Archive for the ‘ Corporate Responsibility ’ Category

The Washrooms are Equipped with Smoke Detectors: Corporate Responsibility Lessons from a Frequent Flyer

In this, the third in our series of Corporate Responsibility Lessons from a Frequent Flyer, we take a look at a more serious issue of corporate accountability.  For our first post in this series, Don’t Leave Your Baggage Unattended, click here.  For our second post in this series, Locate the Nearest Exit, click here.

 

If you’re a frequent flyer like me, you’ll know that a standard feature of the onboard safety briefing is that smoking is not permitted and the washrooms are equipped with smoke detectors.

IMG_4691The days of smoke-filled cabins on airplanes are, thankfully, a distant memory, but the urgency of the no-smoking warning remains, reminding would-be transgressors that even in the privacy of the washroom, illicit behaviour will be detected. Corporate actors would be similarly well warned that technology and social media are increasingly the detectors and disclosers of illicit behaviour, wherever it may occur.

In my view, this is a Good Thing; sunlight, as Justice Brandeis once opined, is the best disinfectant. Moreover, the boundaries are blurring between a corporation’s accountability and an individual’s responsibility for inappropriate behaviour.

As if we needed another example of this, we can point to the recent experience of Centerplate’s now-ex-CEO, Desmond Hague.

In late August, Mr. Hague was caught on video abusing a dog in an elevator. Here’s a link to that video [warning: some viewers may find this video disturbing].

Centerplate is a food services company catering to sports and other entertainment venues. It doesn’t matter that their business has nothing to do with animal welfare. The behaviour of its CEO was so morally offensive that the company would be tarred with the same brush if it did not demonstrate its intolerance. Faced with widespread outrage on social and mainstream media, the company expressed its concern, put Mr. Hague on probation, and required him to serve 1,000 hours of community service and make a donation to establish an animal welfare foundation. That wasn’t enough, however. Despite the CEO’s contrite apology, he was forced to resign when the scandal continued to grow.

Also in early September, a far more disturbing incident was caught on video, again by an elevator surveillance camera: football star Ray Rice assaulting his then fiancée, Janay Palmer. The public release of the video led the Baltimore Ravens football club to terminate Rice’s contract, and he was suspended indefinitely from the National Football League. In the weeks since, however, there have been many questions about who knew what about the incident and when, and much criticism about the adequacy and timeliness of the actions taken by the Ravens and the NFL, particularly since both organizations knew about the incident from a previously released video.

Both of these cases highlight the need for organizations to engage employees proactively regarding behavioural expectations both within and outside the workplace, to make clear the consequences of behaviour that doesn’t meet these expectations, and to have systems in place to ensure a timely and appropriate response when incidents occur.

Although we surely cannot mandate values, it is possible – and increasingly necessary – to foster a culture of responsibility that seeks in the best case to prevent inappropriate behaviour and in the worst case to ensure swift action when inappropriate behaviour comes to light.

Where there’s smoke, there’s likely fire.  Best not to wait for the smoke alarm to go off to figure out where the fire extinguisher is…

 

For more on the stories that prompted this post:

Click here for coverage in the Globe and Mail.

Click here for coverage in the New York Daily News.

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…

The Continuity of Sustainability

The Network for Business Sustainability recently articulated their “Top 10” sustainability challenges for Canadian business in 2013.  I think many readers will probably agree these challenges face businesses around the globe as well.

One challenge in particular caught my attention, in light of some of the challenges I‘ve encountered myself, working with public and private sector companies in Canada and internationally:  How can companies keep their long-term sustainability agenda on track despite leadership changes?

I have witnessed several examples of disrupted sustainability agendas, even among organizations that had done a phenomenal amount of work to advance sustainability.  In my experience, it is typically the departure of a committed CEO or Board chair that leads to gradual erosion and sidelining – sometimes intentional, sometimes inadvertent – of corporate responsibility and sustainability initiatives over time, often accompanied by a sense of frustration among team members and stakeholders.

In my view, this challenge highlights the critical need to differentiate between operational and cultural integration of sustainability. Most discussion papers and guidance pertaining to sustainability integration deal mainly with the integration of sustainability into business processes:  this is operational integration.  However, operational integration must not be mistaken for cultural integration.  Cultural integration involves the integration of sustainability into corporate vision and values, and the embodiment of those values in the behaviour of individuals within the organization. Both are critical success factors to advance a sustainability agenda over the long term, and indeed they are complementary.

Can you have cultural integration without operational integration?  Sure, but there’s a good chance the sustainability agenda will not be fully realized.  We’ve probably all seen examples of organizations populated by well-meaning individuals who share a belief in the need to be more sustainable, but whose efforts are stymied by the lack of effective integration of sustainability considerations into routine business processes.

Conversely, you can have operational integration without cultural integration, although this is usually more difficult to recognize.  In this situation too, the sustainability agenda is unlikely to be fully achieved.  Operational integration without cultural integration can happen when an organization reactively pursues a sustainability agenda – perhaps in response to stakeholder pressure or a perceived reputational risk – without taking the time to understand why, and to develop a clear, thoughtful, and shared vision.  A committed leader may also achieve a degree of operational integration through sheer strength of character, but may overlook the importance of ensuring their executive colleagues and the Board, not to mention the employees at large, share their vision.

