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How to Foster Corporate Altruism: Focus on Leaders First

How do leaders create a culture that features contagious corporate altruism?

Historically, shareholder capital return has been the holy grail of business success. Significant returns signal investors that the company believes in their future so much they can afford to buy back stocks and pay higher dividends, directly providing a return on investment. However, the rise of the social enterprise means changing expectations for what companies do with their profits.

In today’s business world, shouldn’t stakeholders (i.e., managers, employees) also reap what they sow?

Corporate Altruism: Demanded by the Market

Luckily, shareholder return and stakeholder return are no longer a zero-sum game. Institutional activism has made it impossible for big companies to hide from the social and environmental impacts of their business decisions, demanding transparency – at a minimum. Strategic companies are taking this a step further.

Companies that are keen to step up to rising expectations are actively looking for opportunities to take responsibility. And rightfully so: altruistic investments in their employer value, social justice movements, and environmental impact moves market price and boosts employee productivity. For example, the “Triple Bottom Line” equally prioritizes people, planet, and profit from an accounting perspective.

The case is clear: both the market and investors reward activities that improve the lives of employees, customers, and citizens. Why? Because it signals adaptable leaders who are responsive to the demands of the workforce. It is also a sign that our cultural values are also shifting.

Is it possible that the “good guys” don’t finish last?

Changing Expectations of Leaders

While this change is both rapid and significant, it is also true that we have grown accustomed to powerful leaders often being some of the least altruistic individuals we know. For example, historically, Machiavellian personality traits (e.g., manipulation) often still predict leadership effectiveness. Plus, according to the Paradox of Power, the skills that help us achieve positions of power and influence (i.e., humility and compassion) are the very skills that deteriorate once we get there – even if they’re the skills leaders need to leverage now more than ever.

Why does this matter?

Well, leaders are the “linking pins” of the employees to their perceptions of the organization. If you want to build altruism into your organization, it starts with leaders. They also happen to be one of the most significant predictors of employees’ turnover intentions and trust in the company. As the saying goes: “People don’t quit bad jobs; they quit bad bosses.” Correct: this isn’t the universal driver behind every departure. But if you have leaders with the “old guard” mentality who depend on dominance and coercion? It’s safe to say your employer brand – and consequentially market value – are at risk.

Contagious Altruism: Foster Trust and Purpose

If a company was not built from the ground up with their employer brand in mind, investing in their stakeholders can feel check-the-box-ish. The worst-case scenario (and we have all seen it before) is when an organization launches a new set of values and are caught in contradiction when their leaders are not living proof.  Indeed, the individuals who receive the most scrutiny (leaders and managers) also have the carrots and sticks to incentivize and reinforce change.

While there are many ways to continue building altruism into a shareholder-centric strategy, focusing on your leaders is one of the most worthwhile routes to change. Want to see results in both stakeholder buy-in and the bottom line?

Prioritize these four leadership behaviors:

Defining How the Business Has a Greater Purpose

One of the biggest predictors of employee satisfaction and engagement is the sense that their work is creating a positive impact. Leaders should have a strong elevator pitch about how the business emerges above and beyond the work itself. They must demonstrate how the company impacts the world in a responsible and meaningful way.

Empowering Team Members

According to Deloitte’s 2021 Human Capital Trends report, a decentralized workforce spreads ownership and engages employees in creativity and mastery of their craft. Leaders now more than ever must continue to focus on the division of labor and delegation. What can each of your team members do better than anyone else on the team? How can you leverage those strengths to improve employee empowerment?

Creating Choice in What and How Employees Contribute

The very same task can indeed be more effortful or more motivating, based on who is doing it. As you set the tone for corporate altruism, ask your team members what they enjoy doing and why. Then allocate responsibilities and opportunities accordingly.

Create a Superordinate Group Identity – A Sub-Culture

It can be challenging to unite your teams when distinctive subgroup identities exist and are conflicting (especially with the divisive political climate at play). So leaders must be explicit when defining a group identity that rises above individual differences.

There are many models for what it takes to be someone’s best boss. The overarching goal?

Ensure your organization sets the expectation that they become a social enterprise. Because two historically competing priorities – upholding employer brand and market value – are now the joint cost of admission to a future driven by contagious corporate altruism.


How Employee Empowerment Impacts Culture  

Employee empowerment is a powerful strategy. Used properly it can energize a company’s culture, increase profitability, and positively impact the customer experience. Yet, far too many organizations fail to empower their employees adequately, leading to frustrated teams and even more frustrated customers.

So, what is employee empowerment and how can it have a positive impact on organizational culture?

At its core, empowerment is about giving employees the freedom and authority to adapt and respond in real-time with solutions that help the customer. Empowerment requires organizational decision-makers to share information, resources, and power so that employees make decisions and solve problems on the spot.

Many of the greatest customer experience brands are known for their empowerment. Ritz-Carlton famously empowers its employees to spend up to $2,000 to make a customer happy, and you’ll likely never find a Starbucks barista who’s not empowered to give you a free drink or coupon if you have a service issue.

