(In an effort to drive social change and social impact, many companies are adopting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. These programs not only result in direct community impact but can also drive many benefits including increased job performance. West Monroe Partners, a business consulting firm in Chicago, serves as a great example of how companies can succeed in driving profit and social change. In the first of a two-part series of interviews, we will provide insight into how to implement corporate social responsibility programs and what benefits they can bring to an organization)
Our first interviewee is Doug Armstrong, Chief Operating Officer at West Monroe Partners – Doug, please tell me how you became involved with corporate social responsibility?
I’m responsible for promoting collaboration and operational consistency across all our offices. I’m also the leader of our Chicago office and Central Region. I joined West Monroe Partners in 2004 to lead its Customer Experience practice, and prior to that, I was a partner with Arthur Andersen’s Business Consulting practice.
West Monroe’s mission is to develop the next generation of leaders. That means creating opportunities for our people to not only be leaders at our firm and for our clients, but in our communities as partners with nonprofits working to solve tough challenges. As COO I play a large role in administering our CSR program and initiatives. For me, I’ve always felt that it’s important to have a positive impact where we live.
Why is it important for companies to engage the greater community and drive social good?
We know the success of our firm, and of any other company, ultimately depends on the health and viability of the people, communities, and environment around us and we believe companies have an obligation to give back to those communities. We know the today’s workforce wants to work somewhere where they feel empowered to make an impact, and as a people-first firm we want to provide opportunities to do so—it’s deeply important to our people. Companies have a tremendous amount of resources to give—not only financially, but also as expertise. Some of our most impactful work is through providing our skills and experience to help extend the scale and capabilities of nonprofits on the front-line of tackling our communities’ toughest challenges.
What was the process that led West Monroe Partners to develop and implement a CSR policy?
We have always been dedicated to corporate giving, but it started very grassroots, in line with our entrepreneurial culture. As we grew, we knew we needed to put more structure around our giving back policy and help guide our people who were looking for opportunities to give back. In 2010, at the urging of our people and our leadership, the firm made the first—and so far, only—change to the core values that the firm was founded on by adding “social responsibility” as a value. Then, in 2011 we established our “1+1+1 program,” through which we donate one percent of our time, one percent of our treasure (profit) and one percent of our talent (pro bono work) each year to organizations in our communities. Although we like to think of ourselves as policy light, formalizing our CSR policy allowed us to establish greater focus and coordination for our already robust corporate giving initiatives – enabling us to manage and track efforts better across the growing organization while setting very aggressive goals that will increase the company’s overall contributions and impact.
As we continue to grow, the program has evolved. This year we are working to sharpen our focus even more on the issues that impact our local markets most significantly so we can make a bigger impact. To have more of an employee voice around social issues, we surveyed our Chicago office asking them to select two social issues that are important to them and where they felt they could have a direct and positive impact. The top issues were education and job training. This will inform the direction of our strategic giving moving forward.
CSR is embedded into our DNA and our employees feel a deep sense of ownership and responsibility to shepherd our CSR program forward. Of course, we have a standard employee giving matching program, but we also offer many other opportunities for employees to get involved in our CSR efforts. Our charitable efforts are driven by “Chief Charity Officers” who manage Charity Committees in each of our offices – these are employees at a range of levels who volunteer to manage the execution of our CSR program. Each office is empowered to choose organizations in their own communities to support, and employees are invited to nominate organizations they work with for pro-bono opportunities. Our National Day of Service, a day where our employees step away from client offices and volunteer in one united effort, is almost entirely managed by our employees, with support from leadership. Our leaders are encouraged to join nonprofit boards in their communities, and our executive team provides mentorship to our people with respect to community leadership, helping them identify and engage with organizations and seek opportunities to serve on boards.
We also offer a program called the Fischer Global Service Fellowship Program, which provides West Monroe employees with a three- to six-month leave to support a philanthropic and humanitarian issue of interest, anywhere in the world. Employees must apply for the Fellowship by identifying an organization or cause they want to support, and then presenting a proof-of-concept to executive leadership to demonstrate how they will use their expertise to support the work of the organization. Our 2019 class is our largest ever, with eight fellows working both at home and abroad on causes they care deeply about.
What have been your most notable results/outcomes?
For our 2019 National Day of Service, which just took place on June 14, nearly 1,100 employees gave a total of 6,264 hours of their time to 38 organizations in nine cities. Last year, we donated $2.6M in pro-bono consulting work. I’m also proud of some of the long-term relationships we’ve built with nonprofit organizations. For example, we’ve partnered with CommunityHealth since 2009, helping to create a reliable technology infrastructure that has allowed their team to gain efficiency and focus on what they do best: providing high-quality care to those in need. William Hinde, managing director of West Monroe’s Healthcare and Life Sciences practice, joined CommunityHealth’s board of directors in 2013 to help serve the organization and community in an even larger capacity. We were honored this year to receive the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award for our work with CommunityHealth, presented by the Serve Illinois Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service. Last year we were also named one of PEOPLE’s 50 Companies That Care, which spotlights 50 U.S. companies that have succeeded in business while also demonstrating respect, compassion, and concern for their communities, their employees, and the environment. While we don’t do this work for the awards, third-party recognition helps validate we are on the right track.
For any other companies looking to implement a corporate social responsibility program, do you have any recommendations and/or “best practices” to follow?
Seek to amplify what nonprofit organizations in your community are already doing – they are the experts on the issues facing your city. We want to use our expertise and resources to help nonprofits scale their efforts, versus coming in and creating work or pretending like we know best.
Also, find ways for your people to having meaningful involvement in a structured way. There’s a business benefit to that – it leads to improved employee engagement and loyalty, which is a differentiator in today’s tight talent market. We’ve adopted both a bottom-up and top-down approach – it’s important for employees to have just as much of a voice in directing time and funds for organizations they care about, but to have the most impact, like any program, it must be managed cohesively.
Third, stay focused – that might mean focused on a specific location, or a few issues that are most meaningful to your business and people. That will keep you from spreading your efforts too thinly, and allow you to create a greater impact overall.
And finally, find ways for everyone to be involved, and for leadership to be involved side-by-side with your employees—there’s a lot of power in leadership modeling community service and working alongside employees.
(Special thanks to Doug Armstrong of West Monroe Partners for his time and insight. Please join us on Wednesday for part two of our special series of interviews with West Monroe Partners. Until then, please leave comments below or reach out to us via Facebook, LinkedIn or email. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out our next installment)