Wrapping up this week’s examination of Back-to-School season and the opportunities for renewal this time of year presents for businesses and their brands, let’s conclude with what for many are the defining experiences of academic life: Extracurricular activities.
Athletics, music, theatre, dance, technology, science…even chess, the passions and relationships we chose outside the classroom all had an enormous impact on our community, our satisfaction as students, our sense of self and on our reputations. The lessons we learned in these environments were often more valuable than anything taught in the classroom. It is in this context that many people finally figure out who they are, or want to be.
For me, it was theatre. Not being a particularly talented athlete, all of my forays into team or individual sports were frustrating if not disastrous. As a little kid, I had seen a few children’s theatre productions, and I still remember how enthralled I was seeing real people be something and someone they were not. It was magical to me then, and to this day a great play or movie still energizes and inspires me.
I was always a big fan of popular music and I knew I could keep a tune because I sang along with the radio constantly. In high school, I took choir but blended in with all the other baritones. I was destined for anonymity until auditions for “Carousel” were held during my junior year. Standing in front of an audience for the first time, I trembled as the choir director, orchestra director, drama teacher and my peers listened as I sang “If I Loved You”, the beautiful Rogers and Hammerstein ballad sung by the lead, Billy Bigelow.
I got the part.
I was told after the fact that my choir teacher said, “who is this guy and where has he been?” It was a good day. That was my first experience in a discipline that continues to inform who I am as a person and businessperson: a storyteller and communicator with a strong sensitivity for audiences, a good listener, a patient leader.
In business, the things we and our companies do outside the everyday also help define us. These activities do not directly reflect our capabilities, products or services – yet our customers and employees care about them. Importantly, they can also be a source of inspiration that energizes and strengthens your organization.
Considering your brand’s extracurricular activities, I want to focus on three areas Advocacy, Activism and Philanthropy, which often overlap.
Advocacy – Every company has at least three key constituencies: its customers (and prospects), its employees and its shareholders or partners. The people who populate these groups are, of course, interested in your business (the products you make and services you offer), but as a group they have other needs, interests and issues. You and your company are in a position to advocate for one or more of these groups by devoting time and resources to helping overcome common challenges faced by these groups.
For example, in the wealth management industry, it’s pretty safe to assume that people are interested in growing and preserving wealth. Advocating for this group can be achieved by supporting programs that promote strategies for reducing expenses or improving financial literacy.
For employees, advocacy may be wellness programs or retirement counseling.
For shareholders and partners, advocacy may come in the form of activism (below). What’s important here is the idea that you and your company care about something not because it has an immediate impact on the top line, but because it is important to the people you care about.
Activism – The interests of our persons, companies, communities and customers are affected (sometimes deeply) by government policies. We’re blessed to do business in a democratic republic. As citizens, we have a responsibility to understand and act upon policies that threaten to harm our ability to operate profitably, and to advocate for our customers (see above) when their interests are threatened. Through direct participation in the legislative process, and your influence among constituents, your positions can make a profound impact on your reputation and solve real world problems.
Philanthropy – Sometimes referred to as simply Corporate Giving, or more broadly Ethical Corporate Social Responsibility, how you give can have a huge impact on the way your firm is perceived. Large companies often have foundations with professional staffs, endowments and missions to guide their operations, but even small companies can be strategic about giving, both to make a difference and to accrue reputational benefits. I recommend having a formal giving policy that reflects your individual or collective values, and exploring methods to engage employees or customers in the effort. This is another very big topic I will address in a future post.
Which company’s extracurricular activities are you most aware of? How do you feel about the company as a result? Are there companies who you believe should do more?