It is where cultural integration is lagging that the sustainability agenda is most at risk of become derailed during and after a change in leadership.

Organizational vision and values are fundamentals that will guide an organization through times of change.  It is therefore worth taking the time to carefully consider the reasons for pursuing sustainability and crafting a sustainability agenda that is aligned with and supportive of the organization’s vision and values.  An organization that values sustainability leadership as part of its culture, and considers sustainability to be a core part of its strategic vision is more likely to enjoy continuity in its sustainability agenda, even through a change in leadership.

One way to enhance cultural integration is to have broad engagement with the Board, the executive/management team, and employees during development of the long-term sustainability agenda, particularly with respect to ensuring alignment of the sustainability agenda with the organization’s vision.  This increases not only understanding and buy-in across the organization, but improves operational integration as well.

The greater the degree of cultural integration, particularly among the Board and executive, the more likely it will be that commitment to sustainability will be a factor in the consideration of new leadership candidates.  This, too, will do much to assure the continuity of sustainability in the midst of change.

 

What do you think?  I invite you to share your experiences and ideas here, by clicking on the Write Comment tab, or join the discussion in the Canadian CSR and SD Practitioners Network on LinkedIn by clicking here.

Check out the Network for Business Sustainability here: http://nbs.net

Read about the Top 10 Challenges for Canadian Business in 2013 here: http://nbs.net/knowledge/top-10-sustainability-challenges-for-canadian-business-in-2013/ 

Follow the Network for Business Sustainability on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NBSnet

A Good Sign?

My daughter’s love of Playmobil is unabated, and she recently used her spending money to order some new sets.  This time, I’m pleased to report, I’m much happier with the packaging! (See my previous post The Red Flag over Playmobil’s Castle.)

Playmobil’s packaging

Not only was the outer box appropriately sized for the contents, but they used Automated Packaging Systems’ “EarthAware” recycled film air pillows to fill the empty space.  This packaging contains at least 95% pre-consumer recycled material, and I can recycle it where I live.  Of course, the cardboard boxes themselves are recyclable.

Areas for improvement?  They could probably make the set boxes themselves smaller, and use recycled-content plastic packaging for the pieces inside.  There’s also no indication that the semi-glossy paper used for the assembly instructions has any recycled content.  And I still can’t find any corporate responsibility or sustainability information on their website.  But I’ll flag a good thing when I see it.

Too Little for Too Long

At the end of September, the Institute of International Finance held its annual meeting in Washington.  The IIF is a global association of financial institutions, whose mission is to “support the financial industry in prudently managing risks, including sovereign risk; in developing best practices and standards; and in advocating regulatory, financial, and economic policies that are in the broad interest of [its] members and foster global financial stability.”

Prominent on the agenda was international financial regulatory reform, over which considerable debate is ongoing. On the one hand, the G20 plan tougher financial regulatory requirements.  The IIF, on the other hand, while acknowledging the need for reform, calls for a cautious approach, arguing that stricter rules could compromise a fragile economic recovery.  In his speech to the IIF’s annual meeting, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney was critical of the IFF’s position, in part because it fails to assume any economic benefit from reducing the risk of future financial crises and because banks already have until 2019 to adapt to the changes. The contrasting viewpoints are summarized succinctly in this Globe and Mail article by Kevin Carmichael, titled “Carney, Waugh spar over new banking rules” (September 26, 2011).

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney

What jumped out at me from Mr. Carney’s remarks is this gem of a quote:  “If some institutions feel pressure today, it is because they have done too little for too long, rather than because they are being asked to do too much, too soon.

This statement reflects the reality that increasing demands for transparency, accountability, ethical behaviour, and consideration of non-financial material issues (like environmental, social, and governance issues) have been apparent for some time, and there is diminishing justification – and tolerance – for delayed action.  This is relevant not only to financial institutions, but to other corporate sectors as well.

The pressure to which Mr. Carney alluded will only increase with prolonged inaction, as the gap between corporate behaviour and performance and emerging stakeholder expectations and regulatory requirements continues to grow.

 

Click here for Governor Mark Carney’s full remarks to the IIF.

Click here to link to the IIF’s paper, “The Cumulative Impact on the Global Economy of Changes in the Financial Regulatory Framework” (September 2011).

Click here to link to the IIF’s latest paper on cumulative economic impact of regulatory reform, addressing revisions (October 2011).

The Changing Currency of a Modern Licence to Operate

Following up on my prior writing and speaking engagements on the topic of social media and corporate responsibility, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum asked me to write a piece for their journal, CIM Magazine, focused on the extractive sector.
An edited version of what I wrote appears in the September/October issue here.
I was also asked to write a sidebar piece highlighting Suncor‘s social media experience that I referenced in the main story. The sidebar piece, entitled “Going Where the Conversations Are“, appears after the main story at the link above.
Comments welcome on either piece; click on the “Write Comment” option in the menu on the left side of this page.

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