Leela Stake is a director who helps businesses innovate, collaborate and communicate to be more successful. She’s based in San Francisco, has worked in six Asian countries and is interested in the relationship between long-term business success and community prosperity.
Companies like 3M and Google are well known for products and concepts that were born during their companies’ innovation time – when employees are allowed to use a portion of their paid time to hatch their own ideas. Think of the Post-it note and Gmail, developed by employees through 3M’s “15 percent time” and Google’s “20 percent time,” respectively. Now that more companies are looking to create shared value and employees are seeking opportunities to have more direct opportunities to address the world’s greatest challenges through their work, here’s a new concept for companies to consider: providing employees with dedicated social and environmental innovation time.
It would be a strategic way to attract and retain the best talent. Let’s face it – plenty of employees do not see a direct link between their day-to-day work (think countless e-mails and conference calls) and making a social and environmental impact. I’m not talking about a few hours spent here or there on a company-sponsored volunteer activity, but regular opportunities for employees to leverage their business skills to strengthen communities in need and improve the planet.
A recent report by Net Impact looked at what students and employees most value from their jobs. Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012, funded by the MacArthur Foundation and conducted by Rutgers University, reveals that employees who say they have the opportunity to make a direct social and environmental impact through their job report higher satisfaction levels than those who don’t, by a 2:1 ratio. And two-thirds of graduating university students said that making a difference through their next job is a priority.
In addition to helping attract and keep the best and the brightest, providing social and environmental innovation time could yield the “shared value” solutions that will help drive business growth and profitability. Employees would help identify new products and ways to reach new markets – expanding the power of their business while helping address social and/or environmental needs.
I was recently a guest on San Francisco Business Radio speaking about “Corporate Responsibility through a Shared Value Lens” and was asked whether employees at any level can make a difference. I think the answer is yes, but that more needs to be done to empower employees to create significant and lasting change in their day jobs. Innovation can come from anyone, at any level of the company – and companies need to be willing to take action on the best ideas. The same is true for the brilliant social and environmental solutions that will help propel companies and the world forward.