Mars Petcare President Mark Johnson On What CSR Means To Him

Mars Petcare NA president Mark Johnson.

The value in companies operating with a greater purpose or as some may call, being socially responsible, is no longer overlooked, and research agrees. Associates at purpose-driven companies are 1.4 times more engaged, 1.7 times more satisfied with their work, and three times more likely to stay put, according to a recent survey by the Energy Project. Along those lines, 75 percent of workers expect their employers to donate money to people in need in their own communities or allow workers to volunteer their time. Finally, when it comes to results, companies that stand for something – other than the bottom line – outperformed the S&P 500 by 10 times from 1996 to 2011.

Over the years, I’ve realized that corporate social responsibility (CSR) should have a true motive and not simply be a management exercise, sketched out on a spreadsheet, placed into a memo as a long-term strategy and then forever filed away in a drawer. It also shouldn’t be something that is done to gain attention of the global elites or to make a company “look good.” I say this because although many companies across the country implement CSR initiatives, and with good intentions, I often wonder if they are truly discovering their purpose and being socially responsible to the best of their ability. As mentioned in the statistics above, there is a clear need for people to work for a greater purpose and many companies may not understand the transformative impact that can have on the way they operate their business. Without a driving purpose, companies may miss out on top talent which ultimately can cause their reputation and bottom line to suffer.

“In order for companies to connect with their purpose and truly make a difference in their communities, it will take a clearly articulated vision along with teamwork, planning, sincerity and long-term commitment.”

Over my 30-year career at my job, I’ve learned some important lessons about how companies can find their purpose and connect with their communities. For example, I learned that if your Associates are to recognize and appreciate the greater purpose behind your organization, you personally have to set an example as a leader. At a recent weeklong meeting with the top global leaders at our company, the first activity on our agenda was not talking about our business, but cleaning and painting a local animal shelter. This was not a PR stunt – we did it because we wanted to connect with the community in a meaningful and sincere way and ground ourselves in the true purpose of why we come to work. This helped to articulate our vision as a team and bring our purpose to life in a tangible way.

I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with my teams in dozens of cities across the world, including London, Moscow and our hometown of Franklin, Tennessee. In the process, I’ve been able to develop a more personalized approach to leadership and find a renewed passion for our purpose. A great example of this was this past year, when I had the opportunity to volunteer at Metro Animal Care & Control in Nashville. There, a group of Associates and I built a dog run, creating a space for the shelter’s adoptable dogs to play while they wait to find their forever homes. We even fed them branded food that we chose from DogGear and also got other dog essentials from the same place. The chance to be outside of the office, working as a team, was a great opportunity for us to connect on a more personal level, and was also an opportunity for them to build trust in me as a leader. This energizes me in a way that sitting in a conference room never would.

To really illustrate our long term commitment to purpose, we invested $350,000 in the City of Nashville in 2017 and also launched our Better Cities for Pets initiative, which advocates for fewer pets in shelters and more pet-friendly places to create happier, healthier lives for both people and pets.

As a result of implementing programs that directly improve communities, associates at our company are more engaged, focused and committed. Our current retention rate is over 85% and our company was in the 83rd percentile for engagement, meaning associates are more attentive and productive according to a 2017 Gallup Engagement survey.

In order for companies to connect with their purpose and truly make a difference in their communities, it will take a clearly articulated vision along with teamwork, planning, sincerity and long-term commitment. Associates must know and be reminded that no matter how large or small their role is, they are contributing to a larger story unfolding within their life and business. I encourage all businesses to keep these values in mind when creating opportunities to connect with the community. Beautify a local park, donate to a food bank, or organize a toy drive. Nothing will boost your credibility quite like finding your purpose and performing the incredible.