Making a Legacy: how HR can create something deeper and more lasting

22nd Dec 2009
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If you think retention and engagement, particularly of the younger members of your team will be issues for you in 2010, Ian McDermott has an idea for you.

Each year millions of pounds from HR and training budgets is poured into people in the hope of improving business performance. From off-site team building and training challenges to motivational away days of adrenaline-filled outdoor action, staff and management are sent out most days in the hope they will return to the workplace more committed, more productive and more in tune with each other, and their work.

But is this what really happens?  The truth, all too often, is that while the cost of the investment is clear, the benefit is much harder to define. Which begs an important question for HR: does this huge annual allocation of human resources budget miss the point? Does it fail to address the individual in a way that produces an effect where it is really intended to produce an effect – namely, in the workplace?

When HR budget is invested in company personnel, it should be with one over-riding aim: to support them to be at their best in the working environment. Sometimes it’s true that if you want to get more out of people, it helps to get the people out more. But the question is how to create something deeper, more meaningful, more sustainable, more effective and, ultimately, more motivating.

Focussing on the relatively new concept of ‘legacy’ could help provide an answer. ‘Legacy’ – not what you leave behind, but what you create every day – involves, by definition, organisations focusing on working to create something ‘better’. Exposure to this idea can also enable individuals to see how they can achieve the amazing things that, deep down, they aspire to. With many people disillusioned by a short term focus on corporate wealth, today’s generation in particular wants to make a positive impact in their lives, and feel they are doing something worthwhile. A legacy-driven approach can offer organisations a way of meeting this aspiration.

The recently launched 'Legacy Together' programme gives employees the opportunity to learn about the motivation and success strategies at the heart of some of the most successful social enterprises in Britain. HR departments can buy into these programmes which, at the same time, focus on teaching those taking part the collaborative skills needed to achieve outstanding results, be it between individuals, teams or organisations – and all in a motivating and memorable environment.

Legacy Together uses social enterprise models of excellence to inspire and educate participants, the first being Fifteen Cornwall. Itself inspired by Jamie Oliver, this registered charity has at its heart a chef training programme whose mission is to empower young people who need a second chance. Fifteen Cornwall opened in 2006, has served 200,000 diners, generates revenue of around £3 million a year, and makes good profits, all of which go back into the project.  Its social success rate is extremely high too – six times better than the Government standard for social interventions with disadvantaged adolescents.

As Fifteen Cornwall proves every day, to be part of an organisation that is legacy-driven and that successfully delivers ’the triple bottom line’ - profit, social progress, environmental benefit – it is simply more rewarding. It creates a legacy experience. When employees of other companies work closely alongside such models of success it makes for far more than just a great day out. A legacy experience makes people aware of their own individual and organisational influence. When people notice the difference they are making they care about it more. Companies including Accenture, Barclays, BP, Diageo, Ernst & Young, Lloyds TSB, Pepsico and Swiss Re have already expressed strong interest.

A focus on legacy can help a business win the battle for ‘hearts and minds’. It can strengthen not only staff motivation but also staff retention. Working in a commercially and socially sustainable way can give an organisation enormous credibility. The organisers of the London 2012 Olympics also demonstrate its sales possibilities: they put the issue of legacy at the heart of their bid. It was the difference that made the difference and closed this multi-million dollar sale. 

Engaging with the values of today’s ‘twenty-somethings’ is critical for any organisation that wants to retain its rising stars, and this can make working with ‘young’ organisations like Fifteen Cornwall enormously attractive for business - learning how to focus on sustainable and profitable business, while helping to align the aspirations and actions of the corporation with the values of its employees.

To be successful in future, businesses face the challenge and the opportunity of using their influence to harness a combination of the familiar commercial capital, and the less familiar ‘social capital’, to achieve maximum business profitability and brand credibility. The legacy focus of both London 2012 and Fifteen Cornwall suggest that this is an approach that can help a company achieve more. It seems legacy is an idea whose time has come and HR decision makers would be well advised to be among the first to harness its power.

Ian McDermott, Visiting Executive Fellow at Henley Business School, is also the founder and CEO of International Teaching Seminars.

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