These companies understand their customer’s lifetime value. They know that the risk that a strategically empowered employee might give away too much pales in comparison to the potential loss of a customer.

These organizations also understand the internal impact that empowering employees can have on a customer-centric culture. Here are a few ways empowerment impacts organizational culture:

Empowerment Makes for More Loyal Customers

If your company ethos is centered on providing value for your customers (and why wouldn’t it be?), then it makes perfect sense to give your employees all of the tools and authority they need to make that happen.

A study by the Gallup Organization found “that organizations that empower employees experience 50% higher customer loyalty.”

Empowerment Makes Experiences Hassle Free

No customer is happy when a frontline rep says, “Unfortunately, I can’t do that for you. I’ll need to check with…” Customers today are more rushed and stressed than ever. They want effortless, hassle-free experiences and will seek out organizations that are easy to do business with.

Every time an organization has to call someone back, transfer someone, or tell a customer “no” simply because an employee is not empowered, that organization is damaging the customer’s experience as well as its relationship with the customer.

Empowered Organizations Are More Profitable

Pepperdine University identified 40 of the most empowered companies and compared their financial performance across over a dozen categories to S&P 500 averages; their results clearly indicated that empowerment correlates with financial success.

But what does profitability have to do with culture?

While being profitable is certainly no guarantee of an empowering, positive culture, being unprofitable virtually always guarantees a disempowering, unpleasant culture. Budget cutbacks, staff layoffs, and people jumping ship generally don’t make for very empowering environments.

Empowered Employees Are More Satisfied

One study surveyed 1,168 employees from 31 different foundations and found that “foundation staff members are most satisfied in their jobs when they feel empowered in their day-to-day experiences at work.”

Employees don’t want to work handcuffed; they don’t want to have to tell customers “no.” Empowering employees gives them more autonomy and tells them that they are trusted to make decisions, which leads to more satisfaction.

Empowered People Have Pride In Their Work

When you endow your employees with trust and authority it contributes to an increased feeling of pride in their work and in their workplace. Workers who are proud of their company report feeling more engaged and satisfied with their jobs, meaning that employee engagement is a path to all of the benefits that tend to follow a highly-satisfied workforce: less turnover, better teamwork, increased productivity, etc.

Think of the organization as a community. When residents are proud of where they live, they are more likely to keep areas clean, socialize together, and work toward improving things for the neighborhood as a whole.

Instilling a culture of empowerment requires dedication from every level of leadership; if those at the top don’t believe in it, there’s no way to get buy-in throughout the organization.

Like everything, empowerment has its limits and should be applied strategically and with an eye toward risk and reward; but if you can empower more employees to help deliver your customer experience, you’ll find that your culture and your customers will both benefit.

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#WorkTrends Recap: Growing Employee Brand Advocates

In today’s workplace, it’s important for people to stand out, and whether they are blogging, using social media or other venues, writing is a key way to share your own voice.

Employees are building personal brands that just may be attracting other employers – and that’s okay. Our guest on today’s #WorkTrends show, Roger Panetta, discussed how to build careers, workplaces and businesses using performance and positioning.

Here are a few key points Roger shared:

  • Just doing your job is not enough anymore.
  • Job security is slowly going away and will not exist in five years.
  • Employees will leave a company if they feel too stifled.

You can listen to the #WorkTrends podcast on our BlogTalk Radio channel here.

You can also check out the highlights of the conversation from our Storify here:

Missed this week’s #WorkTrends show? Don’t worry, you can tune in and participate in the chat with us every Wednesday from 1-2pm ET (10-11am PT). Next Wednesday, June 8, Susan Vitale, Chief Marketing Officer from iCIMS, will join us to discuss how data drives millennial hiring.

The TalentCulture #WorkTrends conversation continues every day across several social media channels. Stay up-to-date by following the #WorkTrends Twitter stream; pop into our LinkedIn group to interact with other members; or check out our Google+ community. Engage with us any time on our social networks, or stay current with trending World of Work topics on our website or through our weekly email newsletter.

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#WorkTrends Preview: Growing Employee Brand Advocates

In today’s workplace, employees are building personal brands that just may be attracting other employers – and that’s okay. Our guest, Roger Panetta, and his organization, Nimble at Work, builds careers, workplaces and businesses using performance and positioning.

It’s important for people to stand out, and whether they are blogging, using social media or other venues, writing is a key way to share your own voice. Join #WorkTrends next week to learn more about how to be more nimble in the workplace, perform at your best, and empower others to do the same.

Growing Employee Brand Advocates

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Tune in to our LIVE online podcast Wednesday, June 1 — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT

Join TalentCulture #WorkTrends Host Meghan M. Biro and guest Roger Panetta as they discuss the how being nimble optimizes your performance.

