It’s now been several weeks since I attended the 18thAnnual Charities@Work Employee Engagement Summit. I find myself going back to a question posed during one of the pre-workshop sessions: When a corporation rolls out a global employee volunteering program, how do practitioners keep the program locally relevant?
First, let me say from experience: A global program is a lot of work. No office, region, or geography is the same – there are business, cultural, social, and economic angles that need to be considered before you try to launch a global program. It absolutely cannot be a one-size-fits-all strategy. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t work! Here are key elements to consider as you sit down to figure out your rollout strategy.
Does the program fit the context?
Cultural awareness is key to success. You’ve got to know your audience and the employees your program caters to. Being aware of contextual differences is crucial: look at pre-existing hierarchies, structures, or policies that are influenced by a country’s culture. Look at capacity and work flexibility within business lines, as well as department or team structures. For example, teams that are driven by quarterly performance results will need to be addressed and engaged differently than employees operating with higher degrees of professional freedom and flexibility. Look at the social challenges and issues in that location. Ask employees what matters to them, and make sure there’s room in your program for the issues they want to tackle. If you want your program to be a global success, it must consider all contexts and demonstrate clear value propositions that speak to local management and employees.
How fast are you rolling it out?
A single implementation phase where you target all geographies at once is doable, but doesn’t give you much space to evaluate your progress – or to learn from your mistakes. If you start by partnering with existing local volunteer networks to build out your global volunteer program, it can provide you with useful time for learning – fail early, fail often! You can improve the roll-out process with every new phase. Keep in mind that multi-phase rollouts have higher rates of success if you start by considering the maturity and reach of existing volunteer networks. Ask yourself: where and how big are your employee volunteer networks? How connected? How active? Who leads them? Work with local leaders to garner support and develop the structure for your global program.
Good communication is half the battle.
Make sure you’ve identified and connected with your most important stakeholders and teams in advance. Everyone involved needs an in-depth understanding of the launch process and program purpose. Stakeholders need to be able to speak with one voice. Maintain clear and transparent communication with stakeholders prior to and throughout the rollout to ensure clarity and to stay aligned. Be aware of existing regional or local communication channels and cadences and leverage them wherever possible. Collaboration with regional and local communication teams can be one of the best resources when trying to avoid cultural roadblocks and to ensure consistent, aligned messaging. If you can tap into already established relationships to convey your message – do it!
Maybe it’s not for everyone.
And lastly, keep in mind that a global program can sometimes work better in theory than in reality. One size does not fit all, even if we want it to. Allow for an opt-out vote for office locations or countries where the program might not be a fit. Recognizing these locations early helps you focus your time and energy on the rollout in geographies where it will work and ensures that you’re set up for success. You can always re-evaluate the context and expand your program in the future!
Rolling out a global corporate volunteering program is a lot of work: it requires careful consultation, preparation, and communication. But don’t let yourself get caught in the weeds – remember your purpose. Volunteer programs are about offering employees the opportunity to participate in meaningful experiences that impact both the employee and the community. When approaching a global rollout, keep the human element at the heart of your process. At the end of the day, people – your employees and community members – are the point.