Building a Meaningful Corporate Social Responsibility

In an earlier post, we talked about the importance of matching public support for the LGBTQ+ community with internal practices, policies, and employee training that support diversity and inclusion. This would additionally foster a workplace culture that complements an organization’s corporate social responsibility (CSR). 

The Value of Corporate Social Responsibility

After decades of CSR  initiatives and research, strong evidence supports its positive impact on both profitability and employee engagement

Studies show that more than half of consumers will pay extra for products from companies they believe are socially responsible, and 67% of employees prefer to work for socially responsible companies. 

Furthermore, and in a telling statistic for politicians, recent data indicate that 55% of consumers think brands are more important than governments in terms of creating social change. 

The question then is not, “Should my company have a CSR program or public statements about its corporate citizenship?” Rather, leaders should be asking, “How can my company make CSR distinctly meaningful and impactful for our employees and the community/nation/world where we do business?”

Nike & Google: When CSR efforts fall flat

81% of millennial consumers expect brands to make public statements about their corporate citizenship. However, these younger and social-media-savvy consumers are more and more adept at spotting when proudly promoted CSR efforts ring false.  When companies make public statements about their values or take a stance on a social issue, they risk criticism if their ethics record or internal culture does not reflect their external marketing. 


A recent AdAge magazine article summarizes this discrepancy brilliantly in a discussion of the recent “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” Nike campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick: “This campaign is great for Nike's business. However, by addressing the reasons why Kaepernick was kneeling in the first place – racist policing, unacceptably high rates of incarceration of African-Americans and economic exploitation, Nike would be even more successful.” 

The article notes that Nike has had issues with labor rights violations in its factories and internal complaints about discrimination and harassment of female employees. 


Similarly, Google regularly topped the list of companies with the best corporate responsibility reputations, yet has been mired in controversy over accusations that employees who advocate for diversity are subjected to harassment by fellow employees. 

Etsy & AirBnb: Walking the Talk

On the flip side, many companies benefit from creative, focused CSR initiatives perceived internally and publicly as authentic and aligned with the organization’s culture and value.  Both Etsy and Airbnb’s actions are directly connected to the company’s business model and focused on specific areas of impact rather than just making platitudes of support. 


For example, Etsy’s guiding principles include, “We embrace differences” and “We lead with optimism.”

It matches these values, in part, through its Advocacy programs which focus directly on issues that impact their sellers including net neutrality


Conversely, Airbnb reports, “Our new Community Commitment, stronger Nondiscrimination Policy and the development of a permanent team dedicated to fighting bias while encouraging diversity are just a few of the steps we’re taking to fight bias.” 

As part of this commitment,  Airbnb received attention in 2018 for allowing hosts to refuse to rent to white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. The company also has a program called Open Homes which connects refugees with hosts willing to provide them with free short-term housing. 

Learning from Others

What can companies learn from Nike, Google, Etsy, and Airbnb?

Make sure your public, internal values, and employee training align. Positive change is possible, but only when employees have awareness of their own biases and emotions, know when and how to respond to negative behaviors, and fully appreciate the benefits of a civil and respectful workplace that transcend an organization’s borders to serve its community—all of which can happen with investment in comprehensive training and other initiatives. 

Not only will you create better relationships with your customers and employees, your company’s reputation for having a positive social impact will be built on a solid foundation. 

Beyond Rainbow Flags

During Pride Month, you’re probably seeing the rainbow Pride flag everywhere, including in the logos of companies and brands you follow on social media. While this type of representation and visible ally ship is valuable, it’s important that your organization matches its public displays of support with internal policies and workplace culture that is truly inclusive of LGBTQ+ employees. Just under half of LGBTQ+ employees are still closeted (meaning they are not open about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity) at work and 42% of LGBTQ+ individuals report having experienced some type of employment discrimination according to a 2012 survey.


