INSEAD Makes A ‘Splash’ With Community Projects


Community projects that form part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities of top firms and meaningful engagement of employees have drawn beneficial results even to the extent of revealing hitherto hidden leadership qualities while expanding capacity to face and overcome challenges.

Realising the importance being accorded to CSR, several Business schools like INSEAD take care to include community projects in the MBA program.

Schon Beechler, INSEAD Senior Affiliate Professor of Leadership and Organisational Behaviour, in a blog post, provides the example of Santander Consumer Finance UK (SCUK) to illustrate the point about beneficial effects of community projects.

Way back in 2008, an employees survey of the profitably-run company revealed a strong desire among them to give back something to the local community.

Searching for options, he got in touch with Splash Community Projects, a UK-based company that puts corporate employees on real-life community projects to help children’s charities and community organisations.

Splash, run by former British defence personnel, engages volunteers in building playgrounds and renovating buildings, ensuring quality and on time completion of projects.

Six years down the line, Santander has recorded improving employee engagement and even financial performance that is attributed to its community projects.

Beechler says it is consistent with research findings that employees gain greater satisfaction in their work as a result of volunteering. The firms also had improved retention of employees who have been engaged in meaningful community service.

The findings are significant in that, the world over, separate surveys and research by Gallup and Deloitte, revealed that only about 13% employees were engaged at work. However, this does not mean that once they get involved in community service, the situation would improve.

The catch lies in the fact that unless the employee feels motivated to join the projects without being cynical or feeling pressurized, it may not bring the desired results. The project in hand should resonate with employees, their values and those of the firm.

The catch lies in the fact that unless the employee feels motivated to join the projects without being cynical or feeling pressurized, it may not bring the desired results. The project in hand should resonate with employees, their values and those of the firm.

Splash tries to make the project difficult and challenging for the participants, whether from corporate firms or business schools.

For instance, the team from Santandar was shown a construction plan and the team members assumed that the actual construction would be done by someone else. They panicked on realising that they had to do the entire project themselves.

The Splash managers then asked them if they could break down the project into smaller parts, set priorities and use the skills they possessed. It made the achievement of completing the project more meaningful in the end.

Beechler says at INSEAD, the one-year MBA Programme begins with a compulsory Splash project near its campuses in Fontainebleau and Singapore. The projects, co-designed by the faculty and the Splash team, create an environment where the students could get to know each other and begin to work together in very diverse teams. Faculty and deans also participate to demonstrate management commitment.

During the course of the project, among all the fun, unexpected changes and challenges are thrown in. For example, having the client tell the students mid-stream that they want to redesign the project.

Beechler contends that companies that have worked on such projects say that done well, these projects can act as a catalyst to uncover potential leaders who may emerge when thrown into the wilderness with their colleagues.

One way this happens is to assign group leaders and day leaders who aren’t day-to-day managers at work. They are made to look after others, motivate the troops and ensure everyone has the resources they need.

Steve Daniels, non-executive chairman of Splash Projects, says that this has helped numerous clients notice talented employees within the ranks who would not normally be noticed within corporate structures.

The importance of leadership participation matters for other reasons, too. Daniels believes that the presence of both current leaders and those on the succession plan is essential, not just to lead but to take part and to infuse learnings into the organisation later.

Yet another benefit is that the leaders could identify barriers to productivity within the firm when they see what their employees are capable of in the field without technology. Face-to-face communication, regular catch ups and end-of-day handovers between staff at Splash could reveal new ways of working.

Splash was now working with organisations to make the projects more lasting after finding that over a period, the improved engagement between staff dissipates with barriers like emails, meetings and bureaucracy making a comeback.

Thus, according to Daniels, the next stage should be for them to pay more attention to embedding the skills learned and insights attained on community projects back into the organisation.

This can be done, he says, by doing a team debrief six to eight weeks after the project to discuss how barriers were brought down on the project and how they can be kept down back in the firm.

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