By Jacqueline Libster (New York City)

Engaging more than 80,000 employees spread out over 300 different facilities around the globe is the challenge that Suzanne Fallender, Director of Corporate Social Responsiblity Strategy and Communications at Intel faces every day. Luckily, Intel has 40 years of experience as one of the leading companies in its efforts to advance environmental sustainability and to create a better workplace.

Intel has been recognized countless times as a great place to work. It has garnered many awards and recognitions to prove it: World’s Most Innovative Companies, Most Admired Companies, Ethical Companies, Best Diversity Programs, Best Places to Launch a Career and the list goes on. How does a company like Intel improve itself year after year?

Intel’s solution is innovation. The company is constantly finding new ways to harness the power and spirit of its employees to propel its CSR efforts forward.

The Next Level of Maturity: Engaging Employees (and the Boardroom)

Fallender described the act of engaging employees as the “next level of maturity for CSR.” Every day she sees companies in various industries advancing and integrating their CSR efforts and she credits this phenomenon to three things: promotion by the media, advancement of consumers’ knowledge and the competitive influence that corporations have on each other to evolve. Companies of every size now have an awareness that to be evolved, they must support and grow their CSR programs.

The inevitable challenge Intel faces is marrying the various levels of employee interest with company-sponsored programs that fit those individuals’ needs. Fallender has seen the spectrum of participation and she knows that at one end of the spectrum are the extremely passionate employees who will volunteer for programs on their own and at the other end are those who are just not interested no matter what the corporate culture is. Most employees though are in the middle of the road and in her experience, they will engage with the right amount encouragement and support.

Fallender describes boardroom-level engagement as essential to any good CSR program. The CEO or CSRO is the best person to set the overall direction of the program and as Fallender describes it, they can educate the organization and “help people see what is possible.” Although interestingly, she has seen that sometimes it can have more of an immediate impact when a locally based leader is engaged. A vice president in a regional office who works closely and interacts directly with employees, for example, can have a more powerful effect in engaging CSR efforts in that office, community, or town. Intel strives for a mixture of global engagement strategy along with a more localized, and personalized, effort.

Intel Involved

An example of one of Intel’s successful employee engagement programs was its 2008 Intel Involved challenge to reach a company-wide goal of 1 million volunteer hours. With 54% of Intel employees participating in over 40 countries with over 5,000 non-profit organizations, Intel reached and exceeded its goal by 300,000 volunteer hours. The Intel Foundation further encouraged involvement and support of this program by incentivizing the volunteer effort with a donation of up to $10,000 per year for the qualifying locla school or non-profit of an employee’s choice after 20 hours of volunteer service. The expanded matching program was such an “overwhelming success” that Intel has continued the program this year and has set the bar even higher by setting a new challenge for itself.

One interesting difference from the 2008 program to the 2009 program is the shift from a pure numbers or hours based program to a skills-based program.

Fallender explained that Intel is trying to better match employees’ unique skills to the volunteer work they perform. For example, Intel is trying to match human resources professionals with organizations that need resume and cover letter letting writing skills, or pairing IT groups to teach computer skills. Through this effort of better pairing skills to specific needs, employees are more engaged because they are involved with causes that are more personally important while the people being helped are better served by some of the smartest and most talented people in their respective fields.

Another innovative program at Intel links a portion of an employee’s variable compensation to meeting the environmental goals of the company as a whole. As Fallender put it, “we all rise or fall together.” 2009’s goals included metrics related to eco-efficiency in new products and further reducing the carbon footprint including emissions from factories, to the smaller in scope but equally important goals of shutting off office lights and using power saving features on personal computers. These goals change every year and while the goals for 2010 are not certain yet, Fallender expects them to include citizenship and environmental goals.

Maintaining an Innovative Reputation

Intel aims to maintain its reputation as an innovator. The company knows its reputation has become a bigger factor in recruiting and retaining the best talent. While Fallender admits that it is difficult to quantify the return on investment for these programs, her view is that it factors in the decision making process for potential recruits and employees. Intel recruiters have seen a steady increase in the questions about its CSR and environmental programs from the student population in particular, and as a result, the company is now incorporating more information about these programs into its recruiting material.

Asked how Intel is an evolved employer, Fallender said simply that Intel is deeply committed to CSR. There is a connection between good management and being a good corporate citizen that Intel strives to attain every day, with a commitment to enhancing people’s lives. For Intel, CSR is a continuously evolving effort. The company will never be finished trying to do better every day.