Of late, employee engagement, ownership and contribution have been frequent topics for discussion at Vault. Whether we're looking at Netflix's unlimited vacation days policy, questioning the intangible alignment between business and employee values, or analyzing a survey highlighting how lack of employee engagement hurts companies' bottom lines, the importance of an engaged, motivated workforce is always universally accepted.
But this engagement is also very easy for companies to overlook in favor of more pressing priorities—particularly those that are more tangible contributors to the bottom line.
At a recent Conference Board event for marketing executives, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh gave a controversial presentation in which he opined that innovative and collaborative company culture should trump profits.
Hsieh was followed by Ogilvy & Mather's Chairman (and former CEO) Shelly Lazarus, who took the podium ostensibly to discuss the challenges ahead in marketing.
Ever so subtly, however, Lazarus turned her address into a tutorial on corporate social responsibility (CSR), and why it is going to eventually become an unavoidable part—and expectation—of everyone's job profile.
Her argument: Being market-driven is not an excuse to avoid discussing your company's corporate social responsibility, but the very reason for the discussion. She drove the point home with some eye-catching statistics:
- In 1960, 70 percent of consumers felt business acts responsibly.
- By 1980, that sentiment had fallen to 30 percent.
- Today, that number is in the low teens.
The relationship between brand trust and employee engagement
Much like Hsieh, Lazarus gave high points to nurturing an innovative and engaged workforce. "To be viable, companies need to redo their framework and return to becoming trustworthy players. This is impossible without employee participation," she said.
She also gave the attendees six essential rulesthat could not only help align their business strategy with society's needs but also restore lost brand recognition and trust in the marketplace.
One of these rules especially resonated. "Employees are your best ambassadors," she said, stressing that a company's internal audience is the sector that cares the most about your brand and corporate citizenship.
A Powerful Retention Tool
Further emphasizing that Gen-Y staffers want to know that they are changing the world every day, Lazarus advised, "Gen-Y want meaning in their careers, they want to be socially responsible. These programs then become their honor badges and your No. 1 retention tool. And they become your best believers and advertisers."
Whether you join Lazarus in calling this new outlook on CSR "enlightened self interest," or opt for a different outlook, there's no doubt that corporate America is slowly conceding to a new reality in the marketplace—one that demands a holistic consciousness that has been all but forgotten in recent years.
And it's no longer about how to assign your advertising and marketing dollars but about setting a strategic direction that ensures the sustainability of your brand: as a manufacturer or service provider as well as an employer—a preferred employer.
What are you doing to maximize the power of employee engagement and ambassadorship toward building a sustainable and competitive brand?
Aman Singh is the Corporate Responsibility Editor at Vault.com and the author of Vault's CSR blog: In Good Company. She is a New York University alum and previously wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Her area of work includes corporate diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at companies. Connect with her on Twitter @VaultCSR.
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