How a 'skills-exchange' program can improve your workplace

 
Updated 3/16/2018 8:17 AM
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  • Kelly C. France

    Kelly C. France

  • Joy Ambassadors took a picture of cocoa farmers tasting chocolate -- many for the first time.

    Joy Ambassadors took a picture of cocoa farmers tasting chocolate -- many for the first time.

Corporate social impact programs have gained attention by media, consumers and business leaders. These programs demonstrate what a company is doing to help address some of society's biggest challenges and are increasingly important for attracting and retaining talent.

According to a 2017 study on employee job satisfaction, 40 percent of respondents said an organization's commitment to addressing societal issues is very important, while only 29 percent were very satisfied with their organizations commitment. Effective engagement strategies are critical as people want to work for companies that do well by doing good. Unfortunately, the numbers reveal that businesses aren't keeping up. As demand grows, businesses must seek innovative ways to implement programs and deepen employee engagement and impact.

With 51 percent of the U.S. workforce disengaged, businesses face pressure to find creative and relevant ways to engage colleagues. Through the Mondelez International Foundation's Joy Ambassadors skills-exchange program, we have found a recipe for success that combines business immersion, leadership development and volunteerism for an unforgettable experience.

Mondelez International, headquartered in Deerfield, is committed to driving business growth with positive change in the world through its Impact For Growth platform.

As one part of this effort, we send a small cohort of colleagues, or Joy Ambassadors, to serve and learn in cocoa-farming communities in Ghana -- the birthplace of Cocoa Life, our company's third-party verified sustainability program.

During this two-week journey, ambassadors work side-by-side with farmers and learn about the challenges and opportunities in securing a sustainable cocoa supply.

They share their diverse business perspectives -- from marketing, manufacturing, finance, law and more -- to help strengthen the skills of farmers and partners and amplify the impact of the company's sustainability efforts.

During the mission, the team works on cocoa farms, visits processing plants, volunteers in local schools and meets with important stakeholders in the Ghanaian cocoa industry.

Ambassadors develop and deliver workshops to help build the capacity of farmers on topics such as finance and budgeting, alliance building and strategic planning. Since 2013, 51 employees have served 1,000 farmers across eight cocoa farming communities in Ghana.

Here's our view of the benefits of skills-exchange programs:

• Connecting employees:

These programs create space for employees from different backgrounds to work with and learn from one another. Cross-cultural learning was one of the top skills our Joy Ambassadors developed as a result of their experience. Employees expand their network and knowledge, and in-turn boost engagement and collaboration. In addition, colleagues further embrace the tenets of diversity and inclusion and increase their understanding of what it means to be a global citizen.

• Building leaders: Pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones and gaining experience in unfamiliar environments promotes a growth mindset that serves colleagues well -- personally and professionally. The instructive nature of these programs help employees develop teaching and communication skills, two important qualities of strong leaders. These skills are put to the test as they share their expertise, building confidence along the way.

• Understanding business impact: When done right, skills-exchange programs provide employees a greater understanding of an organization's supply chain and social impact through experiential learning.

They bring their learnings back to the business, inspiring their teams and instilling pride in how the company is making a difference.

However, be careful not to apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

Success is highly dependent on building a program within the context of your business strategy and priorities.

These types of creative development programs can help increase employee awareness and understanding of a company's social impact efforts while allowing them to play a direct role in shaping it.

Employees develop a passion for ways to grow the business while making a positive impact on the world. It's truly a win-win.

• Kelly C. France is senior manager, community involvement & employee engagement at Mondelez International, and Joy Ambassador Program Lead.

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