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Social volunteering has not added a penny to our business but it turns hierarchies upside down

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Thank goodness our CEO has not challenged the concept of social volunteering. If he did, how would I respond?



I work for Booz & Company, a strategy company that advises global corporations. In spare time, staff give money and support good causes. We struck up a relationship with London inner-city secondary school, Highbury Grove. With the help of one charity, Chance to Shine, we reintroduced competitive cricket. With the support of another, Blastbeat, we guided students to set up their own music companies.

All worthwhile, but have we added to our top line? Not a penny. But we persist: Booz partners promote, develop and celebrate social volunteering.

For four days of the week, our teams scatter across the globe. Meanwhile our support staff - researchers, secretaries, report producers, financial controllers - work regular hours in a single location.

No wonder that Booz accommodates diversity. On Friday, however, we gather in our home offices and new groups form. An expert in change management and the head of HR help students with their interviewing techniques. Or half a dozen people assemble to mentor the most challenging students in Year 8. For one day a week, we're not just co- located, we learn to co-operate.

Consultancies love hierarchy. We can't do without our titles. Documentation defines the competencies required at each level. However, our teams are paid to solve problems. More often than not, the solutions occur to those closest to the data - the junior analysts. How can we ensure that these people know how and when to speak?

Social volunteering turns hierarchies upside down. When the Booz football team clashes with the first XI, our captain is a first year consultant. The more senior members struggle to be selected - they know their place.

Consultancies learn fast. They have to, otherwise they lose their right to advise. The business case we create as part of a social volunteering programme differs little from one required by a private equity house. The execution, however, diverges greatly.

With Blastbeat, the consultant stays with the company from start-up to profitability. Consultants also teach. This places an even greater premium on impactful communication. Thus, skills learned on a Friday afternoon help us survive on a Monday morning.

Consultancies run on morale, not money. We have no assets, just know-how, relationships and enthusiasm. We understand how to nurture the first two, but what about the third? The average age of a consultant falls shy of 30. Many arrive with a youthful idealism and a number leave to work for NGOs. Social volunteering makes us feel good. I'm preparing a young chemistry student for his uni interview. In three sessions, the unshaven boy who couldn't look me in the face has learned to engage. Last time, he entered my room smiling and asked me to comment on his new tie - bought that morning for my benefit.

Perhaps social volunteering does strengthen a business after all - not directly or immediately, but indirectly over a period of time. Tony Blair praised the "big top" and David Cameron wants a "big society". Maybe in a "big society", the generations unite and the public and private sectors connect. And, arguably, it is social volunteering that brings together the pieces of our society into a complete jigsaw.

 

Richard Verity is vice president at Booz & Company

HR is running a competition with Blastbeat. For more information, go to: www.hrmagazine.co.uk/blastbeat