In a values-driven company, it's relatively easy to engage employees: they sign up and show up for our annual global service days, use their Path of Service benefit (paid time off to volunteer) and are actively involved in community-based impact and awareness programs. We don't have to mandate civic engagement or force them to act on issues they care about--whether by nature or self-selection or, some might suggest, drinking too much of our Kool-Aid--employees here just "get it."
In recent years our board of directors has challenged us, in the way boards do, on the actual value of being a values-driven company. All well and good that you've got an entire organization that cares about the social and environmental issues of the world, they said, and even better that you've been able to successfully mobilize that passion into meaningful action--but why aren't you talking about any of it with your consumers? To take full advantage of your values, you've got to better leverage them externally and make them part of how you talk about your brand.
Makes sense. Now, we've got four "pillars" which represent the social and environmental priorities of our business: transparency, citizen service, human rights, and earthkeeping. Of the four, we deemed the last pillar most consumer-relevant and perhaps the best opportunity to start the values conversation, and so we started there. And while we were at it, putting energy into making this notion of Earthkeeping relevant and inspiring and actionable, we decided to engage our employee population on the concept, too. We knew they had already bought in to the value of citizen service--let's see what they can do with this idea of Earthkeeping.
It's been an interesting case to learn from. Eight months ago, we set up an internal Web site where employees can record their environmental efforts (I recycled my cans, carpooled to work) and receive points toward eco-relevant prizes (a bicycle, CFL light bulbs and the like). In 8 months, remarkably low response to the site. This is the same activist community that consistently and enthusiastically uses the paid volunteer time we provide each year. They don't like computers, don't like the environment ... don't want to win a new bike? What gives? Clearly if our pre-primed internal population doesn't respond, something is wrong.
As it turns out, caring about an issue versus knowing how to help versus feeling inspired to participate are three very different parts of a solution. In introducing the idea of Earthkeeping, we did a good job solving for parts 1 and 2 with employees, but fell short on #3. We didn't create a sufficient emotional benefit for them, so they didn't adopt. Review, learn, adapt--appreciate employees as a valuable source of insight and try again.
The experience we had in trying to engage our internal population on environmental issues isn't different from what we've experienced with consumers. If we solve for part 3 with our own employees, it stands to reason we'll also gain greater insight on how to create a more meaningful connection with consumers. Challenging, but worth every ounce of effort. Our board of directors was adamant that we have something worth leveraging with our corporate values ... I'm similarly insistent that we have internal passion that can be powerfully engaged against Earthkeeping--not by mandate but by creating emotion and inspiration, leading to action. The beat goes on, the work continues.
Jeff Swartz is the third generation of the Swartz family to lead Timberland. His grandfather Nathan started the predecessor company to Timberland in 1952. Jeff's father Sidney and his uncle Herman launched the Timberland brand in the early 1970s. Jeff was promoted to President and CEO in 1998, after working in virtually every functional area of the company since 1986. Under Jeff's leadership, Timberland has grown rapidly.
Timberland today competes in countries around the world, designing, manufacturing and marketing footwear, apparel and accessories for men, women and children. Timberland has been listed on Business Ethics magazine's list of 100 Best Corporate Citizens and in 2002, Timberland received the Ron Brown Award, a Presidential award recognizing outstanding corporate leadership in social responsibility. Follow Jeff Swartz on Twitter @Timberland_Jeff