Posts Tagged ‘ integration ’

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

Advice for the Shoestring Practitioner: Sustainability Mapping

Are you a Shoestring Practitioner?  A Shoestring Practitioner is someone with a passion for doing good, for doing the right thing, for doing things better, but who is working on a shoestring:  constrained in his or her efforts by a lack of resources, such as staff, time, money, or organizational support.  This post is intended for the Shoestring Practitioner, especially one who is at or near the beginning of a sustainability journey in their organization, but may also be helpful to others trying to advance a corporate responsibility (CR) strategy.  I prepared this post in response to questions received through my network about how to engage employees in CR planning.

In an earlier post [Should sustainability have a seat in the C-suite? December 1, 2010], I talked about the need to develop a fulsome understanding of the sustainability landscape in order to guide decisions about corporate responsibility (CR) strategy.  A comprehensive and well-founded CR strategy will be informed by current and future business drivers pertinent to sustainability, including evolving regulatory frameworks, changing stakeholder expectations (including, but by no means limited to customers), emerging standards and best practice, pressing risks and opportunities, and the organization’s own capacities and competitive positioning.  It must also consider, especially in a complex, diverse organization, the range of perspectives and opinions, the differences in awareness and understanding about CR and sustainability issues that may exist among the employees who will eventually be responsible for implementing a CR strategy, as well as among other key stakeholder groups.

A key component of sustainability mapping is stakeholder engagement, particularly internal employee engagement.  Employees can provide unique insight into current and emerging challenges and opportunities, shed light on existing organizational strengths and weaknesses, and highlight areas where CR and sustainability programming could advance strategic business goals.  Moreover, early employee engagement around CR and sustainability issues increases the relevance of strategies developed in response to their input and the likelihood of later buy-in and support.

While sustainability mapping can be a significant undertaking, especially in a large organization, employee engagement is something the Shoestring Practitioner often can tackle on their own, with limited resources.  Click here to learn how…

Embedding Sustainability in Organizational Culture

The Network for Business Sustainability will soon release its new research report, Embedding Sustainability in Organizational Culture: A How-To Guide for Executives.

NBS gave me a sneak preview of the Executive Summary of the report, and invited me to review it.

Overview of the Report

From a comprehensive review of academic research on sustainability and organizational culture (as well as studies dealing with other types of organizational culture change, such as safety and innovation), NBS’ research team identified a broad portfolio of practices for embedding sustainability.  Some of these practices have been shown, through research, to be effective, while others show potential but remain untested – at least, in an academic sense.

The researchers then grouped the practices into four different themes: fostering commitment; clarifying expectations; building momentum for change; and instilling capacity for change. These four themes together comprise the four quadrants of a new framework designed to help executives, senior HR managers, and senior sustainability managers to embed sustainability into their organizations:

Network for Business Sustainability's Portfolio Framework for Embedding Sustainability

Click here to read the full review

Should sustainability have a seat in the C-Suite?

Some of you may recall the case study published on-line by the Harvard Business Review back in October, which posed the question of whether or not fictional company Narinex should hire a Chief Sustainability Officer.  The full Case Study is now available in the December 2010 edition of HBR (subscription required; text pages 133-137) (or try this version at Scribd, e-pages 135-139).

If you’re not familiar with the HBR Case Study feature, it generally involves a fictional scenario depicting some current business challenge and features the advice of two business leaders with subject-matter experience.  A few readers’ comments, distilled from the on-line commentary compiled previously, are included to illustrate additional perspectives.

Well, golly; the editors at HBR thought my comment “offers a valuable perspective,” and included an edited version of it in the December issue (text page 137 or Scribd e-page 139).

A few of my contacts have asked to see my comments, so I reproduce my full comments below (with the HBR-selected paragraph highlighted).  My comments will make more sense if you read the Case Study first!  Thanks for your interest!

Read my full comments on the HBR Case Study here…

%d bloggers like this: