Business has a moral obligation to help the community, right? This is the terminology that many people use but I’m not sure that it is the right choice of words. However it is smart for business to find ways to help the community so that the community helps it in return.
There are three main ways in which businesses can benefit from improving the communities in which they operate:
1. Business environment
Initiatives that promote equitable economic development, community stabilisation and labour force skills help to create a better business environment and underpin business performance.
A rising tide lifts all boats, and business and community organisations can co-create better conditions for all.
For example, a coalition of property and casualty insurers in the US worked with a community-based network to help increase home safety in low-income areas. They provided education, free safety assessments and financing for hazard reduction projects.
Apart from the obvious social and community benefits, the insurers have been able to increase the profitable sale of insurance in areas where these products were previously not viable.
By assisting with community stabilisation, the business environment improves.
2. Business solutions
There are several types of initiatives that help solve specific business issues. Connecting with community can lead to outcomes such as product innovations, improving the employer’s brand and facilitating access to new networks.
Toyota has just completed a nine-year association with Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) where it provided promotional support, technical skills, expertise, employee volunteers and financial support.
The community benefited from an improvement in CVA’s processes for volunteer management and soliciting corporate sector support. Toyota dealers became deeply involved and improved their level of engagement with their customer base – the local community – and staff gained from development opportunities.
Toyota dealers found a new way of networking with prospective customers and participating staff had a practical environment in which to apply new skills.
3. Employee engagement
This category is really a subset of the previous one, but it is probably the most important and topical one. A common goal for business is to lift productivity through employee engagement. Companies like Westpac and Cisco provide selected staff with development opportunities by way of sophisticated and integrated strategies.
In the case of Westpac, their staff must prove that they are keen and capable of adding value before they are let loose on community sector clients, as the relationship needs to be win-win for it to be sustainable. Cisco provides its high performers with an avenue through which to make a difference by allowing them to work in a non-profit organisation for up to 12-months on regular pay.
Community sector involvement is one way of galvanising employee engagement and the productivity dividends can be substantial.
Finding business value in community
As the examples show, the relationship between business and community interests does not have to be a one-way street. It is smart to bring socially based strategies into the core of the business strategy in order to lift performance, whether it is focused on improving the broader business environment, specific business issues or lifting employee engagement levels.
This is how the community can help your business.