Making your company a safe and supportive place to work for all individuals regardless of gender identity and expression and sexual orientation is not only the right thing to do, it also is linked to measurably positive business outcomes. It’s no coincidence that 91% of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policies, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Businesses that are LGBTQ+ friendly report economic benefits in the following areas:


  • Recruitment and Retention: According to data from Glassdoor, over two-thirds of job seekers say that a diverse workforce is a major factor when deciding whether to apply for a job or accept a job offer. Inclusive workplaces attract top talent and are less likely to have employees leave their jobs as a result of discrimination. The Center for American Progress cites a study estimating that replacing over two million workers who quit as a result of discrimination has an estimated annual average cost of $64 billion.
  • Higher Revenues: The same Chamber of Commerce report notes, “Those publicly held companies with LGBT-friendly policies have seen their stock prices increase by an average 6.5% compared with their industry peers.”
  • Customer/Consumer Relationships: According to research cited in The Advocate, the LGBTQ+ population in the United States represented $917 billion in buying power in 2017. As a consumer base, LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies also tend to be more brand loyal, with over 75% of LGBTQ+ adults (and their allies, friends, and family members) saying they would switch to brands known to be LGBTQ+  friendly.
  • Innovation: Research by the Center for Talent Innovation found that inherently diverse companies demonstrate greater market innovation due to a “speak up” culture that allows the ideas of more employees to be heard. Furthermore, they found that when business teams have “one or more members who represent the gender, ethnicity, culture, or sexual orientation of the team’s target end user, the entire team is far more likely (as much as 158% more likely) to understand that target, increasing their likelihood of innovating effectively for that end user.”


Can Respect and Civility Be Trained?

In a word, yes but consider the stereotypes and conscious and unconscious bias we all bring to work. Multiply this lack of awareness of civility by the number of employees in an organization and you see the challenge. Only self-awareness and emotional intelligence (EQ) training, (both of which is offered by Syntrio) can help us understand what our words and actions may do to another person. It’s no secret that enlightened organizations (and those that inspire to be) incorporate self-awareness and EQ training as an essential part of their respectful and civil workplace initiatives.


Building a Truly Inclusive Workplace

From policies to training to benefits, there are many ways to make your workplace more LGBTQ+ friendly, which has the added benefit of making your organization more welcoming to people from all types of diverse backgrounds: women, minorities, individuals with disabilities, military veterans, and others. In addition to training (for example, diversity and inclusion courses from Syntrio) and policy, your organization  can use LGBTQ+ inclusive language in internal and external communications, have an LGBTQ+ employee resource group, and consider donating to LGBTQ+-related causes.


Hopefully, next year when Pride Month comes around, you can feel confident that your company’s rainbow logo is backed by a deeply held commitment to inclusion, diversity, and anti-discrimination.

Why Is Soft Skills Training Optional?

The Situation

In my twenty-plus years in the training industry, I’ve worked both as an employee or in-house consultant purchasing training and as a vendor offering off-the-shelf and customized training. Topics such as compliance, regulatory changes, and health and safety are understandably often mandated training. Yet, the suite of interpersonal and personal competencies, typically known as “soft skills,” too often collects the digital version of dust on organizations’ learning management systems. Then, after time passes, training professionals and senior management recognize that critical soft skills remain lacking despite the availability of these optional courses, leaving them in no mood to upgrade or even continue this library due to employees’ seeming lack and interest and low use.


Simultaneously, according to one large survey, 92% of executives say that soft skills are equally important or more important than technical skills. And 89% of executives say that it is difficult to find people with soft skills. In the same survey, 44% of these same executives responded that the biggest skills gap among employees involves soft skills.


But the Research Says . . .

Employees with strong soft skills benefit companies. For example, research from Boston University, Harvard University, and the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan reveal that training employees in self-awareness and other soft skills produces a 256% return on investment. Conversely, employees with poor soft skills can actually cost organizations time and money due to problems resulting from poor communication, performance management, and leadership. With such strong evidence backing the need for soft skills training and proficiency, why aren’t more companies genuinely focused on improving these critical skills? This contradiction occurs time and again. A recent Adecco survey finds, “Of the executives who believe there is a skills gap, 89% say that apprenticeships and training programs could help. But 42% say that in-house training programs would be too expensive.”  


What’s Behind the Disconnect?

