Tuesday, day two of SB ‘15 San Diego, marked a transition from workshops to breakout sessions and this morning’s session on practical tips and case studies for employee engagement featured a star-studded lineup of experts from Kiva, Google, HP and HIP Investor.
We kicked things off with a welcome from WeSpire, host sponsor of the “Workplace of the Future” track, who asked the question: How do we give employees the opportunity to bring their best selves to work?
As discussed by moderator Karen Little of Kiva, the field of employee engagement covers a wide spectrum of programs. Opportunities range from high-level engagement, where employees leave the country for a few months or engage in skills-based volunteer commitments, to short-term opportunities for employees to make social impact – such as building a house with Habitat for Humanity, or participating in a walk to raise funds and awareness for cancer. The existing set of long-term and short-term engagements have their respective pros and cons. One trait they share, however, is that they require individuals to physically partake in an activity.
For this session, we focused on a (relatively) new way to engage employees: designing one-click opportunities for employees to partake in impact investing.
At first glance, one might question the true level of engagement that can be brought about from a “one-click” action. Over the course of the panel, however, two things became clear:
The first of these points was illustrated by Google’s Nick Cain. In 2013, Google invested $1 million into a fund on the Kiva platform, which allows individuals to make a loan to an entrepreneur across the globe for as little as $25; the company directed the funds for employee use, allowing them to make up to three $25 loans to projects around the world.
A few things helped make the program a success at Google: 1) It’s global. Kiva’s platform makes it easy to find something that resonates with you. 2) Tech first. Kiva is a non-profit that is embracing technology. 3) Rapid transparency. An astonishing 98 percent of Kiva loans get repaid.
Cain admitted that one of the challenges with this new model of employee engagement for Google was that it has become dormant over time — the loans have been repaid and the money is there, but there exists a need to reinvigorate the fund.
Luckily, HP’s Chris Librie offered insights on maintaining high levels of participation in such a program. Through its company foundation, HP partnered with Kiva in 2014 on a five-year partnership called Matter to a Million. As of the latest count, HP employees have loaned $8 million through Kiva.
One of the benefits of the program is that its makes the progress tangible for employees. It also provides an opportunity to engage with the sustainability team without making a long-term commitment. Librie discussed several things that have helped make the program a success, such as the fact that HP ran a healthy internal competition, tracking the level of participation from different business units. Communication was also cited as a key element to sustaining an employee engagement program. Of course, you want to be respectful as to the frequency of your touch points. But delivering a healthy variety of messages (email, video, follow-up) has helped in driving continued engagement.
Paul Herman of HIP Investor then introduced the idea of impact investing in the area of 401(k) plans. When it comes to investing, we’ve all heard that “past performance is not indicative of future results.” So why do we continue to base financial projections on past performance?
Some of the metrics included in the “sustainability rating” that HIP Investor uses to compare 401(k) investment options include employee turnover, employee satisfaction, and greenhouse gas emissions. These are the things that will equate to future success.
The results? One is a better return on equity. Herman used board diversification as an example. Companies with zero women on the board averaged a 12 percent ROE. Companies with at least one woman on the board? 16 percent ROE. Furthermore, sustainability ratings in 401(k) offerings trigger higher levels of millennial engagement in retirement plans.
My biggest takeaway was that companies need to make it extremely easy for employees to get and stay involved. Sure, some employees will stay at that minimal level of engagement. But others will use it as a platform to increase involvement and scale to higher tiers of impact.
And that is where the stories happen. As Librie asserted: “Making it tangible, making it real, turning it into a story. That’s what people care about.”