Volunteerism: Enhancing Our Corporate Culture

Nov 2, 2015 10:00 AM ET

By Jim Gordon, GVP, Corporate Brand & Reputation

I had such a great day at work recently that I wanted to share why. 

In 2010, Time Warner Cable made a startling move in the cable industry by providing 12 hours of paid time off (PTO) to volunteer in the community.  For a company that is 70% hourly employees, this was ground-breaking, and we remain the only cable operator that provides this benefit to employees AND their communities.  Employees were interested in getting more involved in the communities where they live and work.  So two years ago we dedicated people and resources to volunteerism – launched an online portal to publicize opportunities in a region, added a recognition program, aligned with our employee resource groups and created an easy way to interface with our payroll system.  Employee engagement went up exponentially.  By 2014, employees were donating 22,000 volunteer hours back to the community, but we knew we could do better.  To allow more employees to utilize their PTO and volunteer on site or off campus we knew we had to get greater leadership buy-in.  They say timing is everything.  A few months ago we got an enthusiastic request from our Chairman & CEO Rob Marcus and COO Dinni Jain, asking us to create a “day of service” for the top 140 leaders at Time Warner Cable during a senior management meeting in Charlotte.  Rob wanted us to design an experience that was hands on, would get people working side by side who normally don’t interact and that at the end of the day they would feel a sense of accomplishment.  So we set about designing a transformational volunteer experience for leadership.     

Our partner, Bob Young, of Hands on Charlotte listened to our needs and came up with, not one, but two projects at local area schools.  While the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, overall, has outstanding results and test scores, these two schools – Byers Elementary and Bruns Academy – face challenges.  They are Title 1 schools with many families living below the poverty line.  Both locations were created as K-5 elementary schools, but five years ago, the district consolidated the schools which now go up to 8th grade.  The middle schoolers are in offsite classroom trailers and there had been little investment in the outdoor spaces to give these tweens/teens a chance to separate from their younger classmates. 

Our mission at these two schools was to provide outdoor places where middle schoolers could learn teamwork, create new friendships, play sports and get outside to enjoy the sunshine.  At Bruns Academy, we revamped the basketball courts (while the court was there, there were no poles, hoops or backboards), created an obstacle challenge course, created an outdoor classroom, and cleaned up a wetlands area so it could be used as an outdoor science school.  At Byers Elementary, we also created an obstacle challenge course, and we revamped the outdoor classroom, planted a butterfly garden for learning, cleaned up the grounds as you enter the school, transformed the media center, and created a mural to energize the kids as they go to lunch.

With thoughtful planning by a cross-functional team, leaders had assignments that put them with other department heads (new partnerships between colleagues), and they saw both schools transformed over the course of the day.  Principals Anthony Calloway (Byers) and Mary Weston (Bruns) were on hand to cheer us on. The kids were off-session, but returned the following week to see their new areas.  Happy kids!  For our team, the Corporate Brand and Reputation team, we see first-hand the positive impact of this project on the students, local communities and our 140 leaders.  By engaging leaders to be ambassadors of TWC Connects, that’s the name of our volunteer program, many want to create a similar day of service for their teams across the country.  Following our day of service Rob Marcus said “It was my best day at Time Warner Cable.” 

Our volunteer work is gaining momentum with several weeks of service happening around the country.  To date we’ve surpassed our volunteer goal for the year and have logged over 28k hours of completed volunteer time.  Don’t tell my team but I fully expect we’ll easily surpass our second stretch goal for the year.  While some might view employee volunteerism as fluff, we are seeing first hand that by creating a simple way for employees at all levels to participate and volunteer, our business benefits with reduced staffing churn rates, increased productivity and greater collaboration across our lines of business.  And best of all, we feel we are transforming a culture, to one of community service, teamwork, giving back, and fun.  Sometimes, when you volunteer, you not only transform the life of others, you transform yourself … and a company culture as well.