Flipping the Switch

SwitchEveryone knows the saying, Change is Hard. And anyone who’s ever tried to lead change – whether starting a new diet at home or starting a new initiative at work – knows that it can be incredibly tough to create lasting, effective change, even on the smallest of scales.

What stinks about that, though, is the fact that change – and the need for change – is everywhere.

In many ways my life, especially over the last couple of years, has been my own personal study of change. Whether it’s starting (and finishing business school), getting married, or looking for a new job, the one constant in my life has definitely been change (I mean, even my blog is about change!)

Of course, I know I’m not unique in this regard.

CSR practitioners often talk about driving change internally or influencing others to create change within their organization. In fact, as I learned last year, one of the most crucial core competencies for CSR professionals, as identified by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, is the ability to lead change.

After all, when we’re asking our coworkers, our bosses, or our peers to integrate sustainability or CSR values and behaviors into their routines, we’re asking them to change.

And of course, we end up right back where we started: Change is Hard.

All of these questions and issues have been on my mind a lot recently, as I think about both the changes I am going through in my personal life, as well as the changes I am undertaking professionally.

For that reason, I felt inspired almost the instant I started reading Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by brothers Dan and Chip Heath.

If Dan and Chip’s names sound familiar to you, it’s because they probably are – both are business school professors, and a few years ago they published their much-acclaimed book Made to Stick (another fantastic read that I recommend highly).

Over the course of 250 pages or so, the Heath brothers break down change into three buckets:

  • Direct the Rider
  • Motivate the Elephant
  • Shape the Path

At this point you’re probably wondering what the heck I’m talking about. So, here’s the deal:

According to Dan and Chip, inside everyone is an Elephant and its Rider.

The Elephant is our emotional side, our irrational side – the part in each of us that worries, loves, fears and acts on impulse. On the other hand, each of us also has a Rider – that is, our ability to reason, to analyze, or to look at things with black and white objectivity.

The relationship between the Elephant and the Rider is based on one simple idea: The Rider believes that through reason and logic, it can control the Elephant.

If you think about this for a second, you’ll know it’s true: how many times, for instance, have you forced yourself to sign up for that project, accept that job offer, or generally do something you didn’t really want to – just because it was The Right Thing to Do?

I know I certainly have.

The problem is, however, that the Rider exerts a ton of effort and energy in trying to control the Elephant. It’s hard work to force that Elephant to take a different path, and after a while, the Rider will inevitably lose because the Elephant – the emotion – is just too strong. At some point, emotion will trump reason and the Elephant will go wherever it wants. (One of my favorite examples in the book is the dieter trying to forget about the fresh baked cookies in the kitchen. No matter what, chocolate chips will always win against willpower!)

And this, in effect, is what happens with change.

When trying to influence change – for example, getting employees to recycle at work – you can start by appealing to people's reason. Recycling, you’ll say, is the right thing to do! It saves our office money, it reduces our contributions to landfill, and it helps us meet our sustainability reporting goals.

Sure, providing the business case or the ROI for recycling may make sense initially, but to make any lasting change in office recycling, Dan and Chip would point to the Elephant. Remember: the Rider can force the Elephant to do something for a while, but he probably won’t be successful long term. For people to adopt a change initiative for good, we must create an emotional tie or personal relevance to that activity or behavior. In short, we must motivate the Elephant.

In this case, Dan and Chip might suggest collecting all of the aluminum cans thrown out in one week – and then displaying them very visibly for everyone to see in the cafeteria. Such a clear and tangible reminder of people’s waste – that my five soda cans per week, and your five soda cans per week, really do add up – might be just the hook you need to capture the Elephant’s attention. Do that, and then add your ROI calculation to the mix. Suddenly, the Elephant and the Rider are heading in the same direction!

The third part of their theory relies on something Dan and Chip called Shape the Path; that is, rather than making people do the changing, think about how you can actually tweak the change that’s needed to so it seems more manageable and less daunting.

A great example they use in the book is getting people to eat less. We all know that overeating is unhealthy and can lead to obesity, and by extension how important portion control can be. Yet how hard is it to stop eating pizza when you have that huge pie in front of you?

