Common Impact Blog

Program Spotlight: John Hancock’s Signature Skills Program

By Lauren Chasanoff | Nov 27, 2016

For this month’s Impact Inspirations spotlight, we’re highlighting John Hancock’s skills-based volunteer program, Signature Skills.  Signature Skills aligns the talents and development goals of John Hancock employees with nonprofit capacity building needs. Signature Skills provides employees an opportunity to enrich leadership competencies, develop new skills, and engage more deeply with John Hancock, their community and each other.

We recently sat down with John Hancock’s Seth Williams, who runs the Signature Skills program, and shares with us how he approached developing the cross-sector skills he needs to lead the program.

1. What are the core skills you needed to develop in this role serving both the corporate and nonprofit sector?

Relationship management is invaluable in this role. It is about making connections between all business functions within our company, our employees, and nonprofit partners. There are so many touch points with different stakeholders, sometimes with competing needs, that being able to mediate and connect all the dots can be the key to success.

I need to be in both the weeds and the clouds.  Whether helping develop the strategic vision for the program or sitting down to have a project scoping discussion with a nonprofit leader, I need to constantly have a hand in strategy, program management, and project execution.

2. How would you define being an “intrapreneur?”

Being an intrapreneur is having the ability to cut through all the noise and get people to understand the opportunity that exists. Often I have to help employees realize that they have a valuable skill that could be beneficial to a nonprofit and, on the nonprofit side, to trust that skills-based volunteering can be transformative when managed effectively.  I define success as enabling people to look beyond what is considered the norm so that they recognize the opportunities for improvement – both for individuals and organizations.

3. What do you find most inspiring about cross-sector work? What do you find the most challenging?

It is inspiring to see how much in common our employees have with those in the nonprofit sector. When I work on these projects, the human aspect comes out and inspires me to keep going. I see people that have spent decades in one type of business or decades in the nonprofit sector, sitting together at the same table heading towards a common solution.

It is often challenging to directly align our business needs with nonprofit needs. John Hancock has recently refocused its philanthropic efforts, and there are so many high-potential nonprofits out there that could use our support. We have certain skill sets available, a subset of nonprofits that can reach and it takes time and real intention to select the right fit.

4. How have you seen employees at John Hancock develop their professional skillsets through Signature Skills?

The first is leadership development. Participants work on teams with fellow employees for the first time, across all levels of leadership. There is a strong sense of mentorship that enables our employees to develop their skills no matter where they are in their careers.

Second, this program is a primary way to train employees on technical business tools like Salesforce. Instead of taking a class, employees are able to get hands-on experience. We find that managers actively encourage employees to participate in developing this highly coveted technical development skill.

Lastly, we get incredible feedback from the project management office, as our project managers, project coordinators and business analysts view the program as a unique experiential learning opportunity.

5. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from your exposure to the nonprofit sector that you can bring back to John Hancock?

Keep things simple. Sometimes when you put the right people in one room they can come to a solution a lot faster than you anticipate. In our world, there can be a lot of process and approvals needed to move a project forward. With nonprofits, they often just have to get the job done.  When we first started Signature Skills, we were dictating how the projects should run. We found this often conflicted with the way nonprofits function. When we made our process more agile, projects were executed more quickly and effectively, and more employees were signing up for these projects to develop agility in their own work.

At John Hancock, we use the term beyond hours to describe our skills-based volunteer engagements. It is simple to focus on the number of employees volunteering and volunteer hours. This program takes us beyond those hours. It deepens our talent development opportunities, increases employee engagement, and creates lasting social impact. 

Interested in learning more about what it takes to be an intrapreneur? Join Seth and our other panelists from Fidelity, EARN, and PENCIL for a #GivingTuesday Twitter chat tomorrow, November 29th, to learn about #GivingSkills in addition to your dollars.