As business owners or team leaders we’re all seeking effective and engaged employees. We know that highly engaged employees deliver exponentially more value than the norm. And yet, deep down we can see in our organisations that productivity and commitment are often not what they could be. We bring in advisors, we change our environments, have off-site days, which all deliver a much needed bounce but as often as not everything returns to the mean.
But there is one engagement methodology that works, is cost effective to implement and delivers long term results.
It’s called Giving Back.
Maddeningly simple. Annoyingly obvious. And totally under-utilised.
Our experience of giving back started as a result of one of our customers, Salesforce. Their CEO, Marc Benioff, created a model called 1:1:1, whereby Salesforce gives 1% of their people’s time, 1% of their product and 1% of their net profit to communities and charities.
As our relationship grew with Salesforce, we started to get involved in some of their volunteering activities. I was amazed to see the energy and fun their teams brought to the activities and how much extra they individually gave to the causes they were passionate about.
Ok, that’s Salesforce. 30,000 employees and one of the fastest growing tech firms in the world. What did it mean for an SMB like Atomic?
As I delved into the model more I realised (like most of the best things in life) that it’s a really simple concept. And easily applied to any business; large or small, service or product, start-up or scaling.
So, in 2016 we started the Atomic Foundation. As we don’t have a product per se we give 1% of our people's time and 1% of our net profit to charities and communities. And in that short time we’ve helped domestic and international organisations; sometimes just shaking buckets looking for cash, but more often than not using the skills of our people. That can be helping NGOs with their brand strategy, storytelling, pitch decks, website design, brand films, or re-designs of their products.
Our biggest partnership to date has been with St Martins School in Nairobi, Kenya. A truly amazing school in the middle of the second largest slum in Nairobi. A jewel of learning and hope among one of the poorest areas in Africa. We’ve completed three trips to St Martins, helping with content and brand films that tell the story to sponsors, which in turn leads to more funds for the school. 30% of Atomic employees have been involved with St Martins whether it’s through sponsoring kids, helping to run our photography exhibition or just writing scripts and editing content. A genuine team effort.
So, back to how to unlock this incredibly powerful employee engagement tool and how anyone can do it. I’d suggest a few simple tips:
1. It comes from the top.
Unless the Founder, CEO or MD believes, the whole organisation won’t align around it. If that’s you, you’ll need to be the spokesperson and sponsor. If that’s not you, you’ll need to start persuading the CEO that not only is this the right thing to do but it will positevely affect the bottom line.
2. Assign an owner.
You’ll need someone to manage the logistics or else it simply won’t happen. In smaller companies this doesn’t have to be a full time role. Just ask any project managers would they like to get involved and use their management skills on a different type of task. But, don’t expect them to do it outside of work hours - it needs to be integrated into their work week.
3. Create a spreadsheet of what people have done.
What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done so it’s important that people’s time is tracked. Following the old 80:20 rule you’ll find that 20% of people do 80% of the volunteering. But unless those more passive employees are taking part it’s not a genuine team effort. As the company is funding the programmes no one should be opting out.
4. Share the idea with your team or org.
It starts with an idea first. So, rather than rolling out a grand new programme, it’s better to get people together to talk about the plan. We want to do this, but what’s the best way, what are the obstacles, how will we measure? Having a team leading the process will result in a higher chance of success.
5. Encourage them to use their amazing skills (but also allow them not to).
Some people just want to help in simpler ways and that’s great. But, I think most people don’t realise how impactful the skills they take for granted can be. Even the most junior staff members can see incredible results from the use of their skills. We don't force our employees to use their skills, but we see more net benefit when they do.
6. Share the impact.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, so making sure your employees are sharing their stories and experiences generates even more engagement. Lunch and Learns, Blogs, diaries are all great ways to share the stories (it’s also great presentation skills training!).
So, will creating a giving back function in your organisation cost you money? Yes. Will it take time? Most definitely. But I consider it as a really worthwhile investment. An investment to increase your employee engagement, your alignment as an organisation, your employee's wellbeing and of course our collective responsibility to our communities.
But, most importantly it’s an investment in the people that you can help. Because they have the talent, the determination and the desire to succeed. They just need to learn from your skills and success.
Giving back is one of the few things in business (or maybe in life) where literally everyone benefits. So, I’d advise any business to start giving back. Your people, your business and your communities will thank you for it.