By the Skills4Good Media Team
September 17, 2019
Eddie McWhirter is a numbers person. As Executive Vice President of Vancouver-based LGM Financial Services, she deeply leverages her accounting skills as she oversees the company’s accounting and finance departments. A couple of years ago, the company’s HR department invited Eddie to participate in the LGM - Skills4Good Board Program as part of its continuous investment in talent development through skills-based volunteering.
Today, Eddie is Board Treasurer with Quest Outreach, a nonprofit that provides dignified access to affordable and healthy foods to reduce hunger in British Columbia. “It’s rewarding to be able to share my accounting knowledge such that the organization spends less on accounting services and more on funding community programs”, noted Eddie in this Spotlight Interview.
“The Skills4Good board program provides both an opportunity to give back, as well as a chance to develop leadership skills beyond the work environment.”
“Learning-by-doing” is one of the most powerful ways that employees develop leadership skills as compared to studying. Thus, many companies around the world are incorporating skills-based volunteering (SBV) programs into their talent and leadership development goals.
Let’s take the case of Dow which selected high-performing employees for a skilled-based volunteering initiative to help nonprofits. In Deloitte’s “The purpose-driven professional” report, Johanna Soderstrom, Dow’s corporate vice president of Human Resources said:
“Our intent is to enable leaders to be curious and learn to adapt to the change and ambiguity that is a given in this business. We want to make sure that leaders can lead in these circumstances and develop an instinct to connect invisible dots within and outside of the organization.”
SBV programs have gained massive popularity over the recent past. Companies are now using such programs as a way of increasing employee attraction, engagement and retention. A study by Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose reported that more than 50 percent of the top-quartile companies are now channeling their talent pools to volunteerism. And rightly so. The Deloitte report stated that 90 percent of companies it surveyed reported a positive increase in employee leadership skills through SBV. While SBV programs provide nonprofits with highly skilled talent to help them solve complex societal problems, corporate volunteers get authentic opportunities to build on relevant leadership competencies.
SBV programs offer an opportunity for companies to develop its top talent in a meaningful way. Admittedly, sitting all day at a leadership conference is not an effective way for employees to learn leadership skills like change management, effective decision-making and negotiation. Yet, these are the essential skills that leaders need in driving the business forward.
When employees engage in SBV, they take up leadership roles that develop these skills and competencies while contributing their time and talent to causes that are near and dear to them. Indeed, SBV programs allow organizations to build effective leaders while they demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Mark Horoszowski CEO and Co-founder of MovingWorlds argues that people cannot learn when they are confined within the hallowed halls of their offices. In his article on how volunteering helps companies develop better leaders, Horoszowski asserted that people need to learn through action learning. This is learning by interacting with real people and working with them to solve problems. In so doing, employees can reflect and learn from their authentic experiences. SBV is effective in developing leadership skills by allowing people to work in real-life situations tackling real-world problems.
SBV offers high-potential employees with an excellent opportunity to develop interpersonal skills, such as communication, motivation, and creating an environment of mutual respect. By interacting with different people with different perspectives and mental models, employees develop a variety of skill sets needed for higher levels of leadership. Through these social interactions, employees become more risk oriented as they try new challenges without the fear of career or financial repercussions. Indeed, SBV initiatives are golden opportunities to give employees “out-of-the-box” stretch roles. They get the chance to solve real world problems and take up roles that challenge them to work outside their comfort zones.
With her meaningful board service at Quest, Eddie recommends other professionals to serve on a nonprofit board:
“All professionals that serve on a nonprofit board will develop and enhance their skill set. ... They will certainly be rewarded by making a positive difference in their community.”
The business case of SBV is clear and unmistakable. As the Deloitte report observed:
“Skills-based volunteering initiatives push innovation by putting employees in a fresh context, allowing them to learn new skills while serving a greater good.”