By Mark Carter
Culture and social impact, frequently appearing as separate conversations, collide as critical ingredients to tackle some challenges faced by businesses in the digital age. A Forbes article highlights this synergy calling out companies as ‘being the equivalent of corporate citizens.’ Given that ‘corporate citizen’ is an amalgamation of many hearts and minds the importance of alignment in values between employees and employers is clear.
There’s a magical ingredient you can successfully leverage to impact culture and social impact. This singular constituent acts like egg white in baking: being the glue! It’s also as vital as air, giving breathe to both, whilst being as subtle, perhaps even as fickle, as love itself. Push too much, chase it too hard or be too demanding of it from others, there’s a chance this ethereal element dissolves or turns to ghosting! This supernatural super hero is discretionary effort.
When you learn to tap into the wholehearted willingness of individuals it’s like creating a collaborative corporate deed trust where culture and social impact are nominated as primary beneficiaries. You can do this in conjunction with four primary pillars holding walls and roof of your business sturdy.
Every business has a playbook of process: the rules, do’s and don’ts, plus values as a bedrock. Make sure guidelines aren’t overly convoluted or overly complicated and don’t leave critical aspects to interpretative chance. No one, not even the Dalai Lama, has enough words or wisdom to tell someone how they should think or act. Individuals decide for themselves. Their perspective or interpretation, especially if skim reading weighted manuals, may miss connecting the heart and mind.
There’s also a difference between critical boundaries that, when broken, cost culture or social cause dearly, versus lengthier, not quite as lethal, functional rules. Bring the former to life through conversations, demonstration and repetition. Don’t leave the meaning of personal contribution to elements like reading meaty rule books or chance.
Once everyone knows the rules and values, individual performance and rewards can be tied to collective numbers or results. In the process of helping personal performance goal attainment be sure to include a more holistic approach: remuneration, recognition and reward for demonstrable desired business wide behaviours.
We could go down a behavioural science rabbit hole at this point (the individual nature of how people function, why they function, or competencies and ability to function) yet we can surmise by saying simply this. Know your people! Know their skills and capabilities, their Achilles heels, insecurities, and, like diamonds themselves, their included flaws. Stretch individual goals to include performance, learning and personal fulfillment goals. Then align these to the bigger picture purpose, impact and legacy of the collective corporate citizen brand.
The pace of change, in tech, communication, skills (hard and soft) require constant attention: a little like spinning plates. Learning is lifelong.
Build your learning culture pillar with two fundamental concepts in mind. Albert Einstein proclaimed ‘everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’
Role expectations frequently set people up to be a tree fish! We want you to be a mastermind, lone wolf, independent thinker and a polymath in group dynamics and collaboration. We also need you to be the ultimate intellectual brain in data analysis and details whilst simultaneously the epitome of brilliance as an innovative, creative, blue sky thinker. Despite what some self proclaim on social media, these people rarely, if ever, exist.
Build individual learning pathways accommodating strengths and opportunities. Where individual contributions are being highlighted as outstanding be sure to extrapolate the lesson so all can see a way they too can replicate (not carbon copy) and shine. When people feel good about themselves and their contribution they’ll offer more of the same voluntarily.
This is a holy grail of sorts. All businesses wish to be seen as the next big thing or outstanding citizen. Yet often it’s the fun, aesthetic surface stuff (free food, casual dress or awards for innovation) they lean on in order to qualify as unique. Yet if behind the facade there is distrust, mis-alignment or a lack of substance then harmony, culture and social impact become the victims. The three prior pillars help stabilise this one so true discretionary, unique effort can radiate and thrive.
It’s also worth pondering, in a virtue signalling world where pressure’s often felt to be vocal about every cause, choose wisely the ones the corporate citizen backs. Including to what degree. You can’t tackle them all as a prime fighter in the ring. Sometimes the best way to tap discretionary effort, lift culture or impact social cause is to transparently, authentically and humbly get your own ship in order first. There’s a great article from Latia Curry, of Rally Communications, to help identify how issue fluent or structurally investment sound you are so you are better equipped as a willing corporate citizen whose super human strength is collective discretionary effort in bucketloads.