The Heath brothers point to a research study that showed people ate less – but felt just as satisfied – when they were automatically given smaller portions. Instead of trying to get people to change, the researchers actually changed the portion size of the foods people were given. You certainly can’t overeat when your pizza’s been shrunk!

All in all I thought this was a fantastic book with immediately applicable lessons and ideas, and I highly recommend it for anyone implementing any kind of change, either personally or professionally.

We all know that, cliché or not, change really is hard. And yet when so much of our day at work and at home is built around creating and implementing it, knowing how to tackle that change (and people’s aversion to it), is crucially important. Switch is one book that will help you get there.

Communicating Globally, Acting Locally

Dan BrossDan Bross is senior director, Corporate Citizenship at Microsoft and one of the most visible faces of corporate social responsibility at the company.

I first met Dan at the 2009 Net Impact Conference and recently we had the chance to reconnect at the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship Conference.

In between networking and learning at BCCCC, Dan was kind enough to sit down with me to talk more about Microsoft's corporate citizenship program and where it's headed.

But first, what does corporate citizenship at Microsoft look like? For starters, the company has four main areas of focus:

  1. Strengthening Economies through the use of technology;
  2. Addressing Societal Challenges like health care, energy and the environment, workforce development, and education;
  3. Promoting a Healthy Online Ecosystem by fostering innovation online and protecting privacy; and,
  4. Operating Responsibly through effective corporate governance, employee engagement, and sustainability programs.

While the company’s focus can clearly get bucketed into four categories, the overall reach of Microsoft’s corporate citizenship program – and its impacts – is much, much broader than that. 

To get a sense of just how far-reaching Microsoft's program is, check out the interactive Local Impact Map. Here visitors to Microsoft’s corporate citizenship site can filter the company's social, environmental, and economic investments by region and type of initiative, as well as read stories about Microsoft's work on a local level. 

Local Impact MapAfter reading through its website and playing with the map, it became clear to me that Microsoft is doing great work as a responsible and involved corporate citizen.

Still, I wondered, what is the company doing to tell people about it?

I asked this question for one main reason. Since I've met Dan and talked to people on his team before, I know that Microsoft is a leading player in today's corporate citizenship community. And yet, at times I've wondered how many other people out there even know that Microsoft has a CSR program in the first place? As much good work as the company is doing, you don't always hear Microsoft's name mentioned in the same sentence as other more well-known (and perhaps more vocal) CSR leaders like eBay, Gap, or Nike.

Fast forward to my conversation with Dan at BCCCC, where I started with what turned out to be a very serendipitous question: “When it comes to corporate citizenship at Microsoft, what would you say is your single biggest challenge and your single biggest opportunity?”

Interestingly Dan said right now these two things are one and the same:

It all comes down to communication.

It turns out Microsoft has done a great job reaching out to a small, select group of influencers – governments, think tanks, etc – and that its corporate citizenship message and story has successfully reached these audiences.

Yet when it comes to other stakeholders – consumers, customers, employees, and generally-interested folks like you and me – Microsoft still has some ground to cover.

Thus, according to Dan, the goal is to “broaden the audience,” do a better job of communicating more clearly, and speak to stakeholders “in a way that matters.”

An important and timely objective if I do say so myself (especially after last week's BCCCC panel on the lack of consumer trust of CSR programs).

And yet, if we think back to the Local Impact Map, this is where things get tricky. You see, Microsoft isn’t just trying to reach the American public; instead, it has a global audience to contend with. A global audience with different interests and causes to support, not to mention varying cultural preferences for the role of business in society.

The question then becomes: how can Microsoft build a global citizenship communications strategy that creates a cohesive message yet allows for flexibility across regions?

How can Microsoft literally communicate globally, but act locally?

This is the issue-at-hand for Dan and his team in the coming weeks and months, and there's clearly a lot riding on it. After all, for a company like Microsoft it’s not a stretch to say that improved CSR communications can lead to additional gains on the business side. In this way, Dan says, stakeholder communications truly can be “a continued driver for business success."

As someone who believes that CSR communications can effectively bridge the gap between companies and consumers, I'll be anxiously awaiting what happens next at Microsoft. Certainly sounds like an exciting challenge!

