When asked how businesses build towards successful social impact the answer is easy – sustainability, writes Kate Shead, HR Executive Telviva.  How to build sustainable social impact is a somewhat more complicated question. My advice would be to let organisational culture be your guide.Businesses talk about culture often, but I think for many it remains a mystery. That’s because culture is not only what an organisation explicitly states, but also how it implicitly behaves.   Yes, it is influenced by the stated business objectives, organisational structure and systems, job functions and policies and procedures. But not only by these things – which is where it gets really interesting: The implicit elements of culture. This is the social community that develops, the shared experiences, the personality of the group.

This is the golden thread. If you want a sustainable culture of shared purpose, warmth, inclusion, performance and respect then these behaviours need to be lived and embodied by everyone, especially leaders. We are, after all, the behaviours that we repeatedly practise.

To visualise the impact of culture it is helpful to think of an organisation as an engine. In that engine we have the various cogs operating interdependently, such as business strategy and objectives, management systems, technology systems, and more. Culture is the large flywheel at the centre of it all.

A well-functioning and powerful flywheel has the ability to make all the difference to the engine’s performance. It impacts efficacy and efficiency directly. It does not matter how amazing your business strategy is or how advanced your business processes are – with poor culture you are likely to be limping along and wondering why you aren’t more successful.

The management consultant and author Peter Druker is famously quoted as saying: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. He definitely has a point. A well-performing culture will build powerful momentum and help all the other elements of business strategy and operations become more effective. It should never be overlooked and should form the source of any social impact initiative.  If done well, it can be a fundamental part of the culture.

So, when looking to create sustainable social impact:

  • Create a clear vision of the shared purpose. Involve your team in the process. Ask,  what are we investing in and why? Is it education or youth, or something else? This messaging within the organisation and its teams is vital, as that weaves the shared purpose into the business culture. We’ve managed to come to this space through clearly defining what’s important to us as a business. We landed on education and skills building, especially in STEM subjects and technology specifically, that benefits the broader industry, not just our business.  This is because we understand that our business exists in a broader community and ecosystem that itself must become sustainable for us to thrive.
  • Allow your people to get involved in these initiatives more than just an arm’s length donation.  Allowing your team to share their own skills and experience through initiatives like mentorship, skills sharing or volunteering builds meaning.
  • Create avenues for the beneficiary organisations to be involved in your organisation through initiatives like internships or workplace experience days.  Better still, if relevant provide your beneficiary organisation with your own services.  You deepen your impact if you find other areas of relevance and stickiness. For example, we have seen this when providing our beneficiary organisations with Telviva services.
  • Build commitment and relationships with the organisations you support. You can only measure your impact if you stay the course.
  • Report back to your people about the impact and success of your initiatives. And then assess the success and modify when necessary.

Employee Experience (EX) is a buzzword at the moment. We see more and more that an organisation’s social impact, particularly in our local South African context, matters to employees.  This is often driven by the Millennials desire to see business focus on more than just profit.

This is likely to continue to grow as more of the Gen Z generation join the workforce as this generation, even more so than Millennials, are looking for purpose and meaning.  It is important for them to see that their chosen workplaces are committed to community upliftment and engagement.

These simple steps are the antithesis to a “one hit wonder” or “tick box” intervention and so much more rewarding for everyone involved.

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