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Another Data Point for Performance Reviews: Employee Volunteering

02/04/2015 08:09 am ET | Updated Apr 06, 2015
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As corporate volunteerism becomes an increasingly important part of the work experience, companies are coming up with new ways to embrace volunteering and tie it to their bottom lines.

One of these innovations is linking performance reviews to volunteering, allowing employees to demonstrate skills and strengths that management might not have otherwise been able to see in action. Conversely, managers are able to use volunteering opportunities to provide employees with new leadership and job skills that are tough (and expensive) to train for.

While it's a fairly recent phenomenon to assess an employee's volunteering performance as a part of an overall job performance review, the companies that do this often find that it increases volunteer participation.

In its Trends Of Excellence study, the Corporate Institute/ Points of Light highlights companies that are assessing employees' volunteering accomplishments right alongside their business accomplishments, and then factoring that information into recruiting and performance reviews. According to the report:

McKesson positions volunteering as a key way to demonstrate the ICARE (Integrity, Customer-first, Accountability, Respect, and Excellence) shared corporate principles on which employees are evaluated every year.

PwC embeds information about its employee volunteer program (EVP) in its college recruitment presentations. Additionally, new hires are not only introduced to PwC's EVP, they immediately experience it. Their orientation includes a team-building exercise in which new hires put together a bike that they donate to a local youth group.

Cbeyond's EVP enables employees to include volunteer records in their performance reviews as a way to highlight their efforts. It's easy to see how this communication could reach many more employees than the basic "come volunteer" message.

As more companies are engaging in performance reviews around volunteering, I'm hearing more feedback about what that looks like in practice.

Much of the time when volunteering is included in a review, managers typically swing towards the "informal" benefit: "Jessica is such an enthusiastic volunteer. She really lives our values and we're excited about her involvement with our company's program. Jessica inspires her team members and we'd like to see her continue this."

Unfortunately, this sort of generic employee feedback often perpetuates the "nice to have" of a company's CSR efforts. It doesn't drive the behaviors that program leaders want to see either around manager involvement or employee empowerment to give back. This translates into a program flatlining at a certain amount of impact: companies often can't find a way to get more money or time into their systems.

Speaking to some corporate volunteer leaders, I've heard that when they started to formalize performance methodology to include volunteering, it has started to change their culture and commitment, and thus impact level. As one example, Causecast consultant Laura Plato, formerly a XXX at Intuit, recounts this evolution at her old company:

"We started with our program leads, local admin types. We brought their managers into the recruiting process when we enlisted and interviewed the employees to be our new local admins. This helped 'formalize' the role. We then got manager buy-in: how much time can this person invest, because the role takes X hours? How will you support her/him in balancing this as part of their job? It's a leadership development opportunity. Here are the expectations we have. We'll review with you guys quarterly how she/he's doing. We gave them real things to measure and put in the performance reviews that related to our corporate values and expectations for leaders -- not "volunteers" -- but leaders."

Laura noted that she and her team also worked to get senior leaders to set expectations that their people would give back and use their volunteer time off with their teams. They worked at the C-level to get this instilled from the top, all the way down, and made sure the modeling was happening.

Pro bono is actually the piece that makes linking performance reviews to volunteering much easier, and really a no-brainer. When you're assessing performance via traditional volunteering, you're often limited by the ways you can judge leadership: recruiting volunteers, motivating, engaging them to do what your company needs. But when you go pro bono and skills-based, you can now start to build the development of core skills and stretch capability into the performance review.

With pro bono volunteering as an option, Jessica's review could read like this: "Jessica is a leader in the Communications team, and this year we asked her to develop her social media expertise. She took her 50 hours of VTO this year and used it to help nonprofit X build out a new website and social media strategy. In doing so, she both leveraged her current expertise, and grew the new skills we were looking for. All while being a brand ambassador for our company."

I have found that when you go the pro bono and skills-based route, leaders and employees all seem to get on board faster, and they get the time off, and now it starts to be really easy to measure and quantify the giving efforts.

Laura provided a helpful example of this experience at Intuit. "We did tax preparation every year for low-income earners who needed tax assistance," she told me. Obviously there are a lot of employees who know all about how to use TurboTax, since they make it! So we'd put on these clinics, get volunteers helping folks prepare their taxes. Now, we can quantify the dollar value of each hour invested, because we know what we normally pay that employee and we also know what an hour of tax preparation with a CPA or even a competitor like HR Block costs; and, we can quantify and report on things like, how much money did we help these recipients save by preparing their taxes through TurboTax; etc. So you start to get not only volunteer metrics like hours and pro bono dollars, but you can work with the business to get at real business metrics. TurboTax always talks about how much money they save the American people with that software, and these metrics link the pro bono program impact and the business impact in a really clear, meaningful way."

As the push continues to quantify the ROI of employee giving and volunteer programs and bring them closer into the corporate DNA, I expect that we'll see more linking of volunteering to performance reviews. And if that trend encourages companies to go deeper with their volunteering and further embrace pro bono service, I think this bodes well for increased investment in corporate volunteer programs.