Exciting Era Of Professionalizing Corporate Responsibility

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X522, the career planning class, is "tough love" for Kelley School of Business Evening MBA students. By requiring executive informational interviews, one develops a "relentless positive networking" mindset. Since I currently develop community service programming for IUPUC, I am networking my way through the local non-profit community. Corporate responsibility is an important piece of the non-profit support network.

I recently interviewed Mark Levett, Cummins VP of Corporate Responsibility and Chair of the Cummins Foundation, to discuss ways to leverage corporate resources to improve community quality of life. Twenty years ago, you would not hear of corporate responsibility being raised to an executive level. Now we are in an exciting era of professionalizing corporate responsibility.

A natural tension often exists between management cost control and social responsibility goals. Companies can easily choose to improve energy efficiency when it reaps clear economic benefits in the form of reduced long-term costs. More frequently, the socially responsible choice, such as limiting pollution, adds to overall costs. Historically, managers have been evaluated on cost containment. In order to balance cost accountability with ethics and engagement, new metrics are needed. Cummins is leading that charge with a trial program to evaluate managers on a corporate responsibility scorecard.

Non-profits with limited funding are constrained in keeping up to date with the latest technology and business practices. And yet when I see corporate volunteer teams, they are often doing menial labor together as more of a team building exercise. Can the vision for corporate responsibility evolve into leveraging corporate know-how to improve non-profit operations? What if engineers reworked the warehouse operations of the local food bank? What if computer analysts volunteered to construct a website and database to advertise services to a homeless shelter and manage donations? Let’s take this a step further and see what could happen if these corporate volunteers took on local high school or college students to shadow them learning how they work. Mentoring and service happening simultaneously.

Cummins promotes the Six Sigma philosophy for problem solving. These kinds of corporate tools could be leveraged to solve community problems. I spoke with Mark about an inefficiency I see in regards to volunteer management. Each non-profit provides its own background checks on volunteers. So if you volunteer at your child’s school, one company will check you there. Then you go to the Foundation for Youth, you’ll get checked again, etc. Could a Six Sigma project across all these organizations orchestrate a better way to conduct background checks that allows agencies to share information and not repeatedly check (and inconvenience) the same person? These types of inefficiencies may best be addressed by a third party corporate group that can see the big picture.

Mark shared that inclusion is a core value for Cummins, and one that admittedly still needs to cover more groups. Human resources professionals have been seeking ways to better accommodate individuals with physical disabilities, such as workers who are deaf or use a wheelchair. An even larger community of people with unseen disabilities, such as mental illness and autism, also needs a place at the table. The March 28 edition of the Wall Street Journal quotes an 85% unemployment rate for adults with autism. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimating 1 in 68 children are on the autism spectrum, the need for meaningful employment options is growing. More individuals with mental disabilities are attaining college degrees, so we must move beyond just low-skilled sheltered workshops to programs that eliminate barriers to skilled employment. SAP is one of only a handful of companies experimenting with actively recruiting and fully utilizing individuals with Asperger’s.

Overall, I appreciated the frank discussion Mark provided on ways corporate responsibility is fully integrating corporate values into management practices. The more corporate responsibility becomes professionalized, the greater the impact we are likely to feel in community quality of life.

If that means better future options for my child with Asperger’s, then what a beautiful world that will be.