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The Vital Role of Generosity

CEB spirit of generosityThis post is part of a series in which I am exploring publicly the work CEB did across 2012 to embody our company’s core values: Force of Ideas, Spirit of Generosity, Member Impact and Stewardship of Exceptional Talent.  Today’s post explores CEB’s Spirit of Generosity — the value that is simultaneously our deepest held and most widely misunderstood.

First, the misunderstanding:  as we have worked to build CEB in the Community, our global philanthropy and volunteerism arm, many people inside and outside the company have assumed that this value speaks to—and only to—our charitable investments.

In reality, our community investment is only a facet of a much broader corporate ambition, one which proceeds from an important dependency in our business.  The success of our businesses depends to an astonishing degree, on the generosity of our members.  They are generous with their time and perspectives to help us grow our business; they share experiences – good and bad – with our research teams; and they share data and advice with us and with each other.

Because our success is dependent upon the generosity of our members we established a core leadership principle that says we may not—we cannot—demand generosity without demonstrating it ourselves.  It’s hard to ask someone for their help if we aren’t unusually responsive or creative in helping them.  This applies internally as well. It’s hard to get on the phone with a member and work to solve a problem creatively if you’ve just had a conversation with a colleague who wasn’t willing to do the same.

So “Spirit of Generosity” is pervasive in what we do – who we hire, who we celebrate, how we operate.  At our best it shapes our products and services (hence our emphasis on memberships that include diverse resources and broad, often unlimited and unmetered, support).

Spirit of Generosity may also be the most difficult of CEB’s values to measure.  While we can quantify the impact of our biggest ideas and we can collect value delivered through our products, it’s a little harder to proclaim “having done careful analysis, we were XX% more generous this year.”  But as a company whose very mission is about bringing discipline and measurement to management, we’d be loath not to try.

To the good: While it may be a crude measure, we do monitor the relative intensity of usage per membership.  The logic being if the rate of usage and number of users is growing faster than the number of subscriptions, we are establishing a platform for surplus value.  Here we saw progress: usage of memberships through web portals, live and virtual events, and in-person advisory conversations, grew about 15% faster than the rate of member growth.

We also measure investments we make and capabilities we develop that enable us to have a greater impact on those we support.  Here our efforts to advance the quality and usability of our core CEB digital assets and the growth of our SHL Global Customer Service Center stand out as great platforms for continued member engagement.

The hardest thing to measure is how we treat each other, but we do monitor feedback, particularly from new colleagues, about how “generous” we are to each other, and we see some evidence that that the news is positive.

Ultimately, people who are wired to serve each other and customers end up wanting to be a positive force in the community as well – and this is where CEB in the Community comes in.   In 2012 our team made strong progress on several fronts:

Work to be done: The first and most obvious place for our continued focus is building links between people across geographies and CEB businesses.  Our ambition is that every member benefit from the full capability of our company, and this requires that that we collaborate effectively across the enterprise.  Already no small feat given our size and reach, 2012 magnified the challenge with the addition of new colleagues from CEB Valtera and SHL.

We also see an opportunity to enable our teams to boost substantially their ability to customize ideas, recommendations, and conversations for our members’ gain.   We’re making significant technology investments to enable more personal online and offline interactions, but we realize that the real benefit will come from continuing to find, develop and support top-quality talent.

Finally, we’ll continue to advance our impact on the communities where we operate.  Our next area of focus is to more tightly connect our corporate capabilities to the social sector through reinvigorated pro bono efforts.

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