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Mark Hickman is the managing director for Sage in North America, a leader in accounting, financial, HR and payroll technology for small and medium-sized businesses.

Businesses are under growing pressure from a multitude of stakeholders to demonstrate how they are making a positive impact in the communities they serve – the keenest being employees. Companies who are making a genuine effort to support and empower the wider community can see lasting positive impact from both a reputational and business performance standpoint.

However, as the battle for talent intensifies, organizations need to find new ways to attract and retain the best in the industry. Building a culture around purpose and making a positive impact can help differentiate your organization from competitors as you retain and recruit employees in a challenging job market.

According to Sage’s Small Business, Big Opportunity 2023 survey, Canadian small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) trail behind their global counterparts in closing the talent gap. Only 27 per cent of Canadian SMBs believe they are doing well at hiring new talent – compared with 33 per cent globally and 43 per cent in the U.S.

Additionally, a recent report from analyst firm Gartner notes 82 per cent of employees say it’s important for their organization to see them as a person, not just an employee. Unfortunately, less than half (45 per cent) of employees believe their organization sees them this way.

Workers today are expecting companies to step up in bigger ways. For younger employees, it’s not “if” a company gives back, but “how.” Successfully building a modern employee experience in today’s competitive market requires combining a business’ purpose with community impact; the cornerstone of the type of employee experience that workers expect.

Integrating purpose into the employee experience

There is a direct link between purpose and a positive employee experience. While mission statements are mostly valuable to external stakeholders, a shared purpose, common values and an authentic company ethos help employees feel more invested in the company by creating opportunities for them to directly impact the wider community.

Purpose plays a critical role in most people’s daily lives – whether it’s through fundraising, community outreach, religious community events or mentoring. Given how interconnected people’s personal and professional lives have become, it only makes sense that the same passions for giving back have become a key component of the modern employee experience.

The more an employer can create a sustainable culture built around purpose, the more likely organizations will retain their current employees and be successful at attracting the best new talent. Today’s employees expect more meaningful relationships, community engagement and the chance to give back to causes they care about. According to America’s Charities research, more than two-thirds (71 per cent) of employees surveyed say it’s imperative or very important to work where the culture is supportive of giving back and volunteering.

Impact begins with listening

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a culture of impact, as causes and values can vary greatly across different regions and industry sectors. My experiences have taken me all over the world, and each place has its own distinct causes that need support and different ways of giving back.

Rather than trying to develop an overarching plan that considers the cultural, political and socioeconomic conditions of various regions, organizations should begin by listening to their own employees. Businesses can conduct an employee engagement survey to understand individual priorities, the causes that resonate the most with them and where and how the organization can provide support.

Based on this data, consider building a simplified framework that centres on common key values, prioritizing localization. Simplify this to just three to five key unifying pillars, such as digital literacy, community engagement or tackling climate change; offer employees a cause they can support together and that is also flexible enough to tailor to specific regions and maximize the impact.

Turning values into action

Turning values into action across regions can seem daunting. To simplify the process, begin by focusing on the underlying values and themes that run through the programs at their most foundational level. This will act as your organization’s proverbial “North Star,” guiding the positive impact you’re hoping to make. From there, programs can be tailored by the regional teams to ensure they resonate with and reflect the needs of local communities.

At Sage, for example, we believe in knocking down barriers so everyone can thrive. Globally, the Sustainability and Foundation pillars that guide our volunteering and fundraising activities include Protect the Planet, Tech for Good and Human by Design. We established Sage Foundation several years ago to build a model of action philanthropy that allows our colleagues, partners and customers to translate their values into action by giving back through skills-based, face-to-face and virtual volunteering. How this comes to life is different in each region and is something we are proud of at Sage.

In Canada, the team launched the Sage Foundation Grow incubator, a program offering colleagues the opportunity to give back to local community non-profits through skills-based volunteering and mentorship. Employees are matched with leaders of high-growth potential non-profits, where they carefully select a strategic project that would help the non-profit amplify its impact in the community. Sage leaders work with the non-profits, using their knowledge and professional skills to help them execute strategic projects.

In the U.S., the team partnered with The BOSS Network – an organization that provides networking and support for Black professional and entrepreneurial women – to launch the Sage Invest in Progress grant. The grant supports Black women entrepreneurs in their first five years of business, awarding $10,000 in funding to 25 entrepreneurs. The grant includes a 12-month program that provides mentorship and education for Black women entrepreneurs. With funding barriers and disparity gaps addressed through the grant, awardees also receive coaching and business connections, to help Black women entrepreneurs reach their full potential.

Both programs share similar foundational elements of giving back through skills-based training and mentorship, which tie back to Sage’s core values. At the same time, the programs are driven by local teams and reflect the causes that matter most to them and the communities in which they live and work.

Community engagement programs for businesses are no longer a nice-to-have; they are integral to sustainable business growth. As employees’ expectations evolve, businesses that create opportunities for teams to give back and engage with their local communities in meaningful ways will be the real winners. For prospective employees, the concepts of doing well as a business and doing good in the community are becoming one in the same, and it’s time to get on board.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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