by Alex Palmer | September 29, 2015
The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has evolved significantly in the past few years. Previously thought of as a simple concept that companies should recycle and encourage employees to volunteer in the community, CSR's definition has been expanded and deepened, and its role at the companies that practice it has grown. The latest sign of changes happening in how organizations manage their place in the world is Pricewaterhouse Coopers' (PwC) recent appointment of Shannon Schuyler as Chief Corporate Responsibility and Purpose Office. 

Schuyler's new role will require her to look more broadly at the impact the company is having on its workforce, community, and the world at large. Incentive spoke with her about this new role, and how the concept of corporate responsibility -- and purpose -- is changing.

Q: You just took on this role at the start of September. What are your goals in the new position?

A: We are still working to figure out what it actually means and what it doesn't mean. I focus a lot on our corporate responsibility and broad sustainability efforts, but we don't want it to be just about that. It's about the core business and asking, "Will it help us make decisions, additions, changes, and more innovative advances if we take our purpose and make that the lens to look through?" Doing good things for society and the environment is part of that, but we don't want that to be the primary focus, especially when you think about what our company does, that's not the most material thing. 

Q: It seems to broaden it beyond just sustainability or environmental goals.

A: It's really taking it to the next level and figuring out "What is the purpose of doing that?" There's a lot of research out there about the benefits of having a purpose-driven organization - in any industry. We need to think about how we can help our people see the value that they bring - not just sitting behind a desk, but how the entire chain of events fit together and how we can help other organizations and broader society through that. That's a much bigger story to tell and hopefully people can see that elevated meaning and derive purpose from that.

Q: Do you see this as a shift that's happening throughout corporate America?

A: We're all so much more connected, yet when we talk in terms of financial performance or corporate social responsibility or environmental reports, it's often just about you, instead of talking about the broader ramifications. We want to be able to say that we were responsible for helping create trust in the capital markets and standards that companies can follow around being more transparent with their earnings. We're starting from there. When you think about the Millennial generation, there has to be something to help guide you -- some guardrails -- because we're in a world now where there's infinite possibilities to either do the right thing or the wrong thing. I hope that more and more organizations use their purpose to get them faster, more productive, and sustainable across the board, rather than thinking "business as usual."

Q: How do you encourage individual employees to engage with the organization's purpose?

A: We think it's going to happen in two phases. First in interviews, surveys, and focus groups to give an appreciation of "these are our services and these are our products" and helping them realize the value in it. You have partners who have been with the firm for a long time where many of the things they do are more of a transaction, versus seeing the broader meaning behind it. We have to determine, with their help, what are the deeper meanings and how can they talk about "why are we doing this, and what is the end goal to how this contributes to helping this client or society?" Simultaneously, for our people, it's helping them to understand what their purpose is before they buy into the corporate purpose. People don't always take the time to stop and say "what makes me unique? What compels me?" So we want our people to have that exercise - what is purpose, and helping them align their own purpose to the firm's purpose.

Q: In that regard, you recently announced a new Student Loan Paydown Benefit for employees - offering to cover up to $10,000 of each worker's student loans. How do you see this as an example of this Purpose approach?

A: A huge problem related to financial literacy comes from student loans. Forty million students have student loans. And when you think of PwC bringing in 11,000 new hires every year in the U.S. alone, that's a huge problem that we are actually facing. So while part of this is teaching and training, what about those who need help now with the problem that they are in - trying to pay back loans sooner rather than later? So it was a nice evolution to say "we were helping to solve a problem" but as we saw how pervasive it was, we found an additional way to help solve it. We set out to build trust in society and solve important problems, and now we see this hugely important problem, so we want to be a part of solving it.