Breakthrough innovations such as AI, 5G, and the Internet of Things don’t just disrupt industries, they change the very way we live, learn, and work. Technologies like these spur innovations, transforming and benefiting society in countless new ways, and companies who are unable to keep pace with these changes risk falling behind.
Keeping pace, however, means more than making operational changes to gain market share or enhance the bottom line. Companies must also recognize that technological evolution increases their responsibility to employees, the environment, and their customers. More specifically, they will need to do more than simply train their workers for the jobs that will be created as new innovations reshape entire industries. They’ll need to ensure that employees have viable career paths and the opportunity to prosper. It means making contributions toward a more environmentally sustainable world and helping consumers navigate their rapidly evolving products and services safely and responsibly. Businesses do this not just because society expects it, but also because it is necessary for their own long-term health. Plus, it drives real positive change in the world.
“We fundamentally believe that the future success of our company is directly tied to the strength and viability of the communities we serve,” says Charlene Lake, chief sustainability officer at AT&T. “Now more than ever, people and investors are demanding more from corporate America. Companies have a responsibility and the capability to develop strategies and programs that expand economic security and make a better future for families and communities.”
Simply put, working to benefit broader communities is no longer a point of competitive differentiation. It’s now a business imperative.
TAKING ACTION FOR THE PLANET
Consider the environment. Simply talking about sustainability is no longer enough. These days, employees and investors demand that companies “walk the walk.” To do that, businesses need to set meaningful targets for more sustainable practices as well as measure progress toward those goals. “It’s a way to demonstrate that the company is actively involved in this work versus just making broad statements about its commitment to environmental sustainability,” Lake says.
Big companies can leave an environmental footprint. But when big companies undertake ambitious sustainability efforts, they can move the needle in a big way. For example, in 2018, AT&T made investments in wind energy to support America’s transition to a low-carbon economy and help enable a future built on clean energy. As a result, the company now is one of the largest corporate purchasers of wind energy in the U.S. It has also committed to minimizing waste at 100 AT&T facilities—including its corporate headquarters—by the end of 2020. “We’re a big company, and we can set ambitious goals and meet those goals,” Lake says. “That has the potential to make a really big impact on [humanity’s] shared goals of making a more livable and sustainable planet.”
Corporate sustainability efforts can also affect long-term investments and mitigate risk. When companies understand the potential effects of climate change to their business they can make better-informed decisions for the future, such as determining where to place new equipment and facilities, as well as how to best protect them from the changing climate.
To that end, AT&T has engaged the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory on a Climate Resiliency Project, which has led to the development of the Climate Change Analysis Tool. The data gathered from this will allow AT&T to help anticipate the potential consequences of climate change on its business operations 30 years into the future. And because AT&T believes such information should be available to all who need it, it has made the climate-change datasets available to the public.
TRAINING A FUTURE WORKFORCE
Technology is fundamentally changing the workforce. Therefore, companies interested in long-term success are taking an active role in helping their employees evolve their skills and capabilities to adapt to this new environment. According to Training magazine, U.S. companies spent more than $90 billion on employee training and development in 2017, a year-over-year increase of more than 32%.
At the same time, companies need to support programs that connect students with skills-building opportunities and training. Advancements such as automation and artificial intelligence create a demand for employees with the technical skills to implement and innovate within these fields, as well as the “human” skills that technology can’t replace, such as critical thinking, leadership, and empathy.
“The success of our business is directly tied to our employees’ ability to thrive,” Lake says. “Not only do we need to invest in our employees’ futures, we also must help cultivate the next generation of talent who will lead our company forward.”
For example, AT&T’s internal training organization, AT&T University, provides elective courses to help employees gain or sharpen skills in areas such as cybersecurity and software-defined networking. These programs allow employees to update the skills needed for their current role or strike a new career path into growth areas of the business.
The company also invests in initiatives to connect the next generation of workers with education and experiences that increase expertise. Working with nonprofits committed to improving high school graduation rates and college readiness will help develop a pipeline of future workers. In addition, AT&T collaborates with organizations such as Girls Who Code and Year Up, which provide young people with the know-how they need to enter the corporate world. These efforts not only ensure talented individuals don’t slip through the cracks; they also help build a more diverse workforce.
Collaborative efforts are easier when undertaken by diverse teams that reflect a wide range of viewpoints and ideas. For companies like AT&T, success depends on building strong relationships with customers. Such relationships have become essential now that AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner and the creation of WarnerMedia have solidified its leadership in the entertainment industry. “We’re mindful of our responsibility to promote diversity and inclusion both in front of and behind the camera and have implemented policies designed to encourage different perspectives and points of view,” Lake says.
How a company does business matters, particularly for those that are delivering the next generation of technology advancements, as AT&T is doing with its 5G rollout, which will provide the foundation on which countless new innovations will be built. “We want to help people understand how to navigate technology responsibly,” Lake says. As a result, it has created consumer-education programs designed to help customers operate controls and content-filter settings on their devices, safeguard against cyber threats, spot signs of fraud, and guide them safely through a rapidly changing online world.
When companies act in support of their communities, everybody benefits. Lake points out how AT&T’s contributions to the neighborhoods it serves have had a multiplying effect: employees are more enthusiastic about opportunities to volunteer in their communities; customers respond positively to companies that take social responsibility seriously; and shareholders approve of programs that produce increased corporate responsibility, an energized workforce, and engaged customers—all of which contribute to business success and further economic stability in the country.
“We want people to think, ‘That’s a place I might go work,’ or, ‘That’s a company I would like to do business with,’ because they realize that companies can expand economic security and make our world better for future generations,” Lake says. “We’re all in this together.”
This article was created for and commissioned by AT&T.