Though I’ve always known it, I don’t think I’ve ever written about it— running an ethical business that is socially responsible can pay big dividends. The fact is that the more educated your clients are, the more concerned they are about doing business with “good” companies, i.e., companies who are good stewards of the environment, who give back to their communities, who treat their employees well, and who act as if they have some higher-level values beyond making high profits. In other words, being “good” is good for business. What kinds of things am I talking about that an A/E/P or environmental consulting firm could do? Here are some examples:Creating a scholarship program for smart kids from needy families. This could be as little as $1,000 a year given to one student, or many thousands if your firm is large enough to afford it. And what a great PR opportunity this can be! Using employees as part-time teachers in the community. Many firms have volunteered their people to make math more relevant, to teach elementary school kids about different careers, and more, all on company time. Your employees will feel good about teaching. Organizing employees around a common volunteer effort. Whether it’s “Habitat for Humanity” or your local soup kitchen over the Christmas holiday, these kinds of activities are good for morale, build teamwork, and build pride in being part of a company that sponsors them. Raising money for a common cause. Whether it’s the United Way campaign or a 10-mile walk for the American Cancer Society, getting your people together to make a large, impactful contribution feels good. It’s also bound to be noticed. Taking a public stand against something that would be bad for the community. This is one of the tougher aspects of social responsibility, especially if the offender is someone who is a potential client for the company. That said, if something bad is going to happen that you, as a united group of owners feel should be stopped, speak up! That could be a sign ordinance that’s going to be made less restrictive or new planning regulations that reduce vertical building height the closer things get to the street. Or, it could be a new road going somewhere it shouldn’t. Investing in redevelopment of a blighted or forlorn area. An example of this would be when Bill Clinton put his post-presidential office in Harlem. What great PR! A/E firms have similar opportunities to get involved as drivers of redevelopment and revitalization when we invest in renovating or rebuilding in the not-so-great parts of town. Providing some sort of unusual benefit for your employees that goes above and beyond what’s normal. An example of this would be free child care for all employees who need it or full tuition reimbursement for any employee earning their first real degree. A word of caution: Being a socially responsible firm is not just some kind of a management program or “flavor of the week” that you can paint on to a company with a long history of not doing these things. It has to be an integral part of the firm’s culture, driven from the top down. It takes many different forms and actions, and a lot of time to make it real. How does your firm rate on the social responsibility scale? If it’s time to make some changes, get working!Originally published 5/08/2006
About Zweig Group
Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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