In tough times, doing good works makes good business sense
Motivating staff is one of management’s key challenges this year. Gone, hopefully, is the pressure to make redundancies, but while the Australian economy gallops off, many New Zealand businesses are having a slow recovery, meaning bonuses and raises are still a distant possibility. And unless you have a strong relationship with your people, they may walk in the coming months.
So how do you engage your staff and keep them wanting to perform for you, even though you have no monetary incentive to offer? It may take some lateral thinking. That corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy you adopted in the good times may just save your bacon. Because for increasing numbers of people, giving back to their community can be worth more than earning a few more bucks for themselves.
Visiting Australian philanthropy expert Genevieve Timmons says smart employers are realising that maintaining a barrier between people’s family and community lives and their workplace is unnecessary, and the more those barriers come down, the happier and more engaged the employee is.Most people don’t want to be glued to a computer screen all day, she says.
Timmons, who advises a group of private investment companies in Melbourne, the Portland House Foundation, remembers ANZ in Australia getting involved with the lives of 300 young women prisoners being helped by the White Lion programme. The bank’s HR arm offered to give the women 300 hours of HR time; the staff loved the interaction with the women and the young former offenders made some excellent contacts and found mentors.
The philanthropic executive says ANZ also seconded people to not-for-profit bodies as a way to keep staff motivated. One ANZ PR executive was given the job of promoting the charity initiative the Long Walk, a fundraiser inspired by AFL player Michael Long for Aboriginal people. She was extremely effective and returned to her bank job a new person.
“My belief with philanthropy and corporates is it works if it is the right time, the right place and the right people,” says Timmons.Philanthropy New Zealand’s Robyn Scott is hoping more companies take a leaf out of Fletcher Building’s book and set up trusts to fund the corporate philanthropic part of their CSR policy. The Fletcher Building Employee Education Trust, set up in the mid-1980s, now has assets of $120 million and has been extremely effective at keeping staff motivated in the tough times. It gives out around $4 to $5 million a year to fulltime and part-time staff and their families, many of whom participate in the fund’s initiatives, which include top leadership training programmes and courses to help troubled teens get back on track.
Sue Patterson, fund manager of the trust, says the message Fletcher is trying to send to its 16,000 employees is that “people are our greatest assets. It’s all about making people feel good about Fletcher Building.” And if you can strengthen that relationship, then it leads to a better performance at work, she says.
While Fletcher Building has not escaped the economic downturn, the education fund, kept separate from the company, has continued.Senior managers can avail themselves of two leadership courses, which help Fletcher Building identify talent for its succession planning.
Murray Taylor is an extremely motivated commercial manager at Fletcher Building, working for Fletcher Reinforcing. He joined the company two years ago and recently finished the Transformational Leadership programme run in affiliation with Melbourne Business School, and held at Mt Eliza near Melbourne and in Auckland. Taylor is grateful for what he estimates was a $15,000 investment from the company.
When he saw the advertisement for his job two years ago, the main attraction was that the company said it wanted someone with the potential to rise to general manager. Taylor had liked what chief executive Jonathan Ling had said about wanting to create a “talent factory” at Fletcher, in the way GE had done.With the Transformational Leadership course, says Taylor, you are seeing a commitment from the senior leadership. “It’s more than just words.”
Taylor felt the leadership course was taken seriously by his bosses. At the end of it, participants had to present to Ling and the chief executives of the various divisions. Taylor’s topic was how to create the best general managers for the future Fletcher Building. He and his team interviewed powerful businessmen such as Ralph Waters, Paul Reynolds, Craig Norgate and Rod Deane. He emerged wanting to be one of those future GMs.
“I came out of it looking for the next opportunity with Fletcher Building,” he says. I feel that I have got some new skills that I need to be able to apply.”While Taylor didn’t get a pay rise last year, the course makes all the difference.
His feeling about Fletcher Building, whose trust also funded an Outdoor Pursuits course with Taylor and his 9-year-old son, is that there is “no comparison to other corporate brands”. While he used to get some fantastic bonuses when he worked for Carter Holt, the management was very focused on today, on “how do you make money now?” Fletcher, on the other hand, is run on a much longer-term basis.
Taylor is being considered for a job at Fletcher which would mean running a $40 million turnover business with 80 direct reports.
He knows people at his level in other industries who have lost motivation during the recession. “There are people out there who are playing a waiting game at the moment,” he says. And when the right job comes up, they will move. Unlike them, he has no intention of leaving his current firm because Fletcher has won his loyalty.”Whenever anybody asks me about my job, the first thing that I will say is there is a commitment to leadership development – it’s not just talked about – it’s a point of difference.”
Nick Jones, director of Sustainable Advantage, a consultancy which helps companies market their CSR policies, says companies want a strong connection with staff in tough times.
The Fletcher Building Employee Education Fund is about building the relationship of trust and confidence, says Jones. “It enables staff to be what they can be rather than sticking them in a box,” he says. It’s a great way to give them a chance to become more empowered in roles, “taking them from a resignation world to a possibilities world”.
Enabling employees to feel engaged through CSR is one of a range of approaches businesses can take to energise staff disempowered by the recession. And that will flow into productivity for the company, he says. When people have been cutting back on budgets, one of the best things you can have is people in the marketplace who are advocates for your company, talking for you, says Jones.
When asked what they want to do, most people would say that they would like to make a difference. It’s good to give your staff a sense of empowerment rather than always telling them “no”.
BY GILL SOUTH, NZ HEARLD 29 MARCH 2010