Shifting Culture 

Takeaways from the Corporate Impact Acceleration Group on how to drive a cultural shift through employee engagement

Shifting Culture 

On 24 January, the Corporate Impact Acceleration Group met up to discuss the importance of cultural shift in a company’s impact journey. Organised by Impact Europe, the group brings together progressive corporate social investors (CSIs, i.e., corporate foundations, impact funds, CSR and Corporate Citizenship teams) to explore their roles in accelerating the related corporate impact journey; in this case, the accelerating factor was employee engagement.   

Corporate culture encompasses the shared values, beliefs and behaviours within an organisation. Culture profoundly influences how employees work together and approach their tasks. Employee engagement programs can contribute to shaping a sustainable business culture by equipping employees with the necessary sustainability and impact mindset and skills.  

As senior management plays a crucial role in shaping and maintaining corporate culture, it becomes key for them to position such programs at the core of the company, emphasising their long-term significance for the company's success. 


Overcoming barriers 

Arnaud Mourot, VP Ashoka Changemaker Companies, kicked off the discussion by sharing insights from the publication “On the Minds of CEOs” This study highlights key drivers and barriers to sustainable business transformation, based on conversations with 40 CEOs. Top drivers included: 

(1) attraction, retention and engagement of talent,  

(2) existing and anticipated regulations, 

(3) growing pressure from investors and financial institutions.   

While those are clear and compelling arguments, CEOs face at the same time significant barriers: 

>Sustainable transformation entails wicked problems, meaning the complexity and interconnectedness of the problems makes them more difficult to solve 

>Public discourse often oversimplifies the issue of sustainable business transformation and criticises companies that don’t advance quickly enough. This creates hesitation among CEOs to become active and vocal. 

Virginie le Barbu, Global Director Sustainability – International Markets at Lenovo, was also part of the conversation, and found motivating words for the group, saying that corporate social investors have the potential to overcome these barriers.  

Corporate leaders acknowledge the necessity of transformation but are often uncertain about the 'how.' This uncertainty empowers sustainability and impact professionals, as senior management trusts them to implement the transformation. 


The ‘how’ 

Lenovo's impact journey, shared by Virginie, shed light on the practical aspects of driving a cultural shift within the company. The Lenovo 360 Circle, an action-driven sustainability community, encourages collaboration and accelerates the transition to more sustainable business models and the adoption of ESG goals across the channel ecosystem.  The Lenovo 360 Circle’s strategy is built on three pillars: (1) Business Model Transformation, (2) Collaborative Leadership, and (3) UN2030 Agenda Role Model.  

The Lenovo 360 Circle not only drives the cultural shift within the company, but also across its downstream ecosystem. A key deliverable in this effort is the sustainability academy, which helps Lenovo and its partners in reskilling and upskilling their employees and raising awareness around sustainability and green-washing risks. Also, community members share best practices, expertise and knowledge on sustainability through a platform. 

The Lenovo Foundation is also recognised as an important piece of the puzzle to solve the complexity of a cultural shift. Lenovo Foundation empowers Lenovo’s vision to provide smarter technology for all through its mission to empower underrepresented populations with access to technology and STEM education. The Lenovo 360 Circle serves as a common ground between business priorities and Lenovo’s global philanthropy, sharing values to increase profit and enhance sustainability.  Lenovo Foundation is also directly supporting the  Lenovo 360 Circle through the partnership established with Ashoka earlier in 2023. 


Key takeaways 

While the meetup led to new questions, for example how to measure a cultural shift, Virginie and Arnaud shared some valuable advice for CSIs seeking to influence the corporate impact journey. 

  • Test social innovation. CSIs can accelerate the corporate impact journey by serving as a learning lab for social innovation. They have the safe space to take higher risks than is possible in daily business activities. 
  • Put employee engagement at the core. If employee engagement is a strategic initiative, not just a nice-to-have, CSIs can engage a critical mass from all levels of the company and equip them with a sustainability mindset. This can eventually change the way an organisation operates. 
  • Partner with business teams. By joining forces with business teams, CSIs can ensure that social impact becomes more predominant in the business model. 
  • Balance quick wins and long-term vision. While the long-term vision is the ultimate completion of the transformation, quick wins are crucial to push the agenda and secure senior management support. 

The meetup began with the observation that the sustainable and digital transformation share certain similarities: companies unable to foster a culture of digitalisation are now off-track. On the other hand, the senior management of pioneering companies – such as Lenovo and the Changemaker Companies Arnaud works with – see impact and sustainability as a journey to the company’s long-term success. CSIs have great potential in contributing to the journey by implementing cultural shift through employee engagement – especially if they’re empowered by senior management.