When I went to college, people with a strong social conscience went into politics or government, joined the Peace Corps, taught school, or became public-interest lawyers or doctors– in other words, they did just about anything but go into the business world. That’s no longer true, thank goodness. Today’s students understand that business can be a force for good and my friend Tim Mohin — we serve together on the board of Net Impact — has written a new book called Changing Business From the Inside Out: A Treehugger’s Guide to Working in Corporations that helps business people, as well as students, understand how they can have a positive impact inside corporate America. Tim, who is currently direct of corporate responsibility at chip-maker AMD, previously worked on social-responsibility issues at Apple and Intel. His book has been heralded as “essential reading for anyone who wants to build a meaningful career” by Aron Cramer, the CEO of Business for Social Responsibility. Here is a guest post from Tim about that offers a sneak peek at the book.
Like jumbo shrimp or military intelligence, “corporate responsibility” is considered an oxymoron by many. People are skeptical of corporations and with good reason. Massive corporate scandals ranging from the 2008 mortgage meltdown, to the BP oil spill, to the recent headlines about Wells Fargo and Barclay’s have left a trail of destruction. The cost to repair the damage has been borne by society in the form of taxpayer-funded bailouts and environmental cleanup. Growing distrust in corporations boiled over last fall, sending young people into the streets in the Occupy Wall Street movement. So, at a time when trust in corporations has reached an all-time low, why is interest in corporate responsibility at an all-time high?
Even before the Occupy protesters set up their camps, corporate behavior was under intense scrutiny. Regulations like “Sarbanes Oxley” and “Dodd-Frank,” required greater levels of transparency, a trend that has been fueled by social media and the Internet. For more than a decade, companies in all industries have voluntarily published corporate responsibility or sustainability reports. CorporateRegister.com allows you to search 41,238 corporate responsibility reports across 9,153 companies, a number that has been steadily increasing.
Maybe there is a cause and effect here. The corporate scandals of the past have shown by painful example, just how quickly a company’s reputation, and brand value, can be damaged. Company employees, customers and shareholders know more, and increasingly care more, about corporate behavior. So in today’s world, smart business leaders know that investing in ethical behavior is money well spent.
More important, I believe, is the need of every company to attract and engage talent. A new younger generation of leaders is rising in corporate America, and many of them bring social and environmental values to the job and will only work for responsible companies.
My new book, Changing Business from the Inside Out, delivers practical advice to this new group of committed business people. They recognize the power of business to drive positive change in the world. Changing Business From the Inside Out is “field guide” of practical tips, hard-won wisdom and leading edge concepts for people interested in a career in corporate responsibility. Here are the top five tips from the book:
Acquire the essential skills: Unlike almost any other corporate job, this field has a very broad scope of responsibility but almost zero authority to determine success. Leaders in this field must influence other business managers to be successful. Doing this well entails being flexible and curious, being a fantastic communicator and, above all, being passionate for your cause. You must be the conscience for your company while, at the same time, be practical, patient and learn the practice of “corporate jiu-jitsu.” Jiu-Jitsu is an apt metaphor for skills needed in this career path – it is the Japanese martial art defined as “gentle, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding” (Jiu) and “manipulating the opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force (Jitsu).”
Learn to run a disciplined program: Corporate responsibility is so broad that it’s confusing to know where to start. Identifying the important issues, as opposed to the merely interesting, is the essential starting point for an effective program. Building management systems around these issues – with clear goals, defined owners, and key performance indicators – is the foundation of a successful corporate responsibility program – or any corporate program for that matter.
Master a wide range of skills and knowledge: “Jack of all trades and master of none” accurately describes a career in this field. Corporate responsibility leaders need to understand issues ranging from environment, ethics, diversity, human rights, governance, compensation, supply chain and more.
Know your stakeholders: Knowing your customers, understanding their needs and working to fulfill them is essential for business success. In corporate responsibility, identifying “customers” – or “stakeholders” – can be tricky. Outside the company, socially responsible investors, non-profit groups and activists, the local community, customers, competitors and the media are key stakeholders. Equally important are the stakeholders inside the company who include the Board of Directors, the CEO and his/her executive team, the leaders of key business groups and the employee population as a whole.
Align your profession to your passion: While getting a job in corporate responsibility can be tough, it is a rapidly growing field that accommodates people with a wide range of backgrounds. The good news is that you can work on responsibility issues from any job. While the formal corporate responsibility department mainly tells the story, it’s the “mainstream” roles that make the story. Regardless of whether you work in the corporate responsibility department or work for good from another role, the secret to career satisfaction is to match your profession to your passion. When you work for your cause, it’s not really work.
In the words of Dr. Paul Farmer (Partners in Health) “…there is not one path but many if we want to take on these problems. Ask yourself what is it that you like to do… and then apply these skills to promote the movement for social justice globally.”