#WorkTrends on Twitter — Wednesday, June 1 — 1:30 pm ET / 10:30 am PT

Immediately following the podcast, the team invites the TalentCulture community over to the #WorkTrends Twitter stream to continue the discussion. We encourage everyone with a Twitter account to participate as we gather for a live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1. What are some ways employees can stand out in the workplace? #WorkTrends (Tweet the question)

Q2. How can employers effectively support employee personal growth? #WorkTrends (Tweet the question)

Q3. How can employers encourage personal branding without fear of losing talent to others? #WorkTrends (Tweet the question)

Don’t want to wait until next Wednesday to join the conversation? You don’t have to. We invite you to check out the #WorkTrends Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community, LinkedIn group, and in our TalentCulture G+ community. Feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!

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Workplace Wellness: The Story Starts With Healthy Culture

(Editor’s Note: Chris Boyce is one of our featured guests at #TChat Events Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014. Join us to discuss employee engagement issues! See details in the preview post: “Does Your Workforce Feel the Love?“)

Written by Chris Boyce, CEO, Virgin Pulse

Headlines are a funny thing. They often do a terrible job of telling a story. Earlier this year, the RAND Corporation published what headlines described as a sobering report on the state of workplace wellness.

At first glance, these initiatives appeared to be falling far short of the mark. But (as is so often the case) headlines only tell a tiny slice of the story. To find the truth, we must look beneath the surface.

Wellness 1.0: A Flawed Model

It’s correct that the traditional concept of wellness is broken. Employers have been overly prescriptive with wellness strategies — relying far too heavily on specific programs, health risk assessments (HRAs) and biometric screenings. These tactics typically produce short-term gains, but they lose on long-term impact. This “Wellness 1.0” approach clearly has failed.

The Power Of Wellness 2.0

Traditional wellness has struggled because it overlooks a critical issue — telling employees how to act is not the same thing as empowering employees to make their own healthy behavioral choices, and supporting them along the way. In short, for workforce wellness to gain a meaningful foothold and make a lasting impact, culture must come first.

How can companies accomplish this mission? In theory, it’s simple. But in reality, it can be a challenge. Developing a culture-first mentality means focusing on employees’ Total Quality of Life — including physical, mental, social, emotional, and financial health. It’s not just about convincing them to join a weight loss program or complete an annual HRA. It’s about connecting with them in ways that put lifestyle changes within easy reach, and encouraging them support one another through the process of transformation.

Creating a culture geared toward Total Quality of Life requires solutions that are engaging, social and fun, so employees naturally weave them into daily activity. It means moving beyond traditional wellness boundaries by connecting participants with a highly available online platform. It means providing “anytime” access to smart tools and resources that comfortably fit into an employee’s world — making it simple, interactive and rewarding to choose healthier options on a continuous basis.

Success Factors: Walking The Walk

Virgin Pulse Total Quality of Life Employee Engagement whitepaper cover

Download the related Pulse Paper now

Every Total Quality of Life strategy should incorporate healthy goals as foundational elements. For example, it’s essential to encourage nutritious eating habits and regular physical activity. But it’s also important for employers to demonstrate commitment to those goals by offering things like healthy cafeteria options and access to onsite workout facilities, so employees can easily integrate these choices into their daily routine.

Other elements can take Total Quality of Life even further. For example, classes that help employees establish and manage a 401k, or learn smart retirement savings strategies demonstrate an even deeper commitment to workforce well-being. The result? The more employers invest in employees’ personal and professional growth, the more committed, engaged and productive those employees will be. In short, a holistic approach is a wise investment in future business performance.

Measurable Improvement: It’s A Matter Of Time

Of course, cultural shifts take time. But they’re far more effective if employees believe you care about them — not just as “human resources,” but as whole humans. Employer commitment is key. Once employees move forward with wellness objectives, and begin to reach early milestones, they’ll start feeling better about themselves. Soon, personal achievements like weight loss or community volunteer involvement begin translating into direct payoffs at work. You’ll see more passion, creativity, and focus on the job. And when you reinforce these positive outcomes, it will lead to even more ambitious objectives.

Rewriting The Wellness Story

What headlines you should expect for Wellness 2.0? This next-generation approach to wellness, focused on Total Quality of Life, is helping companies shift their approach to a culture of continuous engagement. So keep looking for stories of individual and business transformation, fueled by more productive, loyal employees. Those stories are real, and ready to be told.

(Editor’s Note: Looking for more details about how to engage and support your workforce? Download the latest Virgin Pulse Paper, “Total Quality of Life: A Roadmap for Employee Engagement” by TalentCulture CEO, Meghan M. Biro.)

Chris-Boyce_color_web2(About the Author: Chris Boyce is CEO of Virgin Pulse. He is an accomplished technology entrepreneur who brings more than 15 years of consumer loyalty, enterprise and consumer software experience to Virgin Pulse. Leveraging Virgin’s philosophy that business should be a force for good, Chris’ leadership has been instrumental in guiding Virgin Pulse’s development of market-leading, technology-based products and services that help employers improve workforce health, boost employee engagement, and enhance corporate culture. Chris has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.)

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