Wrapping Up: For PwC's CSR Leader, Winning Stakeholder Trust Was Half the Battle

by Aman Singh Das | August 06, 2010

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After discussing the importance of focused messaging—"The focus on doing good in a holistic sense is stronger at the undergraduate level, while MBA students are more strategic"—PwC's Corporate Responsibility Leader Shannon Schuyler and I switched tracks to how she is leading change internally at a company, whose employees stretch to 19 markets and 80 offices.

Employee Engagement and Volunteering

In a recent Huffington Post article, Schuyler had discussed employee engagement, stating that employees want to work for companies that provide them with the opportunity to give back to the communities where they live and work. I asked her how that translated internally for PwC. "We definitely expect that once you come to work at PwC, giving back, volunteering and being responsible leaders are inherent to your actions to be successful. For example, on day one of our orientation for experienced hires, we spend three hours discussing their culture and values, and how that relates to work responsibilities and who we are as a firm," she said.

New hires (entry level as well) also get to participate in joint bike-building sessions, where, according to Schuyler, employees get to see the firm's culture of giving back firsthand. Further, she said, the firm also offers unlimited paid time off during the year to "spend on any firm-sponsored volunteer activity and an additional 10 hours for people to spend doing something they want to do personally." The ROI: In 2009 alone, hours spent by employees on volunteer activities equaled $30 million that the company could have otherwise billed to clients.

Responsibility begins at the top

For any company-wide initiative to work and take hold, it requires a dedicated commitment from the top. The message is certainly clear to several companies, with recent examples including ING, Akzo Nobel and Xcel Energy, who tie compensation packages to progress in sustainability goals. Should we expect a similar move from one of the country's largest accounting firm?

"For people who are specifically responsible for those areas, yes, a portion of their compensation is tied directly to their progress in corporate responsibility. For example, diversity professionals are evaluated on diversity numbers. For our partners, we look at a balanced scorecard, which includes factors like staff turnover, etc.," informed Schuyler. She quickly added, however, that PwC's U.K. offices had "started including individual metrics like measuring carbon footprint," in compensation packages.

Accept Failure, Learn & Move on

It's not that Schuyler doesn’t realize that the road ahead remains equally undefined and full of roadblocks. "Here in the U.S., we're not there yet," she said. She also didn't beat around the bush, admitting early into our conversation that the task of setting up the firm's first-ever CR department and all the accomplishments that followed, in fact, started with failure and involved many sacrifices along the way.

"In the beginning I thought, here's this strategy around corporate responsibility, and I felt I saw it clearly mapped out in my mind: I'm going to get everyone to agree that this is what we have to do, get them to a table, and we're going to have a common platform that we'll work on toward building this organization. I quickly realized, though, that that was not going to work."

And it didn’t in the beginning. But realizing that simply feeling strongly about an issue wasn’t enough for everyone on the table to agree ensured the way forward became less bumpy. What followed were months of trial and error and finally, an acute observation, one that many in the field continue to hit against:

"People weren't going to come to the table or invest in this, from a personal or a business standpoint just based off of my perspective alone. I needed to create four or five or, in some cases, seven different business cases for why each one of these people should come to the table. As long as I could get these different stakeholders engaged based on individualized perspectives of the value-add, they all would come. Eventually, there can be agreement that everyone might be doing this for a different reason, but, at the end of the day, it is something that's valuable for the firm, for my service offering, and for my business area."

The road to redefining an entire company culture can be a long one. For Schuyler, the last few years have accomplished much that she is proud of. "Today, the same people who had to be shown siloed perspectives are able to see from other people's point of view. I finally see an evolution because now people are saying, “This is why I care about it most of all…”, but they also get why it's important from others' perspective."

And when you win the trust of your stakeholders, consider half the battle won.

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Visit our Career Advice section to read the complete interview with PwC's Corporate Responsibility Lead Shannon Schuyler.

Also read: PwC's CSR Leader: "I had to accept that some people weren't going to come to the table or invest in this"

Filed Under: CSR

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