Shared-Value Strategy: A Fundamental Change That HR Should Embrace

Article main image
Mar 12, 2013

Why are market leaders behaving like non-profits, and what does this mean for your workforce and company culture?

Today, a surprising number of global market leaders are integrating explicit social and environmental goals into their business objectives.

While this “higher-purpose” realignment is anything but universal right now, it is a highly visible trend among industry mainstays like GE, Procter & Gamble, IBM, and General Mills, to name just a few.

Why HR should keep tabs on the “shared-value” strategy

And this approach is being embraced enthusiastically by smaller companies too, like online eyeglass vendor Warby-Parker, which sends a free pair of glasses to the developing world for every pair it sells (see video below).

HR professionals in other organizations should keep tabs on this shared-value or, as it’s also known, triple-bottom-line (“people, planet, profit”) strategy. Why? Because…

  1. It signals a fundamental readjustment in market strategy and value creation among some industry leaders and other early adopters. It’s a strategic realignment usually originating with senior management and extending far deeper into enterprise planning than traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, and even what’s come to be popularly known as “sustainability” initiatives.
  2. The growing adoption of these higher-purpose business strategies goes right to issues central in enlightened human capital management, notably organizational values, employee motivation, and culture.
  3. As it spreads, triple bottom-line awareness will certainly exert some influence (either directly or obliquely) on most organizations’ talent branding, recruiting, and retention practices, even if they are not shared-value proponents.

Shared value equals human capital value

It’s certainly reasonable to anticipate that committed triple bottom-line companies will increasingly highlight mission and values in their recruiting and retention initiatives. In competitive terms, if nothing else, this has important implications for talent branding and employee engagement programs everywhere.

After all, innumerable surveys have demonstrated that Millennial job seekers, for example, harbor aspirations to work at organizations that “make a difference.” So it’s probably prudent to pay some attention to the appeal of higher-purpose corporate strategies among your current and potential employees, even if your company is not explicitly committed to a triple bottom line.

If you don’t take action in some manner as this trend unfolds, you could lose potential hires and even current team members. Here are three (3) elementary suggestions for leveraging shared-value awareness, somewhat roughly organized, for starters, according to where your enterprise might stand (or not figure) on the path to triple bottom-line adoption.

If you are already an HR team member in a shared-value enterprise, or one that’s evolving in this direction …

From the standpoint of recruiting, retention and organizational culture, you’re potentially in great shape. If your recruiting outreach is not already highlighting corporate higher-purpose projects, certainly consider:

  • Underscoring the industry-forefront, internal innovation and goodwill aspects inherent in your organization’s commitment to shared value.
  • Bringing your company’s underlying service ethic front and center in your Employer Value Proposition (EVP) and talent brand wherever they manifest themselves. As you know, this can involve real-world case studies, employee experience narratives (forget “testimonials”), and concrete people-centered explanations of the company’s higher-purpose strategy, all amply illustrated and/or showcased in video form, and consistently present in all your online, print and event outreach, including social media.

Remember also: your retention and employee engagement efforts can benefit from these emphases as well.

If you work for a nonprofit organization, or for an operational partner in a shared-value initiative …

You also stand to benefit, as most shared-value practitioners (including many of the big players cited above) cannot pull off triple bottom-line operations solely under their own steam. As the General Mills case I cite above shows, shared-value initiatives often depend on “clusters” of partners from industry, from locally-based businesses and from the non-profit realm.

If your enterprise is invited into a role supporting such an initiative, you can benefit from the same recruiting, retention and corporate cultural advantages as larger initiators of shared-value efforts. What’s more, especially if you work for a nonprofit or small business, you enjoy the “halo” effect of partnering with a high-prestige company, generally a distinctive branding, recruiting and retention leg up over other organizations in your immediate sphere.

If you work for a traditional company that does not embrace the triple-bottom-line perspective…

With a little effort you may still be able to benefit, at least tangentially. While you may not be able to shift your company’s business strategy, you can at least elicit senior management interest by pointing to the growing adoption of shared value among industry leaders, and to the inherent goodwill and human capital value this trend embodies.

At the very least, this can bolster your case for strengthening corporate social responsibility and/or employee volunteerism programs. If you’re successful, revitalizing these activities can enrich your enterprise’s employer brand and retention programs through the back door, if you will.

The gathering momentum of shared-value awareness today signals a fundamental shift in business strategy worldwide, and most importantly in the way enterprises account for the value they create. Look for triple bottom-line awareness to become a driving motivation among other big companies and even mid-sized and small enterprises.

At the same time it will boost the health and future prospects of nonprofits savvy enough to offer themselves as shared-value partners. So watch this trend, because it holds important implications for the way we attract and retain committed team members, and because of that for the future success of our businesses and nonprofits.