By William Keenan Jr.
“One of the things I take pride in is that I can’t think of anything that we offer or recommend to a client that we don’t do ourselves at ITA,” says Thomas Mahoney, President and CEO of ITA Group, a full-service performance improvement company based in Des Moines, IA, and with offices throughout the U.S.
“So when we talk about community service, we’re doing it here at ITA,” Mahoney continues. “If you’re talking about peer-to-peer recognition, we do it here at ITA. Volunteerism? We provide every employee paid time off to work in the community. We have our own sales incentive program. We have a referral program, a cost-savings program, and we have a charitable giving component to our merchandise programs so employees can give their points to a variety of different charities.”
ITA even supports its own foundation – the Spirit of ITA Group – which assists some 50 agencies and community organizations with fundraising, donations and volunteer support. “We’re leveraging all of these things in a way we believe aligns and engages employees in the overall goals of our business and how we’re creating value for the customer,” Mahoney explains.
Granted, that’s a lot to digest. But wait. There’s more. At ITA’s annual business development conference this past Fall, where the company brings all of its team members together to talk about the business – where it is and where it’s going – one of the team-building components was a “Mystery Mission” where people went out in teams to various charities that ITA supports, and served others in need.
The group was broken up into eight teams, and the teams were given a packet of information that told them where to go and what they were going to be doing. Some served dinners or made cookies for kids. Others helped clean facilities and do sorting. Others played with children who came from abusive families. “The goal was to build that teamwork mentality,” Mahoney says, “but it was also just a moving experience. It was something that our team members walked away from with a lot of self-fulfillment.”
That internal, self-fulfilling experience informs the way ITA offers these same types of programs to its customers. “If there’s one thing that the challenges of the last two years has demonstrated for our industry, it’s that we have to do a better job of demonstrating that what we do has a positive impact in terms of improving engagement of employees,” says Mahoney. “It’s about creating stickiness for employee retention or driving a higher level of performance through communication, recognition and reward.”
Mahoney is aware of the big picture too: “Recently, there has been a trend to cause the content of incentive rewards and events to really touch the social side of people and the personal development side of people as far as giving back to society.” In this regard, ITA Group’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. The company was recently presented with two 2010 Communitas Awards from the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals. The awards recognize companies both for their community service efforts and for changing how they do business for the benefit of their communities. ITA was honored for its Mystery Missions event, as well as for the efforts of its Spirit of ITA Group foundation.
Closer to home, the company also earned a Greater Iowa Integrity Award from the Better Business Bureau, something Mahoney says was particularly gratifying. “To receive this award in the midst of the financial meltdown of 2009, where the lack of integrity of a few companies created a lot of distrust across corporate America, that means a lot,” Mahoney notes.
Clearly, one of the reasons corporate social responsibility and the green movement have become more attractive lately is because they’re perceived by companies as a great way to engage employees and align them with their business missions. “More and more corporations in the U.S. are becoming geared to doing the right things for the right reasons,” Mahoney says, “so they’re looking at the integrity of their organizations, the values of their organizations and their commitment to being good corporate citizens. And what these programs and initiatives are doing is demonstrating to employees that there’s a greater cause here. It isn’t just about the financial performance of the company, it’s about what the company is also able to do to give back.”
Mahoney says that integrity has driven a very positive culture at ITA, one that’s critical to the company’s growth and to the retention and management of customers. But once again he’s thinking bigger: “Whether it’s giving back to the community through charitable organizations or trying to create green meetings or giving people an opportunity to redeem for green items, the attitude of social responsibility within corporate America has increased substantially,” he notes. “And I think it’s important for our industry to be tuned in to what’s taking place and how we can augment a corporation’s initiatives in these areas. So I absolutely believe it’s going to have an impact on our business, and I think it’s going to have a positive one.”