Frankly, what executive, shareholder, and other stakeholder wouldn’t welcome a 256% ROI? So, what’s clouding leadership’s thinking? One issue is not addressing the soft skills gap holistically. For instance, according to a Learning House report, “Despite pointing the finger at colleges and universities for not helping to address the skills gap, almost half of employers (43%) are not extending their hand in collaboration to these institutions to help ensure the necessary skills are being addressed.”


The same report finds that 74% of companies only invest $500 per employee on training and development in the workplace, regardless of topic.


Sometimes, leadership holds employees responsible for not taking optional soft skills training. However, research by the staffing company Randstad finds that 66% of US employees between 18 and 34 years old say they need to strengthen their interpersonal skills — where is the organizational support?


Some organizations fantasize that one-time training suffices. How many of us learned to ride a bike the first time we tried? Or mastered tying our shoes or kicking a soccer ball on the first attempt? Even more to the point, how many of us developed the technical skills that serve as the backbone of our professional experience after one course? Yet we expect individuals to demonstrate mastery of critical soft skills competencies after a single training session?


One’s confidence about new knowledge and skills doesn’t happen overnight. To wit, not enough organizations invest in and commit to a comprehensive training program involving effective soft skills courseware, role plays, supplemental learning materials, various delivery modalities, different learning styles, and so on.


How Organizations Can Close the Soft Skills Gap

First, organizations should make soft skills training a priority and requirement. They need to prove that they’re devoted to personal and professional development so that their employees succeed. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. Further, 56% of employees would spend more time learning if their manager directed them to take a specific course to improve their professional skills.


Companies can also augment soft skills training programs with strategies like building a coaching and mentoring program, retention training, prescriptive learning paths tailored to specific job roles, and including soft skills assessments in hiring and performance reviews.


Bottom line: Investing in and fully supporting soft skills training may seem like an unnecessary expense and afterthought, but actually it can become one of the best initiatives an organization takes to remain competitive in our global economy.

Beyond the “Compliment Sandwich”


No one likes receiving negative feedback, which explains why more than two-thirds of managers dread delivering it to employees. According to one survey, 44% of managers find it stressful and difficult to give constructive feedback to employees while another 20% avoided it altogether. Further, as a manager, the feedback you give an employee is less credible when it’s given only occasionally. At the same time, it’s difficult for employees to work in a vacuum with no sense of how they’re performing. In fact, the majority of workers appreciate performance feedback, even when they perceive it as negative.


How can managers bridge the feedback gap without discouraging their employees? It likely won’t surprise you that the content of your criticism matters less than how you deliver it.


The Biggest Myth about Giving Constructive Feedback

For years, business pundits circulated a popular strategy for delivering performance feedback called the “compliment sandwich.” The idea was that the best way to deliver constructive feedback is to “sandwich” it between two pieces of positive feedback. However, this approach has downsides. First, employees have come to expect it. It can come off as inauthentic, causing the receiver to discount both praise and criticism.  Also, people are wired to focus on the positive. A two-to-one ratio of positive to negative feedback could lead the employee to dismiss the negative feedback entirely. At the same time, you don’t want to create an environment where employees only hear from you when they make mistakes.


How to Give Constructive Feedback Without Alienating Your Team

Done well, a mix of positive and constructive feedback is appropriate. The key is to be authentic and not follow a rigid formula.

  1. Make sure you’re regularly communicating with your team. If you’ve built strong relationships with your employees and they’re used to hearing both praise and constructive criticism from you, they’ll be less likely to get defensive when issues arise. You’ll also become more comfortable giving feedback and communicating effectively and empathetically.
  2. Be specific and offer solutions.  Instead of telling someone their writing “needs work,” point out specific issues and offer resources to help them improve.
  3. It’s essential to focus performance feedback on the behavior or situation, not the person.
  4. Follow up with employees and check on their progress. Following up shows you care about their growth and builds your credibility as a leader.


Most Everyone Wants to Improve

In a perfect world, everyone would do their jobs flawlessly, and your only job would be to shower them with praise. But would that really be a perfect world? The desire to learn and grow is a huge motivator for most people. Taking on challenges and learning from mistakes is part of being a good employee and a good manager. Learning to deliver honest feedback with empathy and respect will make you a more effective leader and make your employees trust you more, not less.

