Posts Tagged ‘ values ’

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.

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 National Vision of a Sustainable Future

Qatar has something every country needs.  I’m not referring to oil or natural gas, although Qatar has both in abundance.  I mean a national vision of and strategy for sustainable development.

Doha skyline

In less than a generation, Qatar has experienced huge economic and social transformation.  The discovery and development of its hydrocarbon resources has fuelled – pardon the pun – Qatar’s economic growth from a small nation dependent on fishing and pearling to one of the highest per capita income countries in the world.

In the face of that rapid expansion, however, new challenges have emerged.  Qataris now need to balance modernization with the preservation of values and traditions, a priority in a country where 80% of the people are expatriates.  They must also figure out – as we all must – how to achieve economic and social equity for present and future generations while protecting environmental health.

Recognizing these challenges, Qatar embarked on an initiative to define the characteristics of the country’s future.  The State established the General Secretariat for Development Planning, which undertook multi-stakeholder consultation across Qatar.  The Qatar National Vision 2030 is the product of that initiative. Click here to read on about the key elements of Qatar’s sustainable future!

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…

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…

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