How to take your corporate social responsibility

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We all want to make a lasting impact; a tangible difference. On our friends’ lives, our families’, our colleagues or even on society. It’s the way we’re remembered; the way we define our legacy. We can do so through what we create, but also through what we achieve – how we change others’ lives for the better. As societal norms are shifting, there seems to be a growing trend among companies to focus on the latter. Success, it seems, is becoming second to corporate social responsibility. Pascale Van Damme, Vice President VMware and Boomi at Dell Technologies couldn’t agree more. “Your company is going to be remembered for its contribution to society,” she tells us when we sat down with her. “So, naturally, that’s where your focus should be.”

Corporate social responsibility starts with a plan – one with multiple layers. After achieving most of its goals for 2020, Dell Technologies shelved their Legacy of Good strategy to make way for a new, even more ambitious mission: Progress Made Real. Its focus? Human-machine partnerships in a sustainable way. “We’ve asked ourselves, what can we, with the solutions Dell Technologies offers, contribute to society?” reflects Van Damme. “How can we add value to our world?”

Getting to know your employees

The starting point? Dell’s very own employees. “As an organization that’s willing to make change, you have to put into practice what you preach. So, the very first thing we did in the last decade is diversify our workforce – we strived to make it as inclusive as possible,” she continues. But that’s only the beginning. “It starts with hiring a diverse group of people. People from different cultures, genders, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds,” Van Damme affirms. “But in order to be inclusive. To really be diverse, you must foster relationships. You have to understand what drives people, what they are going through, how they look at the world and what problems they’re tackling in their professional and personal lives.”

As a manager, that means showing an interest in someone’s life; truly cultivating a relationship with them. It means asking someone how they are, what they’re working on, how their personal life is, what they’re struggling with. “It was a challenge to get all of our leaders aboard. And understandably so, because it deviates from the more conservative schools of management.”

And yet, connecting with people is essential to the survival of your business. “A diverse workforce is a more productive workforce”, she continues. “Once you really understand people, you can map their strengths and see what drives them.” With that, you can start building a skill-tree and see where their strengths lie. “The numbers don’t lie. 5.4 million people are going to have to constantly work on their skills to ready them for the labor market. To get to know your employees, is getting to know their skillset. That way, you can help them hone those skills, or even re-skill them so that they can use these skills when and wherever the labor market demands it. And right now, that’s more important than ever.”

Sustainability made real

At a big corporation of course, fostering an inclusive workforce simply isn’t going to cut it. You need to think bigger. Production, especially for companies like Dell Technologies, is imperative to their existence. To do that in a sustainable manner, requires a look at your mode of production. A sustainable supply chain is vital if you want to future-proof your company. And that, according to Van Damme, is exactly what Dell Technologies did.

“We had to look at a sustainable way of working with our resources. We quickly found out that sustainability, for us, meant contributing to a circular economy. One where raw material doesn’t go to waste,” she explains. One of the ways Dell Technologies limits their ecological footprint is through organic packaging. “The bulk of our packaging is made from fungi and grain. It’s easy, recyclable, doesn’t destroy the environment and doesn’t cost as much as electricity to make. In other words, it reduces the cost for the customer and is better for our planet. That’s a win-win in my book.”

As part of their sustainable philosophy, Dell Technologies also introduced the repurposing of used hardware. For IT-behemoths, new technology quickly gets dated, while others might still find it useful – companies who need the capacity but aren’t as concerned with having the latest tech available to them. Dell Technologies repurposes the hardware for them and implements it at a lower cost. That way, old hardware still finds a home, and all parties involved significantly reduce e-waste.

Technology meets empathy

But what about innovation? As a tech company, people still tend to recognize you mostly for your technological achievements. “One doesn’t rule out the other,” Van Damme affirms. “In fact, they complement each other very well. It’s what Progress Made Real is all about – fostering human-machine partnerships in a sustainable way.”

“Make no mistake: in the upcoming years and decades, technology is going to change everything,” she continues. “Artificial intelligence, automation and machine learning will change the way we work. Jobs we had are going to disappear and make way for intelligent machines. But, they’re not a threat to us. People seem to think that we’re going to lose jobs, but that’s not the case. In fact, we did research with Agoria and as it turns out, for every job that is lost, 3.1 new ones appear.”

Van Damme: “Technology is going to enhance our work – it’s going to be an extension of ourselves. AI will do our paperwork, automation’s going to run our pesky tasks. Ultimately, we’ll have way more time to focus on what really matters: innovation, cultivating relationships and building a stronger, more productive workforce. It’ll allow us to connect with our colleagues more.”

Van Damme’s philosophy seems to overlap with the general consensus that new technologies are going to lead to more interpersonal connections between people. “What remains is empathy,” Van Damme continues. “In the medical world, for example, AI will run diagnostics for patients, which means that doctors are going to have more time to focus on the patient. Sure, they’ll have to change the way they work, but ultimately it’s going to be more exciting and fulfilling for them.

Making a lasting impact

“Ultimately, it’s about our community, the environment and the people,” says Van Damme. “To make an impact, to truly make a tangible difference in the years to come, those are the areas that you need to focus on as a business. That should be the core of how you define corporate social responsibility. Having great ideas or making a lot of money just doesn’t cut it anymore. You have to put your money where your mouth is and contribute to society. Give back to the communities, people and planet that made your company. Otherwise, history isn’t going to be kind to you.”

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