The One Thing All Great Companies Do

Early one Monday morning the construction project manager, Danny, traipsed through the quiet halls of St. Jude Hospital in Memphis observing that most of the children and their families were still sleeping soundly.  There was so much to get done today to meet the self-imposed deadline he had set for his team.  As he filled his coffee cup, he noticed movement in one of the waiting rooms overlooking the newest construction site.  As he peered over, he noticed a little boy around 7 years old with his Superman pajamas on and a well-loved stuffed elephant in tow.  This little guy was carefully watching every move the crane outside was making.  Danny slowly walked by keeping his eye on the boy and thought about his own healthy grandson at home.

After 15 years of working at St. Jude, the magnitude of his company’s contribution to this beacon of hope for ill children never escaped Danny.  “Mister, is that your crane out there?”  The little boy had turned and was taking in Danny’s orange vest, steel-toe boots, and hard hat with the sticker “I Love St. Jude” plastered on it.  “No, young man, it’s not mine, but I do know the guy who is operating it.”  The boy turned to watch the activity down below as a gentle voice offered “He watches you all every chance he gets…he wants to build hospitals one day.”  His mom wistfully looked at the little boy as she spoke.  She was dark-haired, pretty and petite, but had etched worry lines from all that had transpired in this young family’s life in the last 24 months.  After visiting with her for a few minutes, it was obvious to Danny that her only short-term goal in life was to see her child get well.

So, what happened after that brief exchange?  Danny went home, thought about it…dreamed about it…prayed about it…and within a few days brought a full construction outfit to the young boy’s room AND presented him with a radio to direct the crane below.  The joy that radiated out of this young boy as he realized a dream, is the same joy that emanated from Danny as he told us this story in a Senior Management Group off-site a few years ago.  The story served as the intro into an initiative this company adapted, hands-down I might add, to commit to serving their community by giving money, donating blood, participating in run/walks…all to give back to St. Jude.  It was inspiring and obvious that everyone involved was wanting to make a bigger impact beyond the four walls of the company.  After the presentation, I turned to the HR VP and said, “After that intro, it’s official…I have fallen in love with your company.”

They Are Do-Gooders 
I write this story with a little artistic license to maintain the privacy of those involved, but the message is clear.  One of the stakeholders your company serves is your community.  If you believe that the sole purpose of business is to make money, then you may want to stop reading right now.  But, if you believe, as we at Steople do, that money is like oxygen – you have to have it to survive, but it is not the reason you are alive or in business…. then you will want to invest a few more minutes of your time.  One of our core values at Steople is to “Make a Difference”.  One way we walk the talk is to donate half a day of volunteer work per quarter.  We hold our quarterly business meeting then our team chooses different non-profits to spend our half-day at.  It builds us as individuals and as a team.

In the very best companies…Patagonia, Trader Joe’s, The Container Company…the list goes on and on, people and the community in which they live are not afterthoughts or inputs to be used and discarded but are core to their purpose.  They invest in their community with time and money while developing the cultural building blocks to encourage their employees to do the same.  These great companies think about building enduring institutions that invest in the future while being aware of the need to build people and society.  In this blog, I am going to layout three good reasons why you should do the one thing that all great companies do – give back.

Hold up – let’s be real here.  Positively impacting your community takes time and resources.  Sometimes even with the best intentions, leaders can develop some great initiatives that fall flat.  In order for you to influence the people in your company who are more task-oriented and may not buy into the “give back” concept immediately, you may need to come armed with the following three facts that make the business case for giving back.  Hopefully, the following will help you make your argument.

The Three Top Ways Your Company Benefits from Giving Back

1.    Your Customers Are Watching You.  In the age of social media, it’s no surprise that customer perception has a huge impact on a business’s brand.  Word of mouth has gone digital in a big way, and people aren’t just taking a company’s products and services into account.  When companies show a real commitment to their communities, customers notice.  Today customers have more choices than ever and much of the time they aren’t limited to what is in their physical location.  A company’s ethics, employee satisfaction, and community involvement are becoming important factors in which brand a consumer chooses.  The Reputation Institute has reported that consumers give more weight to a company’s reputation than their products at a rate of 60 percent to 40 percent respectively.

The Walt Disney Company has had a stellar reputation for decades, not just because they bring smiles to the faces of children with toys and movies, but because the company is deeply rooted in giving back. Volunteerism and philanthropy have long been a part of the company culture, and their genuine interest in improving as many lives as possible is palpable.   From the Heroes Work Here program that makes a commitment to hiring veterans (and helping their families) all the way to creating incredibly substantial environmental policies to take care of the ecosystems in which they exist. The Walt Disney Company is almost as well known for its citizenship as it is for Mickey Mouse.

2.    You Need to Attract and Retain the Younger Generation.  Over the years, big business has gotten a bad rap.  In the news, there are pharmaceutical companies who are falsely inflating the price of much-needed drugs, CEOs who are receiving out-of-control bonuses while slashing jobs, and Wall Street’s poor choices are causing financial devastation with greedy practices.  However, I would argue that, as a whole, business is inherently good because it creates value, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity.  Communicating that re-frame of “big business” combined with making a conscious effort to positively impact the community you are a part of is what will keep your younger employees engaged and excited to be a part of your company.  In the recent Millennial Impact Report, 47% of the employed Millennials surveyed said they had volunteered for a cause or nonprofit in the past month, 57% wanted to see more company-wide volunteer opportunities through their employer, and one-third will seriously look at a company’s volunteer policies before considering applying for a job.

The financial company, QuickBooks dedicates a day of service to their surrounding community every year.  Projects in the past have included restoring a mountain amphitheater, cleaning up streams and ponds, painting and local high school, and helping upgrade the libraries of two elementary schools. CEO David Williams said in a recent Forbes article, “Our project costs of having our employees out of the office is 150 to 200 thousand dollars, not to mention the planning and preparation months before these special days. But the passion this creates and the bond it instills in a company make it one of the best ROI decisions you could possibly make.”

3.    Your Employees Will Actually Be Healthier and Happier.   Corporate volunteer programs offer a path for companies to find their soul and employees to fill their hearts.  These programs are an excellent way to foster a legacy of storytelling that helps with emotional well-being as well as prompting employees to get and stay inspired and professionally engaged.  By engaging your employees in the common good, you’ve begun exercising a muscle that will get stronger over time.

There is actually a “do good, be good” concept that you need to be aware of.  When you spend more time helping others, like volunteering, the right brain tells the left brain to revise the story about what kind of person you are.  It capitalizes on the tried-and-true psychological principle that our attitudes and beliefs often follow from our behaviors, rather than precede them. As Kurt Vonnegut famously wrote, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” People who do volunteer work can change their narratives of who they are, coming to view themselves as caring, helpful, community-minded people.

How Can You Do More?

Practice what you preach and be a role model in giving back by serving on boards, etc.

Make it easy for employees to serve their communities.

Make sure that service opportunities are easy to find and always available.

Focus on community concern being a big part of your company culture.

Look for employees who view generosity and impact as their guiding principles.

People buy into what they help create – have employees weigh in on how to give back.

Encourage employees to play to their professional strengths and personal interests when selecting and participating in service activities.

Congratulations…you made it all the way to the end of the blog!  We want to hear from you…let us know what your company does to make this world a better place to live!