Archive for June, 2013

Locate the Nearest Exit: Corporate Responsibility Lessons from a Frequent Flyer

This is the second in our lighthearted series of Corporate Responsibility Lessons from a Frequent Flyer.  For our first post in this series, Don’t Leave Your Baggage Unattended, click here.

The onboard pre-flight safety demonstration is all about what to do when things go wrong.  It explains the safety features of the aircraft, and how to use them properly.  It describes how to exit the aircraft in case of emergency.  It reviews the rules established to ensure passenger safety.  And it refers to the safety information card available to each passenger.  Finally, passengers are invited to share questions or concerns with the flight attendants.  The briefing includes mandatory elements standardized by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and has changed over time to incorporate new elements shown by experience to be necessary.

In these respects, the pre-flight safety demonstration is a model for organizational crisis management.  The briefing provides a clear framework for action by the stakeholder – the passenger, in this case – in the event of an emergency.  It engages the stakeholder directly, articulating their role in crisis response.  It identifies reference material and sources of additional information, if required.  And the briefing is customized to reflect specific risks – flights over water, for instance, warrant additional safety measures – and updated to clarify new or revised procedures.

To the extent passengers are paying attention, the pre-flight safety demonstration can minimize the likelihood of injury and maximize the likelihood of survival in a real emergency.  Similarly, the chances of surviving a corporate crisis, like any other, are greatly increased when the organization understands the risks, has plans and procedures in place to enable efficient and effective action if a crisis occurs, and maintains a state of readiness – through training, exercises, and upkeep – to increase the likelihood of desirable outcomes.

Effective crisis management is an important element of corporate responsibility because it enables the organization to anticipate and better manage potential impacts of a crisis with the aim of protecting the health and safety of employees and the public, the environment, and property, including public and private property and the assets of the organization.  The better able an organization is to respond to a crisis in a timely and credible manner, consistent with its vision and values and responsive to the needs of its stakeholders, the more resilient it will be through times of trouble.

On an airplane, the nearest exit is often not the door through which you came in.  Similarly, the way out of a crisis is often not the way you arrived.  Just as the floor-mounted lighting system in an aircraft will guide you to the nearest exit, an effective crisis management plan will guide the organization through turbulence to a safe landing.

 

For fun, click below to enjoy Air New Zealand’s pre-flight safety video featuring Richard Simmons, ‘Fit to Fly’.

 

You might also like this rap safety briefing on South West Airlines.

Don’t Leave Your Baggage Unattended: Corporate Responsibility Lessons from a Frequent Flyer

As much as I try to telework to minimize our firm’s environmental footprint, there are times when I just have to travel to meet client needs.  So I fly.  A lot.  I can, like most frequent flyers, recite the safety briefing from memory.  On a recent trip, it occurred to me there are gems of wisdom in that briefing that we can apply to the world of corporate responsibility, if we look at them creatively. 

Don’t Leave Your Baggage Unattended” – You often hear this announcement in the holding room, before boarding.

iStock_000015455200_SmallMost companies, like most travelers, have baggage.  When it comes to corporate sustainability and responsibility, the kind of baggage you need to worry about is the kind that comes most frequently with extremes of organizational change, ranging from the slow, organic growth of companies that span decades or even centuries, to rapid growth through new market creation and mergers and acquisitions.  These extremes of development can lead to entrenched systems, legacy issues, and persistent misperceptions that hinder forward progress.

For example, a fast-growing small or medium-sized enterprise might be weighed down by internal financial and human resource management systems that it has outgrown.  A company newly formed out of a merger or acquisition might carry a burden of outstanding environmental liability associated with past operations.  An organization that has been in operation for decades may be encumbered by practices that have become habitual instead of adaptive and responsive to evolving needs and opportunities.

Organizational baggage like this, when left unattended, undermines morale, stifles innovation, erodes productivity and value, and creates long-term liability.  When in direct conflict with stated corporate values and policy, unattended baggage can call into question the credibility of the organization, and thus impact reputation.  In turn, it can be more difficult to attract talent and investment and earn social and regulatory licence.

Sustainability is often described as a journey.  If your organization is planning, undertaking, or has just come through a major growth phase, whether organic or through a merger or acquisition, or if it’s been a long time since the organization has done any serious introspection, it’s time to take a good look at what you’re carrying with you.

Here are some questions to consider, depending on your situation; this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will help guide the initial conversation.

  • Are our current management systems still appropriate given the growth we have experienced?
  • Are we spending more time managing administrative and data management tasks than we used to?  Do we still have enough time for strategic activities?
  • Are our current management systems giving us the information we need to manage risks and leverage opportunities?
  • Are our current management systems giving us the information we need to communicate effectively to our key stakeholders?
  • What are the environmental, social, or other liabilities that we have inherited through our mergers and acquisitions?  Have we updated our corporate responsibility strategy to address these liabilities?
  • Have we evaluated these liabilities against our risk management criteria and adjusted our priorities accordingly?
  • Do we have a plan to make sure our corporate sustainability performance measures and targets take into account the full range of our newly acquired business activities?
  • Are our communication strategy and crisis communication measures adequate to respond to stakeholder enquiries about legacy liabilities?
  • Are we taking full advantage of the new strengths we acquired in our merger or acquisition?
  • Do we have new stakeholders that we didn’t have before as a result of our growth?  How have we integrated the needs and expectations of these new stakeholders into our corporate responsibility strategy?
  • Are we aware of how the needs of our key stakeholders, including employees, customers, investors, and others, have changed over time, and have we updated our practices to meet those needs?
  • Do our existing practices stifle or encourage innovation?
  • Do we have barriers to adopting new and emerging technologies?

Exploring these and other probing questions will help to unpack the systemic and legacy issues that arise out of extreme organizational development, and ensure you are well prepared for the ongoing sustainability journey.

There are benefits to traveling light: mobility, agility, flexibility, security, economy, efficiency.  These benefits can accrue to organizations that are mindful about their baggage.

 

Next time, I’ll share some wisdom from the onboard briefing…

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