particularly those in the field; this helps them understand and experience the language used and choices behind CSR initiatives.
For example, 80% of employees who participate in workplace service efforts are aware of their employers' CSR ambitions, while only 44% of those who don't volunteer maintain the same understanding.
Today’s workforce — especially millennials — wants to be involved in businesses that positively affect the world around them. Engaging employees in a volunteer initiative is also a good way to increase awareness about the policies your company has put into place.
3. Give staff a stake. Provide workshops to help employees develop their own mission statements concerning their personal social responsibility goals. Having employees who are passionate about the world will benefit the community and your own company's CSR approach.
Zumasys, a small cloud computer service firm, only employs 63 people, but it makes that small total count. The company donates 1% of its annual revenue to employee-chosen charities, some of which aid friends and family members of its own workforce.
Good CSR isn’t just about sizable financial investment — it's about putting in the time, too. Current and potential business leaders must face these changing expectations of activism by focusing on the right aspects of their service plans and reaching for higher levels of employee engagement.
By considering the benefits of more active CSR initiatives, people leading businesses may soon find themselves leading some social change, too (and engaging their consumers all the more because of it).