Focusing ERG Assets on Business Needs

In my last post, I spoke about how to structure ERGs to drive value to both the members and the business. This week, let’s look at a few examples of how ERGs can specifically support the business and a few tips on how to get your ERG to start meeting business needs.

To prime your brainstorming pump, here are two examples from Switzerland-based pharmaceutical company Novartis’ operations in the U.S. As the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse and multicultural, an organization such as Novartis has a strong need to understand how its business efforts resonate with multiple audiences. One example of how an ERG can help respond to this type of need can be found in the Network Indian Cultural Exchange (NICE) ERG. NICE has, in essence, helped the sales and marketing groups of Novartis to better shape their patient outreach tactics. NICE has specifically done this by participating in “ride-alongs” with sales representatives to provide insight into the needs of Indian customers and help shape and discuss best practices for engaging this demographic. As a result, sales and marketing groups have improved their customer interactions through a better understanding of cultural norms and the nuances of patients from this demographic.

Another Novartis group called the Russian Culture Club, founded by a member of the company’s cardiovascular team who is a Russian-American, recognized a way to approach the Russian demographic group more effectively when it came to the company’s cardiovascular portfolio. The network essentially proposed direct-to-consumer TV advertisements in the Russian language, with demographically appropriate actors delivered via specific television channels in the U.S. that were highly frequented by the target population.

Here are two more examples from State Street, a U.S.-based financial services company. One of its needs is to continue expanding its talent sources. To help the company meet this need, its ERGs act as bridges to external organizations that can provide access to talent pools. For example, its Latin-American Professionals network is connected to the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, and its Black Professionals network is connected to the National Association of Black Accountants. Another one of the company’s needs was the on-boarding and melding together of new employees joining the company as a result of a merger or acquisition. ERGs support State Street in meeting this need by acting as welcoming committees and assisting the HR team with on-boarding.

So how can you get your ERG to start driving this type of business value? Here’s a simple Venn diagram approach to help you collect ideas so you can spot your opportunities:

1. Create a diagram with two overlapping circles and label the rightmost circle “Business Needs,” the leftmost circle “ERG Assets,” and the space enclosed within the overlapping circles “Opportunities,” like my graphic below.

2. Now, plot in the “Business Needs” circle all the things your company needs. Go deep on this. Talk to a lot of people in HR, communications, branding, philanthropy, etc., and make this as rich and detailed as possible. Go beyond the three or four bullets on corporate slides or annual reports.

3. Next, plot in the “ERG Assets” circle everything you offer. For example, access to specific external networks, language proficiency, cultural experience, etc.

4. Finally, move to the middle intersecting section of the circles labeled “Opportunities” the “Business Needs” and “ERG Assets” that are linkable in a problem-solution format.

This is a simple yet powerful approach that I’ve used with great success over the years. In a future post, I’ll share with you an equally powerful approach for identifying the needs of your members.