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Engage Employees through Corporate Social Responsibility

These days, many people, including your employees, give the stink-eye to corporate policies and practices that enable an elite group to accrue wealth at everyone else's expense. They demand a higher level of responsibility — namely, corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Corporate social responsibility is the idea that organizations have moral, ethical, environmental, and philanthropic responsibilities above and beyond their responsibility to legally earn a fair return for investors. You can bet that your clients, vendors, stakeholders, and especially your employees are assessing your level of CSR — things ranging from your carbon footprint to your level of volunteerism to your efforts to give back to your community.

In addition to their paycheck and benefits, a large portion of your staff will want to see that the company they work for is making a difference in the world. With every passing day (and every depressing headline), this engagement driver becomes even more important.

As Andrew W. Savitz once said, author of The Triple Bottom Line (Jossey-Bass), “To stay focused on business alone is no longer sustainable… People want to work for responsible companies.” Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat (Picador), concurs, noting that tomorrow's companies will need to have “the brains of a business school graduate and the heart of a social worker.”

And in his book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (HarperBusiness), author Jim Collins summarizes the importance of CSR by noting that it provides purpose above and beyond profit. “In a truly great company,” Collins writes, “profits and cash flow become like blood and water to a human body: They are absolutely essential for life, but they are not the very point of life.”

Successful companies will be those that make CSR part of their DNA. It's been proven that socially conscious organizations outperform those solely committed to beating the competition.

Warby Parker is one organization that takes CSR seriously. A web-based eyeglass company, Warby Parker launched a “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program. For each purchase made, Warby Parker donates glasses to someone in need. So far, the company has donated more than 150,000 pairs. Toms, a shoe and eyewear company, has a similar program, donating one pair of shoes or glasses for each pair bought.

Of course, a “buy one, give one” model is only one way to go. Other options include donating employees’ time. This approach is used by Salesforce.com, which donates 1 percent of each employee’s time for community service — 350,000 hours at last count. Salesforce.com goes two better, though, also donating 1 percent of the company’s equity (we’re talking $40 million so far) to charitable and related organizations in the form of grants, and donating 1 percent of the company’s products to nonprofit organizations.

Microsoft is another great example. Although the ascension of Google, Facebook, and other high-tech companies has made it tougher for Microsoft to recruit and retain top employees and engineers in recent years, the Redmond-based software giant believes its philanthropic efforts are attracting talent now more than ever.

Indeed, this is one area where Microsoft sets the pace for the entire technology sector. As noted by Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, at the conclusion of the company’s 30th annual Employee Giving Campaign, “When you’re living through a time when unemployment is up and when people see more human needs, there is a greater focus now on what companies and employees are doing to address those human needs.”

Smith, who believes that Microsoft’s reputation as a charitable organization is a key recruiting tool, continued by saying that he “frequently hears from young interns and employees that Microsoft’s broad citizenship efforts are part of what people find attractive to the company, “the opportunity to work on great products and services is hugely important and always will be,” Smith said, adding “but [prospective employees] also really value the broader connections that a company has in the community.”

Some companies even go so far as to build their mission around CSR. Take Patagonia. It’s mission statement is as follows:

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Whole Foods has a similar mission:

Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet.

And then there’s the Starbucks mission statement:

To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.
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