5 Ways to Kick Start Your "Good" Career
Building a “good” career at a business can often feel like an uphill battle – and that hill can feel especially steep when you’re not working at a large company with the resources to fuel and scale Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts. While many of the largest corporations seem to support more traditional CSR careers, change makers in businesses of all sizes and industries, and at all points in their career, can help drive the social and environmental impact of their firms, regardless of whether those “official” CSR positions exist. In fact, working at a smaller company can present you with an opportunity to have a broader footprint than you might if you worked for a larger conglomerate – with all the legacy systems and bureaucracy that can come along with those established environments. The ability to be nimble, to experiment, and to grow your ideas into company-wide initiatives can offer a fast track to a meaningful social sector career.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you tie the laces on those hiking boots:
Chat it Up: Even if your social impact work isn’t your full-time job, don’t let it play second fiddle! When you’re talking about what you do, either by the water cooler, at a networking event or among friends, make sure you highlight the initiatives you’re taking to enhance the sustainability and community efforts where you work. Be specific about what elements most excite you and how you are uniquely positioned to address your particular focus area. As more and more people learn how much energy and focus you have, your networks and support will naturally expand – and you’ll be much more likely to be top of mind for your contacts when a great CSR position or opportunity arises.
Get Out Your Reading Glasses: There’s a ton of information out there about the innovative ways companies are approaching CSR – so much so that it can be hard to know where to go first for the information that will matter to you. While many of the biggest industry sources, such as JustMeans, The Guardian’s Sustainable Business Section, Boston College Centre for Corporate Citizenship, CECP, and FSG often highlight the efforts of larger companies, these sources can provide an initial filter for different social sector innovations as you’re getting started and can spark ideas to bring back to your workplace. Once you have a sense of what information is most valuable to you, you can then start to curate the information you see by spending a little time setting up Google Alerts and managing your social media accounts so that you can quickly browse the information most relevant to you.
Stretch Your Networks: The lines between the nonprofit sector, social enterprise and business are blurring rapidly. There are many networks outside of your business, industry and sector that can make you successful in a mission-focused career. Check out the social enterprise groups of local business schools, meet-up groups focused on social entrepreneurship, or your chapters of Net Impact and The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. These groups attract a cross-section of passionate and driven individuals from all backgrounds who will enrich your perspective on your particular slice of doing good.
Break Through Silos: If you want your “good” work to scale and ultimately sustain itself, you’ll need broad company support. Seek out intrapreneurs from other areas of your business who can support your career in its early stages – and can help plant the seeds for your ideas to grow company-wide. Start the conversation by outlining specifically what benefit your work can have for them and for their area of the business. For instance, if you want to build a program that engages a wide range of employees in office sustainability efforts, talk to an HR executive about the employee recruitment and retention benefits of your initiative. And have the data to back it up! There are plenty of studies that tie social and sustainable work to business goals. Find the information that connects your work to the broader direction of the industry – and use it!
Talk the Talk: Make it easy for your business to listen to and adopt your “good” initiatives by initially integrating them into an infrastructure that already exists. If your business has an intranet where employees already go to access enterprise-wide information, champion a spot for your work on the homepage. If your company rewards employees for community engagement, think about the ways in which participation in your initiative can be built into those reward systems. By starting with the existing systems your business uses, you can more quickly build support for your work by introducing a new idea in a language that people already know and understand.
But even as you take on each of the above, of course, nothing substitutes for actually Walking the Walk. The only way you’re going to climb that hill is to get started and try to put your ideas into action. Remember, big wins start with small steps, so don’t be afraid to begin carving out the space in your workday to take on a small project or two that can inspire others and lead to broader change. Put on those hiking boots, start walking, and enjoy the adventure of building that good career for life.
(Originally posted on businessdoinggood.com on Jan 1, 2014)