How Can an Employer Incentivize Social Responsibility?

How Can an Employer Incentivize Social Responsibility?

At an all-company meeting last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company was retooling its employee bonus system to reflect a new set of priorities, focused on addressing the controversies surrounding the social media giant concerning the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation on its platform. In addition to traditional metrics like user growth and product quality, Facebook will reward employees this year based on their success at promoting the social good including combating fake accounts, protecting users’ safety, and making progress on other social issues affected by Facebook and the internet in general.

The decision to reward employees for doing social good reflects a challenge that many companies, particularly large corporations with major public profiles, are facing today. Investors, politicians, the media, and consumers are paying more attention than ever before to the social, environmental, and ethical consequences of what businesses do. And Facebook is not alone in this desire, for example, Chevron recently announced that it would tie executive compensation to reductions in the energy corporation’s greenhouse gas emissions. This dynamic, in turn, puts more pressure on corporate leaders to deliver sustainability and social responsibility as well as growth.

For Facebook, awarding bonuses to employees for meeting social responsibility goals will inevitably test the company’s ability to live up to two truisms: “actions speak louder than words,” and “what gets measured gets done.” To the first point, companies can articulate all the values they want, but at the end of the quarter or fiscal year, what matters is whether the organization actually lived up to those values in its day-to-day business practices. We’ve seen companies attempt to project an image of social responsibility, only to get called out for not really reflecting that image in their work. The impact of Facebook’s new policy will take time to fully materialize, but when it pays out bonuses for 2019, investors and reporters will be curious to see whether they have really rewarded the kind of choices they say they intend to, and whether those rewards reflect a real change.

As to the second point, Facebook has set itself an ambitious goal of identifying quantifiable metrics by which to determine progress against its goals of social good. Facebook has acknowledged that there is no easy or obvious formula for doing this, but they are looking at targets like number of fake accounts shut down daily or improvements to safety and security as possible metrics. Being a data-driven company, Facebook will likely get more granular and detailed about how it defines success, especially with both the media and governments paying closer and closer attention.

Here are four things that any company considering a similar change should be ready to do to make it more likely that an incentive program like this will be successful:

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