Posts Tagged ‘ organizational change ’

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

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

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