The Corporate Citizenship Journey

journeyOne of the benefits of a conference like this one put on by Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship is the opportunity for CSR professionals to network, share ideas, and learn from one another. In no other session has this experience been more true than in today’s panel: “Corporate Citizenship Journey – What have we learned? What is next?”  The room was packed to hear Chris Coulter, senior vice president, Strategy & Collaboration, GlobeScan; Kevin Moss, head of CSR, BT Americas Inc., and Rick Martella, vice president Corporate Affairs, ARAMARK talk about CSR trends over the last ten years, as well as where the field is headed going forward.

Rick opened the session by asking a couple of big questions:

  • How have we performed as an industry?
  • How do consumers perceive our work and impact?
  • What has our social and environmental impact actually been?
  • How are our senior leaders involved in our moving our CSR agenda forward?

Over the course of the session, Kevin and Chris answered these questions and more, in what turned out to be a very spirited exchange between panelists and attendees.

One key takeaway that came up throughout each speaker’s presentation was the issue of the current gap that exists between the work corporate America is doing in CSR and how the public perceives this work.

According to Kevin, this gap exists because in many cases CSR is not integrated into the core business functions and units of a company. When the corporate values are aligned with the company's business model, Kevin said, the result is increased authenticity and by extension, trust on the part of consumers and other stakeholders. But, when companies say one thing and do another, consumers not surprisingly become skeptical.

Chris then stepped in to provide some data behind this claim. His firm Globescan conducts regular research with over 35,000 global CSR professionals, and recently the company completed a 10-year retrospective survey of the industry. The findings from this research confirmed the presence of this “growing expectation/perception gap” that exists in consumers’ minds.

“Over time,” Chris said, “the perceived performance [of corporate America] has declined” – regardless of the fact that Fortune 500 companies have clearly stepped up their game when it comes to actual gains made in sustainability and community involvement.

The answer, the panelists agreed, lies in effective communications.

In effect, the narrative that companies are telling in regards to their CSR programs just isn’t cutting it. In order to win consumers’ trust and loyalty, companies need to make sure their corporate and sustainability communications are aligned and authentic, which will inevitably resonate better with consumers.

Going forward, the panelists seemed to feel confident about the future of CSR, but they were also very cognizant of the fact that we have a lot of work still remaining. Hopefully after 2+ days of learning and sharing, each conference attendee feels better equipped to continue his or her good work back home.

Ashley’s Note: This is the third of three posts I wrote as a featured blogger for The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship’s 2010 Annual Conference. Click these links to learn more about the conference, check out the session description, and to read all the blog posts from the event.

Taking a Seat at an Uncommon Table

community-developmentLike any donor, corporate philanthropy departments today want to know that their investments in their community have an impact. It’s not about altruism (although giving back does feel good); instead, it’s about driving long-term, lasting change. This was the topic at hand during today's breakout session, “A Seat at the UnCommon Table: Leveraging your Philanthropic Investments in Educationas part of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship Conference.

Cheryl Kiser, managing director of The Lewis Initiative, Babson College and moderator of the panel opened our talk with the recent discovery of a worrying trend:

For over 25 years, corporate philanthropy professionals had indicated that their #1 funding and volunteer priority was education. In the last two years, however, Cheryl noticed in surveys of the field that corporate philanthropy departments were suffering from what she called the “3 F’s”:

They were Frustrated, they felt Fatigued, and they worried that they had Failed in their attempts to truly invest in educational systems and drive progress.

The purpose of the session, then, was to leverage what Cheryl called “The Uncommon Table” – in essence a platform in which participants could go beyond the static idea-sharing common within homogenous sectors or industries and instead participate in “uncommon conversations with unusual suspects.” After all, she reasoned, “no one company can go it alone.”

To do this, Cheryl was joined by a group of terrific and highly knowledgeable panelists:

Together, Cheryl and the panelists opened themselves up to questions from the audience in what was an informal and informative discussion on the state of the U.S. Education System and how corporate funders can get involved. A few takeaways are worth sharing:

One attendee asked a question that seemed to resonate throughout the room: “If we’re supposed to help fix American education, shouldn’t we know (and agree on) what’s broken?”

