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5 Business Lessons From Corporate Responsibility

03/18/2015 09:23 am ET | Updated May 17, 2015

Corporate Responsibility or Sustainability is more than the idea of 'doing well by doing good' it is a business strategy borne of the recognition that to be - and stay - competitive in a global marketplace one needs to compete for the hearts, minds, and souls of employees as well as customers. As the baby boomers slowly exit the stage, more and more Millennials are coming into the workplace. And their values will have as much of an impact on the way businesses operate as the boomers did when they transformed the workplace of their traditionalist peers.

So how can businesses not only respond but get ahead of this 'new wave'?

  1. Hire for passion, train for skill - If employees define a company, rather than hiring for specific skills that are needed, what is critically needed are values and passions that match the corporate culture. A talented naysayer is often more detrimental to the company than someone who gets 'it' but struggles to perform at full capacity. Those who share you mission and your values are critical to your success. They are less likely to waste time and resources, more likely to offer suggestions on process improvements that support your mission, etc.

  • Seek diversity of ideas - When you have people of shared mindset, there is a tendency for group think to take over. New ideas are needed to challenge the old consensus and to be open to new possibilities. This is the real business benefit from diversity and inclusion efforts - because more than making the workplace 'look' more like the community, it reflects the diversity of ideas, perspectives and values of all members of the community. Without this the Abilene Paradox may result; where people are so agreeable that you end up on a course of action that appeals to no one (including customers) by perceived consensus.
  • Reverse the pyramid - Most corporate structures are built like a pyramid, narrowing down to the 'top' management. One of the most enlightened leaders I ever worked for once took me into his office and turned the chart upside down. The image was clear - more than a thousand people's futures - their hopes, their dreams, their mortgages and car payments - rested on the decisions of a few people. 'Make a mistake, and you may be gone,' he said. 'But if I make a mistake, hundreds of people, and their families, pay the price.' All corporate leaders ought to have this awareness reinforced occasionally, and extend it beyond their employees to their customers, the communities and ultimate the world. Because the decisions that they make need to reflect this responsibility.
  • Remember what you make is not what you do - A company makes certain products and/or services. They may be diversified or specialized, but they also need to remember that what they make is not the same as what they do. The products and services themselves have no intrinsic value - their value lies in their impact of peoples' lives; both intended and unintended. Like the classic example of the three masons it is important to help employees to remember why what they are doing matters to people every day. The value that they bring to their task is far more than the ability to bring home a paycheck. And knowing how what you make impacts peoples' lives is the core of defining your corporate responsibility - knowing how people who use your goods or services benefit from your products and maximizing that positive impact.
  • The Bruce Wayne/Batman model is passé - People are often split into two lives; their 'work' selves and their 'altruistic' self. In some cases you see this at the end of a career, when people feel compelled to give back. Or you see it during a person's career, when they volunteer or do good on their 'own' time after work and/or on weekends. Today we're seeing an increase in people who want to not only 'live their values' at work, they want to 'work their values' as part of their career. Surveys show that the vast majority of MBA student s are bringing this desire to the job hunt. Just as prospective employers are encouraged to seek employees who match their culture, prospective employees are increasingly doing the same. The lesson traditionalists learned from the Great Depression was take any job, even one that is 'beneath you' to make ends meet. Many in today's generation have learned a different lesson; and consider jobs only that are worthy of their time, talent and treasure.
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