The internal and external ethos of an organization can and should align to maximize goodwill and deliver on the company's promises to employees, customers, and communities simultaneously. But what actually defines brand values and culture? And how can learning professionals help ensure organizations get the balance right when it comes to the internal employee experience, external community support, regulatory requirements, and sustainability practices?

Company ethos in the spotlight

A strong corporate ethos and clearly communicated core values have become more important than ever in today's business world. Increased awareness of issues such as climate change, child labor, unfair wages, gender inequality, and lack of equal access to healthcare and education is changing the way we buy—and putting a company's ethical standards in the spotlight like never before.

Competitive prices, superior product quality, niche product offerings, and premium branding—some of the classic tactics that companies across the globe use to gain a competitive edge—are no longer enough on their own. Google Cloud research last year found that 82% of consumers need a brand’s values to align with their own; otherwise, they will switch to a different brand. Three-quarters of shoppers polled reported parting ways with a brand over a conflict of values.

Even when consumers are concerned about their financial situation and making more cost-conscious purchasing decisions, PWC’s 2023 Global Consumer Index discovered that they are still prepared to pay more for value alignment. More than 70% of consumers surveyed said that—to some or a great extent—they are willing to pay more for food produced by local farmers and for goods made by a company known for ethical practices.

Culture matters

The stakes are even higher when it comes to an organization's employees. An inclusive culture is a must-have for many Generation Z job hunters, who prioritize equity regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, ethnicity, religion, or socio-economic status.

And a recent Porter Novelli report revealed that 93% of employees believe companies must lead with purpose. The rewards for taking this approach include a workforce that is more inspired (90%), motivated (89%), and productive (89%).

Employees also said when they work for purpose-driven companies they are more likely to be loyal (89%) to that company and recommend their employer to others (92%). They would also share their company's purpose story with clients or customers (90%)—giving credence and credibility to that company's purpose.

Learning leaders’ role

So how can learning leaders help ensure an organization's corporate social responsibility (CSR), and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies align to preserve corporate culture in even the most challenging times? The best approach largely depends on the size of the organization.

In a start-up or mid-sized company, executives are often keen to be good corporate citizens and give something back to their community, but they usually do not have the resources for significant donations. Similarly, they want to attract diverse top talent but may lack the budget to hire a team of experts in DEI, CSR, and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting.

Investors tend to prioritize companies with a human-centered ethical business practice, so doing nothing is not an option if future growth or acquisition is on the agenda. The best approach is to hire or partner with someone who can oversee all three areas: DEI, CSR, and ESG.

A dedicated chief impact officer, for example, can be given the task of finding ways to reach DEI/CSR goals and ESG reporting requirements simultaneously. Learning professionals can then ensure that all employees understand how they can play their part in reaching these goals and requirements. This can involve highlighting simple sustainability best practices, for example, explaining the details of the company’s CSR efforts, and reminding all employees of the organization's DEI policy and practices. This ensures that all learners are aware of individual actions they can take to perpetuate the company's values in their everyday behavior.

Highlight community involvement

As well as reflecting the corporate ethos in their day-to-day work, employees can be encouraged to get more involved in their local community—and given any necessary training to make the process as smooth as possible. Partnering with a local school, for example, can give employees the opportunity to volunteer for a job fair or to speak at a careers event, with, perhaps, an extra paid day off as an incentive.

Another option is developing a relationship with a university or trade program operating in the same industry and launching an internship or apprenticeship program to funnel students into their talent pipeline. L&D leaders can also offer upskilling opportunities for employees who want to get involved in their community; these can ensure they have the leadership skills to be mentors as well as provide cultural understanding of the community’s lived experiences. The last thing a company needs is to have its team offend unintentionally, use exclusionary language, for example, or apply offensive biases while trying to do good—things that happen all too often.

Partnering with a nonprofit organization can also help smaller companies give something back to their communities. Employees can volunteer time and, as part of a DEI strategy, learning professionals can run an apprenticeship program that, for example, helps the breadwinner of a family get back into the workforce.

As the company grows, learning professionals can help leaders expand CSR efforts to support other areas that align with business values, providing more opportunities to share their efforts with the community.

Opportunities for larger organizations

For larger organizations the situation is more complicated, as operations are usually siloed and split into independent corporate divisions. CSR teams often sit within marketing or communications divisions, and DEI leaders are usually under people operations. The reality is that with more resources, larger organizations can afford to have specialists in each of these areas, but a combined perspective can reduce the overall budget allocation requirements and increase efficacy in both areas.

Learning leaders can help leaders identify or create opportunities for cross-department collaboration, brainstorming, and aligned programs. Start with piloting some ideas that create a win-win situation where both departments meet their strategic goals through a single unified program. This work requires a team or committee with a roadmap and accountability measures that consider people, product, industry, community, communications, programming, and policy/legal operations.

Fuel growth with strong culture

A strong corporate culture can help attract and retain top talent, foster innovation, and build a sense of shared purpose and pride. It can also lead to better decision-making, greater customer satisfaction, and improved financial results. It is the foundation of any organization, and learning professionals have a key role to play in ensuring it is nurtured over time, creating an environment where employees embody the corporate ethos and use it to drive their actions for everyone's benefit.

Learn more!

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