While all panelists had opinions on just what’s wrong, Suzanne from the Department of Education boiled it down to four problem areas:

  1. Human Capital (both supporting educators and administrators, as well as making school relevant to students);
  2. Information and data systems (to track, measure, and strategize);
  3. Different state standards and assessment tools to tracking student performance
  4. Low performing schools that consistently underperform without being reformed.

Interestingly, one panelist suggested that in order to tackle these problems, business should look at its core competencies and the areas in which it has the most credibility. Many of the areas in which business excels – management training, information systems, data analysis, etc – are the areas that schools need the most help with. Given this, Lydia encouraged the audience to consider how their corporate investments in education were aligned with these four areas – if they’re not aligned, she suggested, companies would do well to refocus.

Other relevant conversation points included how companies can drive innovation through partnerships and grant proposals with the Department of Education (who, by the way, is putting an incredible amount of stimulus funding innovation and reform in education), as well as what other countries are doing to support their educational systems as they grow, develop, and eventually surpass the U.S. in the rankings.

In all, the session provided a thoughtful look at the multiple, challenging issues that corporate funders and schools face as they partner to effect change in our educational system. Hopefully this will be the start of more informal “Uncommon Tables” throughout the U.S. as attendees go back to their home offices and share what they learned.

Ashley’s Note: This is the second of three posts I wrote as a featured blogger for The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship’s 2010 Annual Conference. Click these links to learn more about the conference, check out the session description, and to read all the blog posts from the event.

Social Intrapreneurship at Work

green-recycle-img“How many of you would call yourself a social intrapreneur?” This was the question that Mark Feldman, managing director of Cause Consulting posed to the fifty attendees at this morning’s Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship Conference breakout session, “The Business of Corporate Citizenship: Creating New Social Ventures within Your Company.”

A quick glance around the room showed only a handful would give themselves this title.

Yet, as Mark and his panelists, Amy Skeeters-Behrens (head of Global Citizenship Marketing, eBay) and Nancy Mahon (executive director, MAC AIDS Fund), made it clear to all attendees, anyone considering creating a “social corporate enterprise” within their company is exactly that. Perhaps, Mark suggested, after this session, “you’ll consider yourselves a little bit differently.”

But first: what is a social intrapreneur? According to Amy, a social intrapreneur focuses on “building and developing new ventures within a company, designed to generate large-scale social impact”.

For eBay, this means creating a wide array of ventures – from the eBay Green Team to World of Good by eBay – that enable their buyers, sellers, employees and larger community connect to causes they care about. At MAC AIDS Fund, social intrapreneurship takes the form of the MAC Viva Glam line of lipsticks and lip glosses whose sales support HIV/AIDS initiatives globally.

Throughout the panel I was struck by a handful of ideas and themes that kept cropping up – what I’d call best practices for any social intrapreneur:

Alignment of core competencies and the social venture you’re creating: As Amy stressed, and Nancy reiterated, building these social venture opportunities means taking a long, hard look at what your company does well – and what it might not be as good at. Not only does this ensure your venture will be aligned with what you do best, but it forces you to partner with authentic, credible leaders in the space you want to play in. In eBay’s case, they are great at building shopper marketplaces and providing a trusted space to transact, but they’re not as knowledgeable or skilled in other crucial areas that were necessary to build World of Good. This led them to partner with social entrepreneurs and industry leaders to help build their model – and their credibility.

Creation of a point of view for your venture: Nancy repeatedly brought up the idea that the Viva Glam line of products has been successful because it represents a connection to a singular point of view (HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and support). The great thing about having a CSR point of view, rather than simply a portfolio of smaller causes grouped together, is that this can clearly support the business’s point of view and brand meanings.

CSR needs to be about making money: Both panelists agreed that “profit isn’t a dirty word” and that “you can make money and do good in the world.” This idea is especially crucial for developing the business case for CSR – until you come to terms with the fact that CSR must directly tie to financial outcomes, you won’t be able to create and identify the data you need in order to make a compelling business case for your work.

In all it was a terrific first breakout session, with great ideas and inspiration flowing throughout the room. I can’t wait to see how the next session goes!

Ashley's Note: This is the first of three posts I wrote as a featured blogger for The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship's 2010 Annual Conference. Click these links to learn more about the conference, check out the session description, and to read all the blog posts from the event.