“No company, large or small, can succeed over the long run without energised employees who believe in the vision and understand how to achieve it.”
These are the words of Jack Welch, former CEO and Chairman of General Electric. These are also words of wisdom that I, as a business consultant and management coach for many years now, firmly believe in.
Employees are the vehicle of your business. Whether there are 5 of you, 50 or 500, it is all the same – employees are the single most important factor of your success. The best businesses employ the best people who are passionate about and committed to the success of the company.
This is as true in terms of business success such as revenue, brand recognition and market share, as it is when it comes to a company’s social impact and contribution to the greater good. Those organisations whose employees firmly believe in the mission of the company and feel it as their own are the ones that actually make an impact.
That being said, it is crucial for the success of your social or environmental effort to have employees that understand what you are trying to do and are at least as passionate about your purpose as you are.
But how do you do that? How do you get them excited and fully engaged in the bigger purpose of your business? Here’s a few ideas to consider:
- Make sure they understand – As you can imagine the most important thing here is that your employees actually understand what it is that you are striving to do. It’s not enough to hand out flyers saying ‘This month we helped 120 kids in Africa’. You need to explain the whole process and how the separate efforts all come together to lead to this result. Make the social side of your business part of the presentation of your company. For example, instead of saying “we are a digital marketing company”, say “we are a digital marketing company dedicated to the education of underprivileged groups” and present your company that way even during interviews with prospective employees. You could also hold short 15 min meetings every month to update your workforce on what the progress is and what is being done in terms of social impact. It is important to tie it in with the fact that the efforts of everybody make this all possible.
- Communicate opportunities for involvement – A lot of people do want to help but they don’t know where to start and how to get involved. If you’ve partnered with an organisation that works in the sphere where you want to make an impact, surely they (or if not them another NGO) would offer some volunteering programs. Make sure to collect information on the different initiatives and communicate it to employees that might want to sign up and get involved on behalf of your organisation.
- Ask your employees for ideas – Then there are also those employees that have an idea on exactly what could be done and how to do it. They might want to work with the organisation you’ve partnered by bringing their idea to life or they could put it all together themselves. Give them the opportunity to come up with creative, innovative ideas either in terms of the approach or the social groups being impacted. Give them all the freedom with the only requirement being that their ideas should be in keeping with your business’ social engagement focus. That is to say, if your impact is in the area of education, stick with that and ask them to come up with initiatives related to education. When the ideas come from people, they tend to feel them more personal and hence are more committed to the success. You could even turn this into a team game where people with similar understanding and ideas could come together, develop an idea and even execute it later on…Why not?
- Give them time, space, freedom – If you want to get people excited and engaged, you need to give them space to contribute in the way they feel they can do it best. Say your social impact was in the domain of healthcare and some of your employees wanted to get involved by spending time with terminally ill kids. Why not give them Friday afternoons off to visit hospitals and do that? Or if your social work was in the area of education and your employees volunteered to provide free courses in say accounting to underprivileged kids – why not give them office space to do that one afternoon of the week? You see, there are a million things that could be done in any given sphere that you might’ve chosen to make a difference in, but unless people can experience the impact that is being done hands on, it will be very difficult to internalise the bigger purpose of your business and identify themselves with it.
- Acknowledge their efforts – Make sure to recognise each team’s or each person’s efforts and the successes that have been achieved. Take the time once a month to talk about what your employees are doing and how far they’ve got with their own initiatives (that will be within the frame of your company’s social effort). You might even get people to share their experiences and tell others what they themselves have learnt in the process, what skills they feel they’ve gained and if what they are doing is fulfilling to them. That way, your employees will feel that their efforts are recognised while at the same time they might inspire some of the rest to get involved too.
Today, people need more than just to make a living, they need to feel that they have a bigger purpose. According to the 2015 Millennial Impact Report conducted in the US, 79% of Millennial employees who volunteered through a company-sponsored initiative felt they made a difference through their involvement.
It’s worth mentioning that Millennials are an ever growing segment of the workforce worldwide. With this in mind, while giving them a purpose is a sort of a perk today, it will be a must in the labour market of tomorrow. And it won’t be any random volunteering initiative you give them the opportunity to get involved into, it will be a well-integrated, planned and consistent company effort that they feel actually makes an impact.
If you would like to incorporate a social element into your business and make a real difference through what you do for a living, please don’t hesitate to touch base with me. As a business consultant specialising in incorporating social impact into businesses and with extensive experience in a variety of industries, I will be happy to help you grow your business but also your social impact. You can get in touch with me, Paul Davis, here.