Profession With a Purpose

Is CSR the missing piece in career development?

Most organizations encourage or insist that their employees have a Developmental Action Plan (DAP), or something similar, which lays out an overall direction and includes steps to take for the employees' career development.

Because of the current economic climate, employees are nervous, looking over their shoulders, keeping their heads down, and doing the right things, but something is amiss. The tone in today's cubes is less than optimal for the success of employees and their organization. Some fundamental elements, such as passion, connection, gratitude, pride, and ambition are missing from the employees' mindsets.

People simply can not muster up the energy to go the extra mile for an internal or external customer, have a sense of wonder, create new possibilities, and adopt an "I can make it happen" attitude without these core beliefs in place.

The more energy a person may be focusing on themselves (woe is me, fear of the unknown, etc.), the less energy they have to put where it could benefit them and their organization most.

Many DAPs include a philanthropic component but, when time is short and times are challenging, this seems to be last on the list to get completed. This creates a wonderful opportunity for the organization.

Opportunities abound for corporate social responsibility (CSR) events. Often, employees have a very limited view of what their companies do in the CSR arena. They may be aware, for example, of a United Way campaign or a Wells for Water-type fundraiser, but not of the full scope of what a company does from a CSR perspective.

In addition to bettering the world at large, a CSR experience can improve the mood among a team. It is hard to do anything exceptional when in a lousy mood, but the proper choice of CSR events can increase cross-functional networks, decrease communication silos, foster solution-based thinking, and raise mood levels and, along with them, productivity.

Beyond these benefits, a CSR initiative may address and support components of the employees' DAP. If this is the case, the employee will feel more secure, as the company is investing in them, their career development, and their future.

There is a belief that if a company—and the individuals in the company—treat their internal customers as well as they do their external customers, more often than not, everything else will work out—sometimes even better than expected.

Today, more and more companies are turning to a melding of CSR and philanthropy to address and/or supplement employees' career development and team-cohesion needs. There are fabulous hybrid CSR/teambuilding events that can bring corporate values and DAP elements to life. Participants also have an opportunity to connect with coworkers as they participate in altruistic activities such as building prosthetic hands for land mine victims, bicycles for less fortunate youth, or playhouses for children hospitals.

These programs provide a visceral experience that anchors the learning points with emotion, which lasts longer than a PowerPoint presentation or a team photo.

In addition, the employee can put a face to the people impacted by the company's CSR initiatives and understand how the company contributes to the betterment of the community. And, perhaps more important, they will feel they are being socially responsible through their career with all the pride, gratitude, and humility that comes with it.

Todd Demorest is a lead facilitator with Odyssey Teams. He helps to motivate groups through programs such as Helping Hands, in which participants assemble prosthetic hands for amputees. Visit www.odysseyteams.com for more information.

Originally published Feb. 1, 2010

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