As a church-going kid, I knew there was this moment during each church service when a predictable cast of characters would saddle up to the end of the pew and begin the simple but elegantly choreographed task of collecting the offering. The felt-lined plate would pass hand to hand down the row collecting a stack of envelopes, paper money and even a few spare coins on its journey. For many parishioners, it was a singular moment in their week where they could give back in a significant way – an important step in furthering good in the world. You could say that their lives were divided into two categories – work and then everything else, including leaving that indelible mark on the world that their Sunday offering represented.
I believe that for the most part, humans are creatures who seek out purpose and meaning for our lives. Yet conversely, many people have accepted the narrative that doing good largely can’t happen on company time and, unfortunately, meaning and purpose often gets pushed to the margins of our lives. Sure, we can pitch in for a coworker that is sick, drop some change in a bucket at the mall or even help collect canned goods for a food drive, but these worthwhile tasks are often merely tangential to the primary responsibility of putting food on the table.
But as Dylan is often quoted saying, “The times, they are a-changing.” Companies, employees and customers alike are starting to recognize that this old model just isn’t enough anymore. We’re in the middle of what may be a dramatic shift in the way that businesses approach purpose, meaning and making a difference in the world. I sat down with Ryan McCarty of Culture of Good – a company that helps other companies inspire employees, ignite positive change and impact the bottom line – to discuss what happens when a business takes these issues seriously and what it could mean for us all.
David: So Ryan, can you give us just a touch of back-story behind the Culture of Good?
Ryan: Sure. I had always worked in non-profits and my partner, Scott Moorehead, had been involved in for-profit work and one day we decided to see what it would be like to bring the soul of the non-profit to the for-profit business model. We wanted to create a way for companies to give their employees permission to care and to bring their soul to work. Having worked as a pastor and in non-profit work, talking to people about having a mission and doing meaningful work was an everyday conversation but those conversations happen less in for-profit business. Scott and I came together first for his company TCC (the largest Verizon Authorized Retailer with 3,000 employees at 800 stores across the U.S.) with the understanding that companies and employees should all do their work with purpose and meaning and in a way that makes the world a better place. It’s actually something that is commonly known or understood but not commonly practiced. It’s something that doesn’t happen often enough because people don’t always understand that it actually makes good business sense and makes the world a better place. There isn’t an argument against that.
David: Can you explain what you mean by Culture of Good or how it works?
Ryan: The end game for us is really to get our clients to the point where they can make a promise to their employees and to their customers that as they continue to grow and do well that they will leverage that success to do greater good in the world. In that promise they’re telling their employees that they can bring their soul to work and that they will be encouraged and resourced to do meaningful work. For their customers, it’s a promise to not only take the money that they spend with them and do good with it but that they will invite them into that culture and give opportunities for even their customers to participate. Often times when working with clients, the company knows that they want to build culture but they don’t know what the end game is. They want to manage employees and maintain customers or build brand loyalty but we feel that building this culture of good and helping them understand how to make the world a better place is a much better proposition that still achieves those goals. It’s a more profound way of doing business. We want to help them get beyond the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs and really build the culture of the company around a cause that’s core to the business and makes sense emotionally to the employees and the customers. We create disruptive moments that become predicable movements.
David: Why now? Are there particular social or societal forces at play here?
Ryan: Millennials are slowly becoming the new workforce and Gen Xer’s are settled into careers. They’re now employees, employers and have purchasing power. We’re talking about generations that have a major impact on business and they also understand their impact on the world. Because of connectivity and technology younger people understand that their decisions have impact. Even something like buying a shirt and seeing that buying shirt A over shirt B will help clothe a kid in need. 20 years ago people didn’t see their purchases as activism or advocacy. Now they care about what is happening with that money after it leaves their pocket and they can see what is happening with it. Once you know, you have to do something with that information. You can either push it away and say too bad for the world or you have to say if I buy this, this is how it impacts the environment or this cause or our community. Companies are having to address this knowledge and knowing their impact has created a new focus on what they buy, who they work with, and who they do business with. Younger buyers are also more interested in spending money on experiences and they want the same from their work environment. They want an experience that shows them their impact. Companies that can do that really differentiate themselves beyond just having great customer service or low prices by creating a culture that shows employees and customers the impact they’re making.
David: So is this a non-negotiable at this point in the market?
Ryan: It’s a non-negotiable. Companies will be forced into understanding that profit and good can’t be separated. CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs are a good place to start but they’re often seen as HR programs or marketing programs and employees understand that they’re ultimately still about profit, not about purpose and meaning. That’s why authenticity is so important. What many CSR programs become guilty of is that they are doing good so that they can make more profit. The Culture of Good says instead that you do good so you can make more profit so you can do more good. It doesn’t stop with profit alone. The thing is that it’s not choosing good over profit. It’s actually recognizing that you can make a profit and do good. The ROI is measurable too. For TCC the Culture of Good actually saved money, around 5.8 million a year in customer loyalty, higher performance and employee turnover. This isn’t a flavor of the month or another consultant that comes in to help build profit margin. It’s a long-term promise to the employee and customer that changes the way you do business. For companies that are overly concerned with quarterly earnings that’s a little more difficult, but again this is a non-negotiable in the long run.
David: We could make this sound heavy and like a new “thing” to do but this positively transforms the business right?
Ryan: It’s giving these businesses a purpose that matters beyond just doing business. You can see it on the business owner’s face. You’ve got employees that are showing up to work, even in a retail space, because they know their “why.” In other words, they can connect their everyday work to everyday good. It moves them away from this idea that you have to separate making a living and doing good or that in order to do that you would have to go work for a non-profit. This is an idea that has been evolving for some time and many companies have somewhat embraced doing good but they’ve seen it as more of a program or it’s a patch sewn onto the company. We want to make doing good a part of the everyday work experience. We want companies to define how everything makes an impact, even something as simple as putting a box on a shelf. This is especially important for companies that have a millennial employee base. We find it really significant to take a different angle on this with our idea that culture is what people are doing and thinking most of the time. Rather than culture being something that is mystical and elusive like putting in ping pong tables and craft beer on Fridays. We’re saying that culture starts on the inside of people, what they care about and what they care about together with the company. That turns employees into believers and disciples. They’re going beyond expectation and getting out into their communities to make a difference. That transforms a company.
David: So how can a company start in on this process?
Ryan: Simply asking questions would be one place to start. Who are your employees? Survey your customers. Try to figure out what your customers care about. How does it align with what you do as a business? Is there a way to do good in the world through your business that aligns emotionally with what your employees and customers care about? What kind of impact is core to who you are? Why did you start this business in the first place? What problem were we trying to solve? How does that make the world better and how can you identify a cause that your employees and customers will care about? That’s how it becomes cultural. It can’t be randomly picked out of the air because maybe the owner cares about it. It really needs to align to the employees, customers and the business. We even see a lot of businesses that are trying to do good like volunteering together or doing Habitat for Humanity which are great things but if they are not aligned into the business it’s going be hard to get any momentum early on. Create those disruptive moments and find some easy wins that can build as you go.
The Culture of Good offers consulting, training, speaking and specialized tool kits to help companies build a culture that inspires employees to ignite positive change in the world and impact their bottom line – positively. You can also buy their book here.
The Story Shop helps brands tell their story of doing good in the world. You can see our solutions here.