Current Signs of the Times in Corporate Responsibility: A Conversation with Coxe Curry’s Ann W. Cramer

June 26, 2019

A CONVERSATION WITH ANN W. CRAMER, SENIOR CONSULTANT, COXE CURRY & ASSOCIATES

“There is nothing more compelling and nothing more right for a company to exude its principles and values as a corporate citizen into the community which it has the privilege of serving.”

This is a central belief of one of Georgia’s most influential and pioneering corporate citizenship professionals, Ann Cramer. 

Ann has helped transform business in Georgia from her role as IBM’s Director of Americas Corporate Citizenship for 34 years, and leadership on countless boards.  She now serves as a senior consultant with Coxe Curry & Associates, providing consultation to nonprofit clients and the business community on issues of corporate citizenship.  

The goBeyondProfit team had the privilege to sit with Ann and hear her perspective on trends in Corporate Responsibility.  Ann has identified several signs of the time based on the Five Corporate Social Responsibility Trends to Watch in 2019, that are published annually by her friend and colleague Tim McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation.  

COMPANIES ARE EVOLVING AS SOCIETY’S SOCIAL CONSCIENCE  

Companies have always been good citizens, Ann points out. At IBM, Mr. Watson created a park for company employees and was the first to give to many charities. Corporate generosity is not new.  But its importance, focus and intention across the enterprise has gotten more urgent and more interwoven.  

People have grown weary of feeling failed by systems, including public, private, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  With increasing transparency and heightened demands of Millennials and Gen Xers, it has become even more important for the for-profit sector to model authentic, socially conscious behavior.  Companies are expected to be a positive force.  

This includes how we do daily business: being ethical, legal and moral in everything we do, treating everyone with utmost respect, stewarding our physical environment, keeping our promises to our clients, people and supply chain, and finally she reinforces it is fun and rewarding to add philanthropic initiatives for our people to enjoy.  

  1. REDEFINING CULTURE THROUGH AN INCLUSIVE EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE – 

Ann points out culture involves all the ways we treat every person, demonstrating true respect for the individual.   Think far outside of classic HR hiring, training and reviews.   Consider the ecosystem of those inside and outside the daily business, including vendors, customers and neighbors.

Young people especially are prioritizing their individual roles as contributing citizens, and they’re projecting that desire onto their employers and purchasing brands.  Companies can’t wait until they reach some elusive profit, revenue or size marker to start.  

In today’s climate, inclusive employee experience is critical from the very first hire onward.

  1. BUSINESS BENEFITS FROM PRIORITIZING PURPOSE

A company’s actions are how their character is known.  Its motivation for community outreach may be wholly altruistic or more self-serving … but either way it will enjoy many business benefits including internal and external loyalty, employee productivity and better customer care.  When people see purposeful actions, they will understand the business better, and perform better in relationship with it.  

Companies are increasingly looking across their entire portfolio – their sourcing, hiring practices, partnerships and, yes, philanthropy, to align around their values… and the end results are always better.  

  1. COMING TOGETHER FOR A CAUSE CREATES NEW VALUE 

By definition, community outreach includes a collective.  And when individuals and organizations come together to solve something, learning, relationships and evolution happen.

Whether cross-functional teams are volunteering together, or staff are contributing subject matter expertise with a disadvantaged population, or direct competitors are sharing ground and solutions in disaster relief … new ideas and energies will emerge. 

Ann says companies are understanding this better and are intentionally stewarding assets in a purposed way, with the expectation of valuable insights.  They might seek to solve more of their users’ needs, enhance customers’ experience, deliver services in efficient ways … and they’re finding valuable insights.

  1. BORDERLESS BENEVOLENCE 

Whether you’re a truly global enterprise, a business with a statewide reach, or a corner barbershop, people want to see us as a positive force in their community.

They look to see purpose in our products and services, but also in how we care for those inside and outside the company.  They want proof that we understand and steward our business’ broad implications and impacts.

One of Ann’s favorite stories is about a small barber who hung a basketball hoop outside his shop for youth he noticed were aimless after school, and he helped his customers provide diapers for their infants.  These are clear proof points of a business owner who cares about his community beyond the narrow definition of customer interaction.  

The future shows win/wins for Georgia communities and businesses.  Ann is seeing more innovative responses to societal issues, and companies being able to sell more as a result of their learning and impacts.  We’re applying corporate brains and brawn to help the world work better.  We’re creating value, growing our teams with personal leadership and access to influencers.  We’re creating connection opportunities for our people. We’re driving community value and positive change.

Ann summarizes, “As we enhance our community, it builds opportunity for our companies to do good … and do well.”

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