5 Ways Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Conflict

Workplace Conflict: An Inescapable Reality

It’s no surprise that conflict is a regular and unpleasant reality in many workplaces. When a group of employees from various backgrounds and with different work styles is brought together to achieve a shared business goal, tensions are inevitable. Competing priorities, stressful deadlines, heavy workloads, and poor communication can cause a minor misunderstanding to snowball into a full-out argument or simmering resentment.

A 2008 study by CPP, developers of the Myers-Briggs assessment, found that US employees spend 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, equating to approximately $359 billion annually in paid hours. According to another study by the University of North Carolina, HR managers spend 24 to 60 percent of their time dealing with employee disputes. Worse, 53% of employees said they spend time at work worrying about a past or future conflict with a coworker. How to reverse these troubling statistics? Managing conflict at work takes more than patience and good communication. It requires emotional intelligence.

The Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence and Conflict Management

Think of emotional intelligence as a toolkit - an internal resource to draw upon when conflict arises. According to emotional intelligence and negotiation expert Dan Shapiro, “The moment you feel threatened in a conflict, a whole set of emotional forces turn your conflict into an adversarial battle: It becomes you vs. them. Suddenly the problem feels nonnegotiable because you can’t imagine working things out with the other side.” In these moments, emotional intelligence may help transform a destructive argument into a productive learning opportunity. Individuals with high Emotional Intelligence Quotients (EIQs) have an easier time controlling their feelings, display greater self-awareness, and are able to take time to process their thoughts before reacting. These abilities are particularly useful in conflict management and resolution.

The 5 Ways Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Conflict

Consider these actions that individuals with high EIQs demonstrate the next time you find yourself in conflict:

  • They address issues privately. Responding to a frustrating coworker or situation in the moment (especially publicly) can cause lasting damage. Ask the other person if you can speak in private. If you need time to cool down before engaging in a dialogue, it’s completely acceptable to ask for it. Setting boundaries around conflict can preserve professional relationships. For example, consider the following responses:
    – “Let’s not engage in this sort of serious discussion over email.”
    – “Could we talk about this in person either later today or tomorrow morning?”
    – “Can we please talk about this privately after I take a few minutes to process everything?”
  • They ask questions. Asking open-ended questions is a useful technique for employees, managers, or mediators. Some examples of these questions are:
    – “So how did you feel when _____ happened?”
    – “Can you tell me a bit more about why you found the situation so frustrating?”
    – “What do you think the other person might have been feeling/thinking?”
    – “How do you think you could respond or change to resolve this issue and what would you like in return?”
    These questions encourage the parties involved to self-reflect and even arrive upon solutions on their own.
  • They listen. Emotionally intelligent people don’t merely listen to what the other person says, they also restate and clarify to make sure they accurately understood. The action involves saying something like, “So, what I hear you saying is that you were upset because it felt like the manager was taking credit for your idea during the meeting. Am I right?”
  • They pay attention to their words and tone. It’s important to use neutral language and a calm tone when talking about sensitive issues. Avoid accusations such as, “You’re always making me look bad in front of our boss! What’s wrong with you?” This phrasing sounds confrontational and makes the other person feel defensive. Changing the statement to make it about yourself instead of him/her demonstrates another way to change the tone of a conversation: “It makes me feel embarrassed to have errors in my work pointed out publicly, especially in front of our manager. Would you mind sharing that feedback with me privately next time?”
  • They find common ground. Ultimately, the biggest disagreements arise from passion. Most people feel strongly about their work or opinion, sometimes to the point where they’re unable to absorb a different perspective. Reminding yourself that you and your colleague share common goals may help neutralize a disagreement about the best way to achieve those goals.

To Conclude

There’s enough to worry about during the workday. Conflict — between and among coworkers, managers, and their direct reports, and even between and among larger groups or departments — takes time and energy away from achieving shared goals. Any steps you take to make your organization (and yourself) more empathetic and peaceful will bring major payoffs: happier employees, clearer communication, a more positive environment and, ultimately, greater organizational success.