Guest post by Brad Jamison
As a former corporate social responsibility (CSR) executive and current consultant, I have come to recognize a missed opportunity when it comes to developing talent within organizations: The use of service to hone essential skills.
Too often CSR and HR departments operate in silos, even though there are compelling reasons why they should be working together. When the two do come together, it is often to organize team building service opportunities, such as an entire department spending an afternoon together at a local food bank.
Building stronger, more cohesive and trusting teams – something serving together can absolutely do – is vital, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of all that service can be used for in the corporate world.
Here are some thoughts on how organizations can better use service to help their employees at three different levels of development and responsibility: Entry-level staffers, middle management, and senior executives.
Service projects can help develop two skills that are important in any industry: Interpersonal communication and the ability to collaborate with others. These skills often come with work experience, which recent college grads may not have. The good news is, just about any service project that is not solitary can help individuals hone these skills. Whether it’s tutoring a student one-on-one or working with a team of colleagues to build a house, helping employees find ways to serve offers endless opportunities for them to practice collaboration and communication. Such an investment in their growth will position them well to do their best, which of course means better results for the company.
Two of the hallmarks of a good manager are the abilities to lead and solve problems. Both are arts that need to be practiced and fine-tuned over and over again, as nothing in business remains static. That said, not all corporate settings provide ample opportunities to try new approaches to solving issues. By helping employees immerse themselves into service, they are given a chance to collaborate with others on solving different types of issues, which in turn can teach new ways of thinking that will be brought back to the workplace. For example, by serving as a board member with a local nonprofit, an employee is able to see organizational issues and business challenges from a unique perspective.
By the time someone is a senior executive, it should be fair to assume they are effective at what they do. Sometimes, however, they can be rather set in their ways of doing things. What’s often frustrating for the more junior people in the organization is that their leaders may be out of touch with their teams and are insulated in their leadership. Basically, the leaders can begin to lack empathy for what it’s like to not be the one running the place.
The tricky thing about empathy is that it’s not something you learn in school or can just implement after reading a book. The good news, though, is that we can increase our empathy by opening ourselves up to learning, seeing and feeling new things. And, yes, service offers great opportunities for this. By working directly with those who are hungry, homeless, wounded or have some other challenge, senior level executives are almost guaranteed to see things from a new perspective. Over time, those feelings will begin to impact all that they do, including how they approach being a leader.
These are just a few examples of how service can benefit an organization – there are many more to be found at the intersection of CSR and HR. We have an opportunity to use service as a development tool in corporate America, and now is the time to act.
Brad Jamison is an award-winning professional who has built a career combining his love of media and passion for helping others. As an executive and humanitarian, he has leveraged the most powerful mediums to increase awareness, raise millions of dollars, encourage involvement and, above all, make a difference in the lives of others. Learn more on his website, Good Citizen.