Creating a culture of giving back

The team at the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge in 2015. The team at the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge in 2015.

It’s been almost two years since I moved from Boston to San Francisco to take on the CEO role here at Lookout. Of course, I expected some level of culture shock after spending the first 30 years of my career on the east coast. Still, I was unprepared for how different this city is. I quickly learned to substitute face-to-face customer experiences with a few clicks of an app for my most routine activities, including ordering weekly groceries from Amazon, take out from Postmates, and virtually everything else from Google Express. And, of course, Uber is now my primary means of transportation.

That said, I’ve found San Francisco to be an amazing city with a little bit of everything –beautiful views, mountains, delicious food, diverse culture, and of course, some of the most brilliant technology minds in the world. There’s no doubt that the current technology boom has provided an engine of economic growth for the area. At the same time, it’s not without its challenges. The escalating war for talent has companies battling harder than ever to attract and retain the best and brightest. Savvy companies have figured out that offering employees extravagant perks— catered meals, fully stocked kitchens, gym memberships, onsite massages, housekeeping services, dry cleaning, happy hours, movie screenings, and more — can help them attract the talent they need to build their businesses.

I recognized early on, however, that we couldn’t “out perk” cash rich companies like Google and Facebook with even more lavish incentives. We needed to find a different approach. Years of sales experience taught me that when you don’t have a product advantage, you have to identify alternate value and convince your customer to change their decision criteria. In the sales profession it’s called “moving the goalposts.”

As I thought about this problem, I realized the solution was right outside my office window. Despite the increasing number of tech companies flocking to the city, San Francisco has the highest poverty rate in the Bay Area. In fact, a recent study showed the region’s children face poverty at rates even greater than the general population. How is it that a city filled with the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and innovative businesses can be faced with such pressing social problems?

It also became clear to me early on that our tech-savvy workforce has a passion to change the world. They’re ready to take on the challenging aspects of making a positive difference in people’s lives. How could I cultivate that passion and turn it into real world solutions? What kind of opportunities could I provide where employees can see their actions make a real impact? How could I integrate this activity into our corporate culture, creating an environment where people feel an attachment to Lookout for more than just their paycheck?

Having spent many years working on various philanthropic endeavors, I looked to corporate philanthropy for the answer. By making the local community a key stakeholder in our business, we provide our employees an opportunity to give back. This starts a virtuous circle that helps build a collaborative and inspired team, which leads to increased staff performance and fulfillment and, ultimately, increased productivity and sales. All the company’s stakeholders benefit as a result.

To deliver on this idea, we recently established The Lookout Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to giving back to our local communities. Modeled after the Pledge 1% corporate philanthropy movement, our company and its employees have pledged 1% of equity, product, and employee time to the communities we operate in around the world.

We’ve reached out to our global employee base through surveys and focus groups to help shape the mission of the foundation. We’re compiling the feedback now and will be delivering the results soon. In addition, the organizing committee is hard at work interviewing philanthropic advisory firms to handle day-to-day operations, administration, compliance and grantmaking, along with financial managers to provide investment services. This support structure will allow employee volunteers to concentrate their efforts on the mission and spend time on the things they enjoy most about giving.

I’ll report back once the mission is finalized, the support structure is in place and our work has officially begun. In the meantime, please share in the comments what you do to give back to your community.