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CSR for the Soul

25 March 2015 at 10:21 am
Lina Caneva
The Australian arm of Deloitte, the world’s largest professional services firm, is quietly making a mark on its own terms, with the help of some ‘out-of-the-box’ approaches, to employee engagement, writes Nadia Boyce in this week’s Executive Insight.

Lina Caneva | 25 March 2015 at 10:21 am


CSR for the Soul
25 March 2015 at 10:21 am

The Australian arm of Deloitte, the world’s largest professional services firm, is quietly making a mark on its own terms, with the help of some ‘out-of-the-box’ approaches, to employee engagement, writes Nadia Boyce in this week’s Executive Insight.

Deloitte has more than 570 partners and 6000 employees located in 14 offices across Australia and is known for its youthful workforce, with roughly three quarters of its staff under 30. It is the second largest of the ‘Big 4” professional services firms in Australia, in the company of KPMG, EY and PwC.

In a sector that has developed a reputation for a progressive and proactive approach to CSR, Deloitte must now find its own way to stand out. To do that, it has elected to focus on staff, customising its programs to suit the corporate world’s frenzied office culture and to give its employees the option of supporting the causes that personally resonate with them.

Programs in Australia have been guided by Vanessa Cover, Deloitte’s National Director of “Responsible Business” – the term used to drive the organisation’s CSR initiatives worldwide.

Cover will leave Deloitte this month. Pro Bono Australia News spoke to her as she prepares to move on about how Deloitte has written its own rulebook based on the needs of its workforce and how new leadership at the top promises to boost CSR efforts in Australia.

Leadership for Purpose

Cover reflects positively on Deloitte’s progress during her time at the helm and sees great prospects for the department under the Australian arm’s new CEO.

“We’ve been on a journey,” she says.

“A lot of CSR strategy and programming is about working out who you are as an organisation – your values, and your soul basically, and how you can translate that back into the community.

“What we found is that we’ve got really strong business skills, and because of that, we’ve got great capacity to act – not just for Not for Profits, but also in shaping public policy. We can help the public sector, the Not for Profit sector and also other corporates through our client work, to help them harness their skills and expertise to make a difference around those socially complex issues.”

Buy-in from the top, Cover says, has played a significant role in advancing deeper thought and innovation around responsible business within the firm.

“The Chairman of Deloitte Global and the new CEO of Deloitte Global are really passionate in this space, which is great, and that feeds down into what we call the membership, of which [Deloitte] Australia is a part.

“I am responsible for a lot of the strategy and programming, so I tap into our global networks and get information about direction, themes and the like and then I make it fit for purpose in Australia. I also look at what’s on the radar in Australia.

“We’ve had the good fortune over the past couple of years of working with Cindy Hook, our new [Australian] CEO, who’s only just come in in February…When she put in her candidacy for CEO, she put [responsible business] as one of the top ten things she’d like to focus on.

“She’s been running alongside us and helping us and supporting us for the last 18 months and now that she’s CEO, it’s still on her agenda. Hopefully [Deloitte] can get the focus and investment we need to keep pushing forward on a lot of fronts.”

The Australian CSR team reports straight through to the Hook, and is notably lean in size considering the firm’s staff base in Australia. The team has consisted of Cover, the Deloitte Foundation Chair, an analyst and program manager, and a communications expert.

Cover says her team’s size has made its achievements quite remarkable, especially given other members of the ‘Big 4’ have up to ten people at their disposal.

“We do think leaner here,” Cover says. “For example, [instead of] coordinating volunteering within the department, I’ve structured the program so that any requests that come, whether it’s pro bono, general or skilled volunteering, I might vet that but then I feed it straight out to the business through different service lines.”

When Cover departs this month, her replacement, Gerry Voon, will be transferring to the role from Deloitte’s Strategy & Operations Consulting group – an appointment Deloitte says underlines its plan to more deeply embed corporate social responsibility into its business in future.

Finding Value in Expertise

Cover says Deloitte sets itself apart by providing employees with a framework in which they can use their expertise for good – whether through pro bono work, skilled volunteering or the firm’s online microvolunteering platform.

“We’ve set it up so community organisations can come to us and say ‘we’ve got this problem in our operations, we need help with our digital strategy,’ or, ‘we don’t know how to move forward in the social space because we don’t have a lot of funds’ – we can do things pro bono,” she says.  

Those less able to commit on a large scale have other alternatives.

“Skilled volunteering is really giving our people that opportunity and they’re not necessarily having to get involved in our pro bono work…[it’s] actually having the flexibility for them to go out and use their skills to make a difference in the community,” Cover says.  

“Our microvolunteering platform, out of all things, I think that would probably be the most innovative thing we are doing. We are the first of the big four [professional services firms] to be doing it in Australia – I haven’t heard of anyone else doing it.”

