Seeking Sustainability

seekingsustainabilityCorporate responsibility initiatives are becoming part of the human capital management equation.

By Russ Banham

More companies are asking outsourcing service providers about their corporate responsibility and sustainability philosophies and initiatives before putting ink to paper. In some cases, their responses can be a deal breaker.

This transactional environment emphasizes the extraordinary movement toward more ethical, environmentally aware, and socially active positions taken by corporations around the world. Type the words “corporate responsibility and sustainability” into a search engine and it will yield more than 4.4 million hits. A who’s who of companies are on the first page alone— McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Monsanto to name a few.

So universal is corporate responsibility (CR) and sustainability that it can be fairly described as a global movement. According to a 2013 survey by KPMG, which has been following the development of CR promises and practices for more than 20 years, nearly all (93 percent) of the world’s largest companies now publish CR reports. Obviously, if these companies are prospective customers and they are moving in a particular direction, it makes economic sense to follow suit. Besides being good business, it’s also a good thing to do.

Several HR executives acknowledge that they will only partner with organizations that share their interests in CR. “Where we outsource, we look for providers who meet certain criteria around sustainability,” says Jan Becker, senior vice president of HR at AutoDesk, a global provider of 3D design software for entertainment, natural resources, manufacturing, engineering, construction, and civil infrastructure.

Jenn Mann, vice president of HR at advanced analytics firm SAS, agrees. “More and more, corporate responsibility or corporate citizenship is an expectation of doing business,” she says.

This has led to CR efforts staking their claim in the requests for proposal (RFP) process. “We’ve definitely noticed that more and more of our clients and prospective clients want to work with a business that not only says it has a strong corporate sustainability position, but processes this through their actions,” says Debbie Bennett-Jackson, global head of marketing at talent management services provider Alexander Mann Solutions.

Others say the subject of CR is sure to be on the table in their ongoing discussions with potential clients.

“We haven’t necessarily seen a large increase in our prospective customers probing about our corporate responsibilities during the RFP process—although some definitely do that—but when we are in the final face- to-face presentation with the buyer, it comes up more than half the time,” says Taryn Owen, president of RPO provider PeopleScout.

Marion Kiewik, Randstad group sustainability manager, says that clients often tie an organization’s approach to CR to the way they will likely conduct their business for them, if moving forward with a mutually beneficial engagement. “We do notice very often in the tender process that companies are asking about our sustainability initiatives, which they believe is really important to their own programs,” she explains. “For example, Johnson & Johnson, a client of ours, at one point asked us an awful lot of questions about the health and safety of our people and the CR programs we had in place for (job) candidates.”

Randstad provided “extensive responses,” she says, which led Johnson & Johnson to recognize the firm as a “very responsible company” in June 2013 for its commitment to human rights and its alignment with Johnson & Johnson’s own CR standards.

CR has become so pervasive that it stretches across the continuum of global business. Sustainability is now mainstream, the KPMG survey concluded, noting that nearly three-quarters of the 4,100 companies survey respondents produce annual CR reports. But how does sustainability specifically affect the workforce.

AutoDesk’s Becker says CR initiatives make employees feel part of something more important than themselves, which helps generate deeper feelings of employee engagement. “We’re very involved in a variety of sustainability initiatives that make us all proud,” says Becker, who was the recipient of HRO Today’s 2014 CHRO of the Year award in the for-profit company category.

“For example, our sustainability group often provides free design software to green technology companies, especially startups that are doing good things to support the environment.”

Cultural fit also plays a role. A 2013 study from Cubiks, an international selection and development consultancy, found that culture is an important step to defining an organization’s mission and plays a key role in being a competitive differentiator. Organizations are seeing a shift in values that make up cultural fit as workforce demographics change. Millennials tend to seek employers that differentiate themselves by their brand, company values, and CR initiatives, finds Cubiks.

Plus HR executives are being asked by their own customers probing questions about their own CR initiatives. “Our customer requests for proposals do include questions about our sustainability efforts and focus, which explains in part why our corporate responsibility website now includes details about our ethics practices, continuity of business protocols, and philanthropy,” Mann says.

Closer Look at CR Efforts

As it’s becoming more common for CR efforts to be reviewed during the RFP process, what are some initiatives that also weave into human capital management?

Training and development. Alexander Mann Solutions created the SuccessTech Academy, a dedicated training program in Cleveland that supports the non-profit Doxa Youth Foundation in Australia, which provides educations and careers to disadvantaged young people—“to give them a better chance in life,” Bennett- Jackson explains.

Other philanthropic endeavors driven by training and education include the support of mobile classrooms in Manila, hosting workshops in the United Kingdom on the development of employable skills, and creating the Women’s Business Network in Krakow, Poland, to empower women in the country.

Alexander Mann Solutions also advises the Singapore- based non-profit educational organization aidha. “Aidha is a charity that provides training programs to more than 200,000 foreign domestic workers now living and working in Singapore,” she says. “We provide traditional recruitment support and also teach the staff there how to use social networks to attract more mentor volunteers.”

Veteran hiring. PeopleScout’s CR initiatives have been aimed in part at returning U.S. soldiers who are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “So far, we’ve helped our client companies to hire 30,000 veterans, and we have an active engagement with Wal-Mart to assist their mission to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years,” Owens notes. “With regard to the staff we need to support the Wal-Mart engagement, we hired all veterans. We practice what we preach here.”

PeopleScout also created a hiring program with multiple companies like Bank of America and Delta Air Lines called the Veteran Talent Exchange Platform. The goal of the project is the development of a system to assist veterans actively seeking employment with broader

job opportunities, by ensuring they compete for the right positions. “With most systems, when a candidate’s application does not ultimately result in employment, the process is over,” Owen explains.

“With the exchange, a veteran whose application did not lead to employment with one company because the skills did not line up with the job can potentially be matched to the appropriate position at one of the other exchange partners.”

Why veterans? “As corporate citizens, we must all do what we can to help the large number of our servicemen and women coming back in huge numbers from the recent wars,” Owen says. “These individuals, in certain cases, have skill gaps and are generally having a

harder time finding employment. Besides, many of our employees’ parents and children are veterans. We just want to do our part.”

These various CR initiatives are just the tip of the iceberg at what both HR executives and providers are pledging to make the world a better place. Such altruism is not purely for the sake of generating new clients. As Georg Kell, executive director of the United Nations Global Compact stated in 2011, “Business can only thrive in stable and enabling environments.”

His point is clear: We’re all in this together.

 

Russ Banham can be reached at www.russbanham.com

Posted September 12, 2014 in Engaged Workforce

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