The answer isn’t another offsite, or golf day. During last week’s lecture at the London Business School, Stephen Green, Group Chairman, HSBC Holdings plc, offered a different approach: corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility. Not
the kind that sits separately from the rest of the business, but rather corporate philanthropy which is integrated into the culture and fabric of the organization, and where employees feel engaged as a result of their company making the world a better place.
We’re not talking about some fuzzy socialist model. Remember, Stephen Green is Chairman of a global bank – he isn’t suggesting that businesses should be run as charitable organizations. On the contrary, businesses need to continue sound business management practices: identifying your competitive advantage, delivering products and services which meet the needs of your customers, and generating a profit as a result of running a good business. (Note that profit is the result of a well-run business, not the reason for its existence.)
Today’s social and economic environment is much more complex than in Milton Friedman’s day when companies were only expected to focus on profit. Profit isn’t enough. Shareholders, employees, governments, communities expect businesses today to add value as members of the wider community in which they operate. Businesses need to think strategically about corporate social responsibility. Where should the company focus its attention? Where can it most effectively apply its resources where benefits can be gained on all sides?
If you want your employees to feel engaged, be clear about what value the organization is providing to the communities in which it operates and involve employees directly in these efforts as much as possible. The result is likely to be employees who bring fresh ideas and perspectives back to the office. Your recruitment efforts are also likely to benefit, not only from increased interest from graduates, but also from women who seek fulfilment beyond financial compensation, especially when balancing career and family.
A sustainable business depends on long-term relationships with your customers and other stakeholders, and those relationships in turn depend on employee engagement. The Banking Crisis has taught us many things. Focusing just on short-term profits leads to disastrous consequences, including a disengaged workforce.