Holly Duckworth, PhD, co-founder of Sherpa Sustainability Institute had a chance to chat with Greg Allen about his doctoral research. Greg researched the connections between leadership style, employee’s perceptions of organizational social responsibility support and commitment to the firm. What he found is good news for organizations, leaders, and employees.
Here's an excerpt, but please listen to the whole podcast interview.
Holly: So, Greg, what did you study and why did you study what you studied?
Greg: We studied over 200 employees in private sector companies and we ended up with a dataset that tells a lot of very interesting stories. So, it was challenging but a lot of fun in the end.
Companies are expected to care about things such as the effect their operations have on the environment, how fairly they treat their workers and generally how they're good members of the communities in which they're located. These are the kinds of social issues we're talking about when we refer to the social responsibility of a company. I was interested in how a company's social responsibility efforts affect the commitment that employees feel toward the company. As many companies are deciding to invest in programs and activities to achieve social responsibility, they need to know more about how this impacts employees. I wanted to find out if being socially responsible made employees want to stay with their companies.
I also wanted to learn about the kind of leadership that helps employees feel like their company is socially responsible. It takes a certain charismatic personality to be able to formulate a compelling vision of the future. That's not a particularly easy thing to do. One of the basic tenets of transformational leadership is a real sincere and deep caring by the leader about the well-being, the development, the continual learning, and the job enrichment of the people that they are leading.
Holly: Okay, so you’re studying these transformational leaders and you're studying the individual's desire to stay with the firm, in the context of social responsibility. What did you find?
Greg: Well, what I found is really good news. It turns out that social responsibility does influence the way employees feel about their company. The results showed that there is a connection between how strongly employees perceive the company as being socially responsible and how strongly they feel that they want to stay at the company. Stronger social responsibility makes employees identify with the company more and that means that they're more likely to think favorably about themselves because they're members of the company. Stronger identification means that an employee is more likely to talk favorably about the company when interacting with customers and their work colleagues and other people who might want to work for the company in the future.
We built a statistical model that helped to understand the changes in identification and commitment. It suggests that social responsibility helps to explain how good leadership builds commitment when leaders as more transformational. The kind of transformational leader behaviors that we talked about, like thinking beyond self-interest and being visionary about achieving things for the greater good, provides an atmosphere for strong social responsibility.
Holly: Fascinating. What does this mean for organizations?
Greg: The first thing that organizations should do when assessing leader behaviors, training leaders, or conducting leadership development assignments, is to check that those activities have a strong basis in transformational leadership theory. Secondly, make sure that they're communicating across the organization in ways that can help inform everyone about the social responsibility policies and programs and activities that are ongoing. Communicate, communicate, communicate; that will ensure that they get the full value with regard to building commitment and loyalty with employees. And finally, I think organization should put effort into making sure that they're managing their social responsibility issues. Social responsibility helps the company stay strong in critically important areas of employee retention and loyalty. Companies don't have to worry that being mindful of undertaking social responsibility initiatives might distract them in a way that makes them less competitive. On the contrary, this, and other, research shows that social responsibility can be good for the company and good for society at the same time. It can create competitive companies while also leaving a legacy of love and care in the world.
This research supports the link that once you've attracted that top talent you're more likely to keep them if you are authentically implementing social responsibility. We can have competitive profitable businesses while also making a contribution to solving these difficult social problems.
Note: Interview is edited for brevity