Launched in February last year, the online platform connects Deloitte employees with Not for Profits to assist them with the completion of small skilled tasks requiring four hours or less. It’s a perfect fit, Cover says, with the busy lives of Deloitte’s employees.  

“Not for Profits find it valuable, the fact they can tap into individuals’ expertise here at Deloitte, although a lot of their projects might require more than four hours. Plus you are developing a relationship around that, where [Not for Profits] can come back and ask questions around it and employees might start general volunteering in their own time and capacity.”

Cover says it took a long time to get the business case around the program and sell it back to the business based on its benefits. Consultation plays a role in shaping the program to ensure that business case remains strong.  

“[Participants] have all done at least one or two challenges, but while there are some consistently doing the same number of challenges each week, there are others whose frequency of participation has dropped off a bit,” she says.

“I don’t know whether that’s because they’re not engaged in the challenges being put out there by the Not for Profits, but the next step is to go back and say, ‘it’s been a year now, are we getting the right requests through from Not for Profits, is it engaging and inspiring people, and what is preventing people from doing it more frequently?’

“It’s about how you sustain the engagement when there are those challenges, and of course, if supply drops off on the Deloitte side, that impacts the participation of Not for Profits as well, who have put their challenges up there. You need to try and get some equilibrium between demand and supply.”

Going It Alone

Deloitte has been unafraid to pursue its employee engagement strategies in an unconventional way, Cover says, pointing to the firm’s workplace giving program, which is run internally despite stretched resources.

She looks back at the initial transition from an agency-run program to an inhouse one, recounting that “a lot of people said it wouldn’t work.”

“A lot of organisations go to an agency. We found that in the past we didn’t get a lot of people participating with an agency, so we decided to bring it in-house,” she says.

“We ‘do-it-yourself’, it’s our peoples’ program. We say to them, ‘look, we’re setting up this program. You choose, here are the causes we think you would like that sit in with our foundation and global strategy. But you tell us which charities you like, here are some good ones.’ We do our due diligence on those charities, then every three years we go back to our people and say ‘are these still the ones you like? how are things changing for you?

“Mental health, for example, is one that I’m getting a lot more requests for now, along with women's issues. It’s obviously becoming a lot more topical than it was when we launched it in 2012, so we’ll go back to our people again and make it more relevant.”

The program has 26 charities on its register, including the Deloitte Wishing Well, an extra channel established for those unsure where they wanted their money to go.

“We gave our people the option to donate to the Deloitte Wishing Well if they weren’t sure what charity they’d like to donate to,” Cover says. “On a quarterly basis we get an employee committee – junior people at the firm rather than senior partners –  and they look at the what’s been collected, maybe $50,000 every quarter, and they determine where that money goes.

“We try and be quite creative in thinking of ways of doing things that are a little different. And it’s worked a treat – it’s our most popular charity at the moment in terms of donations. I like the fact that we give that option to our people and I think they like that.”

Future Focused

With such a substantial portion of its workforce under 30, Cover says Deloitte must now shift its focus to meeting the needs of millennials with more than an “empty promise”.

“A lot of organisations have now embraced that concept of purpose – what is it beyond the profit-making machine that these corporates are? We have to spend time finding our purpose and bringing it to life – otherwise it’s an empty promise,” Cover says.

“I think millennials will judge organisations on their behaviours and whether they walk the talk. The culture will become stronger, [millennials] will be looking to get more engaged in these kinds of opportunities, and the more I think about it, I think for us that will be with skilled volunteering.

“Microvolunteering showed us that we were hitting the mark with tapping into our millennials and what they wanted – in terms of the way that they wanted to communicate and get involved. For them it was about Deloitte walking the talk, being innovative and creative and trying to find a solution that fits in with the culture [of the company] – being conscious of the type of climate it is and the time pressures our people have. They wanted to find something that could fit into their daily life.  

“Any responsible business or corporate social responsibility department needs to have nimble and flexible program design to cater to that.”

In her time in the role, Cover has observed mixed success with CSR in Australian businesses.

“My sense is that there are pockets of industries where they’re doing very well but I think we’ve got a long way to go generally,” she says. “If we think in terms of maturity, I think a lot of organisations are still at infancy, at the building stage. I really don’t think organisations have invested well in their programs and that they’re clear enough in understanding the benefits.

“Unfortunately I think in a lot of cases CSR is what I call a ‘bolt-on’ strategy, sitting in a department away form the core of business, and it needs to be integrated to make it live – and real – for business. Maybe that’s a reflection of the fact we’ve been through a Global Financial Crisis, everything got really tight, and it was about that bottom line, and CSR became peripheral.

“One of the real challenges is that Deloitte business has been fairly busy. We came off a slow peak with some uncertainty in the economy but for the last 12 months we’ve had a lot of business. We’ve been flat out and people are under a lot of pressure so they’re less inclined to have the motivation and time to do [volunteering]. We have to balance that out.

“Now it’s about moving [CSR] out of that peripheral- and back into the centre.”

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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