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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 22 November 2013

CSR, HR and PR: Redefining Wealth and Maximizing Success

UPDATE 10/12/13: Scott Stinson makes some legitimate concerns about limiting Executive salaries and the impact that could have on attracting seasoned talent.  I'm sure he's aware of the additional challenges Ontario faces around frozen capital, youth unemployment and some serious innovation challenges in the province - not to mention the mammoth human/social service delivery problems we're facing.

I'm all about one stone, many targets; what if a percentage of Executive Pay (or frankly, anyone who gets on the Sunshine List) gets put into a donation by the Province on behalf of the individual to a charity of their choice/added to a fund for would-be entrepreneurs that have ideas, but no business development/sales training?  It's public dollars, but it would have been salary - now it's going back to the community.  The donor gets brand recognition and some press play out of it.  The province, which would have to jig some regulations to accommodate such an arrangement, could have a truly innovative policy win on their hands.

It'd create work opportunities, inspire youth and who knows, maybe catalyze some other clever solutions, too.


Last night I attended a series of short talks on open data and open government.  Among the themes that popped up in each talk - the importance of data (and of sharing data), of trust-facilitated communications and how to motivate people to share information and participate in aggregation and shared-solution development.

On the subway ride home, I got to thinking about motivation and how we're using the wrong tools (carrots and sticks) to try and motivate cognitive labour in today's knowledge economy.  Being the lateral thinker I am, I started weighing the changing nature of PR, the prevalence of social media and the increasing trend of recognition being a form of compensation valued by youth entering the workforce.  What can I say, I like elegant solutions.

Canada is in a bit of a spot right now on the economic front; as a nation, we are failing to translate good research and out-of-the-silo ideas into innovative products and services. Corporations are sitting on capital that could go to more R&D or youth hires, but political and fiscal uncertainty have them playing a wait-and-see game that, unfortunately, means other players on the international stage are getting ahead of us in advanced manufacturing and completely new services like data framing and extra-sectoral capacity building. 

There's a growing demand for Public Relations to change its model from one that's focused on talking to one that's designed to build relationships over the long term.  It's not enough to manage crisis communications as the need arises, or even to do fun social media outreach pieces as marketing tricks - if you don't have a positive brand between campaigns nobody will take you seriously - in fact, you might find your noble intentions cause you more blowback that anticipated.
So what do you do?  How do you tie up a perfect Gordian knot that leaves no thread exposed?

It starts, of course, with hiring, retaining and motivating the right staff
There's a lot of grumbling in the corporate world about young whipper-snappers coming out of school with advanced degrees and expecting to get a ton of recognition with their first job.  That's not the way it works, these bosses will say; you have to work hard and climb the ladder, with success being the only reward you need.

This is an approach that needs to change.  The economy we're entering now is not your grandpa's economy; the labour requirements are different, as are the labour supports and incentives.  This isn't just whipper-snapper talk; study after study shows that knowledge work, creative problem solving and innovation aren't motivated by traditional financial carrots and sticks; if you take that approach you're simply creating a drag on your cognitive labour.  This a big part of why we haven't got innovation happening right now.

So if raises and titles don't motivate the best in cognitive labour, what does?  First, you do need to pay your team well - if they are worried about paying the bills then they aren't focused fully on your work.  Beyond that, you need to add value to your employees; this means building a community of experience that lets every one of them know they are part of the team and that their work matters.  It means accommodating them in such a way that they can spend less time worrying about peripheral stuff and more time producing on your behalf. 

The last point gets its own paragraph, as it feeds into the other two issues.  The big reason we value money is that it confers social status; higher salaries equate to greater personal value, but also allow for more expensive everything, the ability to buy drinks for friends or host fancy parties.  Money allows you to contribute and enhance your status.  When you have status, people want to hang around you.  That's called lekking.

Of course, it's not just the rich people that develop retinues; in fact, most founders of religious movements and many a social movement were poor.  The same thing applies to fashion trends or memes - a charismatic person or a cool idea can attract people and encourage them to contribute to a bigger brand because they want to be part of that experience.

This is where we return to corporate social responsibility.  There are all sorts of reasons why it's good for companies to give back proactively, just as there are multiple reasons for companies to properly motivate their employees.  Why not do both at the same time?
Picture this; you're a young person with a bag full of ideas, looking to make your mark on the world.  You're considering positions at two different firms; both have more or less the same job description, but Firm B offers a bit less direct compensation than Firm A.  That's because Firm B has a built-in bonus system that, on top of the already decent pay, ensures that value-added work will be rewarded with an additional contribution of capital that will go, on behalf of the employee and the company, to a charity of choice.  This donation will be promoted through social media and maybe even a press event. 

This brings us into PR disruption.  Instead of reinforcing the importance of what you do periodically, or solving crises reactively, you can spend some of your energy showing why you work in the space you work and how you are working with your team to make the world a better place.
You've just found one solution for your innovation, HR and PR needs.

Here's the real kicker - you don't need to just pay lip-service to social demands, you can actually realize them and strengthen your company at the same time.  People will believe in you more, feel better about buying your products and when the inevitable crisis does hit, will be that much more likely to forgive, or even defend you.

Funny how doing the right thing turns out to also be the most efficient, value-added thing to do, too.

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