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Search for a Purpose

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Some problems may not be such a bad thing if we take a longer view. For example, the talent shortage of leadership roles for companies transitioning to make greater social impact points to a surge in businesses wishing to ‘do the right thing.’

For organizations seeking greater investment in communities in which they operate and/or serve, CSR models already exist. For example, B Lab began certifying B corporations in 2007, and it’s common knowledge that many high profile companies value more than the bottom line while at once enjoying immense financial ROI.

But after meeting to discuss conscious capitalism with local leaders, Tom Waldron, CEO of Waldron, a Seattle based firm specializing in Executive Search, Organizational Development, Leadership Consulting, Career Transition / Outplacement Services, and Executive Coaching, wanted to draw attention to something often off the radar—the critical need for talent in impact markets, especially in leadership and senior technical roles.

“People are writing a lot about the models, about corporations having more attractive profiles, but you don’t read much about the talent challenges and talent shortages of people with the expertise.”

The new trend towards social impact has created a disruption in an industry already playing catch-up to pre-existing needs the public sector has not been able to address. After 15 years of a young but vital corporate responsibility movement, enough corporations have shown a sincere interest in conscious capitalism, affecting every business sector from investing and investment analysis, to selling products and customer service.

Since everyone wants to play in this relatively new arena, it’s created a talent vacuum, and the talent pool can keep up only so far.

“People with expertise are far and few in between and in demand. If you take a brand new young industry and try to hire people who have experience, you’re recruiting only from a handful of people who are in that movement at that particular time.”
Tom Waldron, CEO Waldron

Urgency grows for solutions as more and more global organizations unfamiliar with how to establish philanthropic programs struggle, sometimes without knowing what questions to ask of more experienced foundations, NGOs, and technical service providers.

Corporate social responsibility has evolved into what Waldron calls the Upstream CSR now that many global companies operate more conscientiously downstream to focus on ethical labor, production, and environmental issues:

“Now what are you doing to get new people involved in volunteer activities, where are you putting your dollars, what are you doing about philanthropy, are you bold enough to say for every toothbrush we sell we’ll give one away … that’s the question being asked of leadership right now.”
Tom Waldron

So what creates a shortage when models and motivations exist? More engaged, more curious, and more skilled professionals, if not idealist, certainly reflect a future rich with potential to cast a new light on how business gets done. Waldron often speaks to students in advanced programs such as those at the University of Washington’s acclaimed Evans School of Business. There, he has found renewed interest in tackling social issues from within their chosen futures in corporate America.

What early steps can an organization take to get them on the right path? Melissa Merritt, Vice President of Executive Search in the nonprofit sector at Waldron, recommends that organizations identify what attributes set them apart from other less socially oriented companies and which bathe them in favorable light.

Merritt suggests asking the following questions as a first step:

“What are the building blocks of this sector that make an organization successful? Why is Company X different? What do we need at the leadership level that looks different than purely private sector organizations? And if you keep asking those questions, you’ll find that there are specific answers there.”
“But, you may find you have to collaborate where you don’t necessarily have authority, that’s not typical for a private sector company, you’re working across sectors and with community members where you don’t think you have any power ..”
“Eliminate bias so that the workplace fairly represents women and minorities. Examine core leadership qualities that define an engaged and thoughtful individual willing to forge concrete partnerships and true collaborations between business and community benefit.”
Melissa Merritt, Managing Director, Executive Search

Both Waldron and Merritt recognize the value of principled approaches to leadership training in schools and within corporate initiatives. They applaud successful programs already in place at Stanford, Harvard, Bard, and Evergreen. And yet, in this field a ready-made talent pool simply does not yet exist.

Leadership and board members need to understand, as well, that old power structures may turn out to be irrelevant and ineffective, rendering legacy positions of authority more rudderless than normal. That is to be expected but not feared or ignored, as new venues require new thinking.

Unless organizations learn how to respond and work in true partnership, little can happen. Leaders need to learn how to be an influencer yet still openly collaborate, without any assumed authority, but within different power structure.

Wishing and striving to get involved won’t happen without careful preparation—including close analysis of the pillars of a company’s brand, purpose, biases, operations, and staff-wide passion for social impact that in no small part represents the fabric of a prevailing core culture. And, the atmosphere for change must come from the top. The board, CEO, and other executives need to create the opportunities and incorporate them into daily life and overall company message.

 Visit our Relationship and Results page to discover more about Waldron's philosophy.