How important is a culture of “giving back” for a team?

Answered by: Phil Fernandez, Founding CEO, Marketo

Category: Passionate Teams

Integrate social responsibility from day one. My great weakness in life is I drive myself hard. Growing up if I ever came home with anything but an A+, my mom would want to know what happened and why I was screwing up. I brought all that baggage into the workplace. At Marketo, after we succeeded with a product release or a great sale or whatever, I’d say, “That's great - on to the next thing.” Not so good for attrition, for turnover, for culture. It was way too hard.

At Marketo, we did some things with a volunteer time off program. I always believed that my beliefs about politics, social justice, equality and diversity belonged at home or in a different place than the workplace. For a long time, I scrupulously did not talk about any of that stuff at work. Big mistake.

At Marketo, there was something missing in the company, and I’d say by the second half of the 10 or 11-year journey that I was at Marketo. we really started to get it. Next time I would create corporate social responsibility from day one. I would start to figure out how to get out and paint a school or give back in whatever makes sense in your way, in your community.

The day you think you've got to get a product release out the door and there's no time to do anything like that is the time to get out and do something else. Millennials love it. People demand that element to a workplace, but this is hard. We’re building these companies and the reward that people get from being able to give back, to pay back, and have another dimension in their lives is tremendous. We had people building houses for Habitat Humanity, refurbishing schools, and spending time with the Boys and Girls Club.

At Marketo, you could tell it created a spirit and an energy that paid back 10 times what it was costing. We invested and staffed it with resources and hired an amazing director of community programs.

As a CEO, it is cool to have a point of view. I started to wear my social perspectives on my sleeve, always respectfully, never used them as a litmus test for hiring, for promotion or for anything. When I talked about what I believed in and put it on our website, it created a freedom for people to have that dimension in their lives, in our business and to talk about their beliefs and about giving back.

That was the most amazing insight for me - that I could integrate my personal, social, and political beliefs with the company and it was going to pay back as a good thing. One of my great regrets is as we grew at Marketo, we didn’t do what Benioff did with his 1:1:1 program and take a percent or half a percent of free public stock and put that aside in a foundation to appreciate, so that we could have the resources when we went public to spend on these type of things without it coming out of the company's P&L. I brought it to the board one member said they didn't like the idea so I tossed the idea. Big mistake.

When we introduced our social responsibility program at Marketo, we made it easy for people to get involved. We offered great time-off benefits and lots of things but there was no animating organization. It didn't get used very much. A lot of people are just too busy with their day jobs. We got traction when we started to say that Marketo stands for giving underprivileged people in our communities access to learning opportunities at every step of the way from pre-k through college. We wanted to find ways to give back, to create learning opportunities and educational paths for disadvantaged and economically challenged people in our communities. It became an animating function. I would say 60% of the things that we ignited went into the set of activities we organized and 40% went into all sorts of other stuff because all of a sudden, it became cool. It was recognized and it was socially okay to get involved in your own thing.

To me, taking a socially responsible position or focus provided the freedom for people to then explore their own needs and interests. If you don't, people will underutilize any kind of a program you introduce. It is critically important to have a focus. The only caveat is that it never be coercive or discriminatory or anything like that.