You’re ready to take a stand as an organization—to embrace an issue, push for a social good or up your game in attracting potential employees.
Experts agree that before planting your flag in an issue or patting yourself on the back for your good deeds, you should do a deep dive internally. This is all the more important as a new generation of employees and consumers demands corporate social responsibility.
“There has to be a thread through hiring, onboarding, performance evaluations, all-company communications, team meetings, metrics, events, leadership behavior, et cetera, that demonstrates what the values look like in life—in the desired culture,” says Kim Clark, a consultant who formerly headed communications for GoDaddy. “It’s a balance and an art form, but through it all stand integrity and trust.”
So how do you adopt a cause that is authentic to your organization, communicate that to employees and position yourself as an employer of choice?
Here are seven best practices to do just that:
1. Start with self-evaluation.
As you examine the topic, ask yourself what you and your competitors are owning, says Rosy McGillan, executive vice president and head of purpose practice at Porter Novelli.
In diversity and inclusion, what are you doing as an organization, and what does your employee engagement look like? What are your corporate reputation initiatives?
Consider the organizations you partner with on a community level, McGillan says, and the issues that senior executives are taking a stand on. Is there a level of CEO activism that makes sense?
Do you support employee activism through your HR infrastructure? How do you talk about yourselves internally and externally?
“That all goes back to this idea of authenticity,” McGillan says.
2. Talk with your employees.
Though taking a stand helps with recruiting and external branding, organizations must start by conversing with employees about the positions they take.
Communicators might consider an “all-hands town hall, digital workplace or intranet, email if they are an email culture, newsletter—then activate employees as ambassadors to share socially,” suggests Clark. “Have a way to dialogue and participate in the stance, so it’s done with employees. Those are basics.”
Booz Allen Hamilton has communicated purpose through manager town halls, cascading the information to their direct reports. GoDaddy holds town halls to launch campaigns, and it publishes stories simultaneously on Medium and on GoDaddy’s intranet, The Planet.
When Axis—a specialty insurer and global reinsurer—announced it would no longer provide new insurance for new thermal coal plants and mines, nor for oil sands extraction and pipeline projects, internal communication included global town hall updates and a podcast featuring its CEO and chairman, says Joe Cohen, Axis’ chief communications officer.
To brand themselves as leaders, organizations are deploying internal and external channels to reinforce their corporate stances. They do this in part by sharing environmental, social and governance goals and periodic status reports.
Similarly, they can repurpose content from their corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports as bite-size nuggets of multimedia content over several months. The channels might be the company intranet as well as external sites, including their LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook accounts.
For potential employees, this reinforces the notion that the organization is doing the right thing socially and environmentally, focusing on key issues in line with its values.
“Brands need to be authentic about how they engage across channels and the tools they use,” says Soon Mee Kim, executive vice president and global diversity and inclusion leader at Porter Novelli. “Stakeholders today are quite savvy about anything that feels insincere.”
3. Promote—and measure—your values.
Seeking to establish a corporate purpose that helps recruit and retain employees, Booz Allen Hamilton rewrote an old list of 10 values into five that better reflected its contemporary stands, says Aimee George Leary, senior vice president and global talent officer. They are unflinching courage, a champion’s heart, collective ingenuity, ferocious integrity and passionate service.
On its website, the global technology and management consulting firm showcases employees who volunteer to work with the mentally ill, mentor kids in science research and robotics, do stand-up comedy and work on a marriage equality campaign, apply school-teaching experience to military readiness data, and other matters.
The company also touts values-related stories through its presence on 3blmedia.com, a purpose-driven communications platform, with stories on subjects such as veterans issues, diversity and inclusion, and an annual challenge to “change the world in areas from ocean health to lung cancer detection to biomedical research.”
Booz Allen measures compliance with its values through surveys that ask questions employees to rate the validity of statements such as, “I believe Booz Allen conducts business in a way that is consistent with our purpose and values,” and, “I am treated in a manner that is consistent with the firm’s purpose and values,” Leary says.
4. Heed your employees.
Employees are increasingly driving their organizations’ public stances.
Amazon employees recently defied threats of termination over their climate advocacy by intentionally violating its corporate communications policy. At Wayfair, a Boston furniture company, employees walked out to protest the sale of beds to a contractor furnishing a federal detention center at the Mexico border.
Clark says the Wayfair employees were asserting, in essence: “We really believe in what Wayfair is doing, but you worked with the contractors that run the detention centers that are holding kids and you sold them beds. I don’t want [Wayfair] beds in detention centers for separated families.”
Employees, especially those of younger generations, want to be part of the solution.
5. Find stories among your employees.
Looking to show your commitment to your ideals? Follow the lead of GoDaddy, which in 2018 initiated “GoDaddy Brave,” a storytelling campaign about its employees on its intranet, in newsletters and on Medium.com.
GoDaddy celebrated staffers who had striven “to survive cancer, to survive tours in Afghanistan, to break through stereotypes, to step into their own and own their lives.” Clark tied the articles to International Women’s Day, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Veterans Day and so on, with a different theme every month.
“It was employee storytelling with a purpose,” Clark says.
GoDaddy also boosted this in email newsletters, as well as posts on its intranet. Platforms were open for comments. This brought huzzahs from employees for successes such as the guy in the Spain office who lost 100 pounds through the employee wellness program.
6. Empower staffers to make a difference.
GoDaddy launched an initiative through Kiva, a platform that facilitates microloans to needy small businesses in developing countries and elsewhere around the world. The company gave each employee $25 to lend to a business of their choice, an action that dovetails with GoDaddy’s mission of enabling business owners and entrepreneurs wherever they are in the world.
Two executives presented the initiative at an all-hands meeting on a stage backed by a giant photo of a Philippine dressmaking shop, with three-dimensional extensions of the photo on either side, built by a prop-making company. Everyone returned to their desk to find a card and a photo with instructions on how to lend the money through Kiva.
“The pride in the company just shot through the roof, because there was action following the words,” says Clark. “When you have that kind of alignment, people will believe you and they’ll stay, and they’ll work for you, because they know what they’re doing matters.”
7. Attract talent through purpose.
Today’s job hunters are seeking not just a paycheck but meaningful ways to spend their workday. In addition, a tight market has created multiple opportunities for the employees that Booz Allen Hamilton is seeking to attract, says Aimee George Leary, senior vice president and global talent officer at the technology and management consulting firm.
“Talent with high-end skills, which is the type of work we do, they can go anywhere,” Leary says.
Patagonia has taken stands on environmental issues that closely track with its business as an outdoor clothier. For example, in 2018, it sued the Trump administration to block the U.S. Interior Department’s plans to reduce the size of two Utah National Monuments.
The sense of purpose is part of an employee culture that allows Patagonia to attract, hire, and retain the mission-driven employees they’re looking for, Human Resources Director Dean Carter has said, adding that “our employees stick with us at just ridiculously low rates of turnover.”
Patagonia has an annual turnover rate of about 4%.
Companies that differentiate themselves by conveying an authentic purpose and values have a leg up in this market.
This article is in partnership with 3BL Media.