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Community Service is Good Business

When Steve Martino, Cisco’s vice president of information technology, drives along Route 101 in San Jose, Calif., he thinks about deadlines to meet, programs to initiate, and teams to lead through upcoming projects. But there is another set of thoughts which permeates his mind– those of the Habitat for Humanity projects he has led, which he can actually see from the highway.

“I enjoy being able to drive past a home or development that we worked on, see that result and say ‘I had something to do with that,’” Martino said. “Those people have a home and are happy in part because I invested time in it.”

Martino’s story is just one example of the ways Cisco managers are leading – both at Cisco and in their communities. That commitment received a boost on May 22 and 23, at the annual gathering of Cisco’s 3,500 senior leaders to discuss business objectives and goals for the upcoming year. Called the Senior Leadership Experience (SLX), this global meeting marked the launch of Cisco’s VolunteerX, a year-long, global initiative designed to reinvigorate community service among Cisco’s executives with Cisco’s core volunteering beliefs.

The goal is to inspire senior leaders to drive community engagement throughout the company. The community service effort actually kicked off right at SLX, with 36 different volunteer projects for Cisco’s senior leaders, at 20 world locations.

For Ron Ricci, vice president of corporate positioning and the driving force behind SLX, leadership starts at the top – and that’s as true in the community as it is in sales or product development.

“This is about our leaders demonstrating that they walk the walk and talk the talk of Cisco’s community values,” said Ricci, who serves on the board of directors for the Bill Wilson Center, a nonprofit that serves homeless and youth. “At Cisco, we don’t look at volunteering just as a nice-to-do, we see it as an essential differentiator.”

The positive impact of volunteering is central to the goals of Cisco VolunteerX.  The companyaims to reach 150,000 companywide volunteer hours, and raiseat least $1million in matching funds for that service, by next May.  In addition, the company is competing by function and region to recognize the most active participants.

Why is Cisco doing this? Volunteerism betters the overall health of a business by promoting teamwork, increasing morale, and improving employee retention, loyalty, and productivity. Corporate volunteering efforts, such as Cisco VolunteerX,also allow employees to feel part of a common cause; teammates around the globe get work on something with a meaningful and fulfilling purpose.

Additionally, as communities continue to experience the effects of the economic downturn, societal needs are greater. The National Conference on Citizenship in 2011 released a study that indicates communities with more civic engagement see lower unemployment numbers than those with less or none at all.  The more people volunteer, the more their communities benefit as a whole.

Jackie Norris, executive director of the Points of Light Corporate Institute, which works with companies to engage their employees and customers in community service, indicated that the current need for corporate volunteering results from a combination of factors.

“Businesses are seeing communities crumbling in front of their eyes,” Norris said. “There’s an internal interest to help that comes from this, as well as external causes encouraging companies to do their part.  We really see companies like Cisco as possessing resources and strategies to mobilize to help solve community problems.”

According to the United Healthcare/Volunteer Match Do Good Live Well Study, not only do employees who volunteer through their job report better relationships with colleagues and a more positive view of their employers, they also profess higher ratings on indicators of well-being than non-volunteers. They benefit from stronger social connectivity and support, which helps protect against health problems while also increasing job satisfaction – and decreasing absenteeism and the potential for job burnout.

Major volunteer initiatives also enhance corporate image and reputation, building brand awareness and affinity.  Volunteering with customers and business partners strengthens trust and loyalty, which assist businesses in reaching strategic goals. When buyers seek a service or product, a vendor active in the community will be top-of-mind. People buy from and work with companies they respect, as volunteer efforts touch upon the human interest of potential buyers and partners.

Cisco has seen results from volunteering efforts on a global scale. In March, 14 campus locations united for “Full Circle,” a volunteer initiative created by Cisco’s inside sales team.  John Donovan, vice president of worldwide inside sales, who spearheadedFull Circle, recalls, “The focus was about giving time, not raising money. You can sit on a website and click and donate $20, but that doesn’t necessarily have an impact on somebody else – it’s all about giving your time and directly helping someone.”

The Full Circle program went beyond employees helping in the community, providing an opportunity to build teamwork among staffers participating around the world. “It was a chance to spend time with colleagues outside of work for a few hours, creating a team identity around an event,” Donovan said. “We’re a global organization, so it was good to do something that leveraged and reinforced that.”

Full Circle is one initiative used to inspire senior leaders at SLX.  Sandra Wheatley, director of global community relations, who is leading Cisco VolunteerXadded, “Through this initiative, we can remind employees about the interconnected relationships that branch out from our work into our communities.  We touch nearly every part of the community in some way and that gives us the ability to engage with a wide range of people and organizations.”

Cisco VolunteerX benefits Cisco’s business, its employees, and surrounding communities. “I think you have to start with the basic presumption that doinggood is good for business,” said Ricci. “It’s acknowledging what it takes to be a good company, while reminding people that this is who we are, this is what we stand for.”

Why do you think it is important for companies and their employees to perform community service? Please share your comments on this post.

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