Archive

Archive for the ‘Governance’ Category

Successful Triple Bottom Line Sustainability Depends On Board of Directors’ Leadership

May 23, 2011 Leave a comment

The notion of organizational leadership has traditionally been viewed in a top/down reductionist thinking fashion. At the pinnacle of the organization is the CEO, followed by the other C-Suite incumbents, then senior executives, then middle management and so on and so on. The idea that an organization’s board of directors has the ultimate leadership responsibility is either not typically considered, or the role of a CEO has become so dominant that no Chairman wants to fight that leadership battle anymore.

This is no trivial mater in regard to who should lead sustainability initiatives, and triple bottom line sustainability (tbls) in particular. It’s one thing to report good intentions through a Corporate Social Responsibility report, but another entirely to envision and lead the complex long-term business changes entailed in a tbls strategy, since this is one of the most systemic and challenging change-related journeys on which any organization may embark. The complexity of triple bottom line sustainability has been emphasized in previous blogs, and is further inferred from the following tbls definition adopted by The Leadership Alliance Inc: “Triple bottom line sustainability is the result of the activities of an organization, voluntary or governed by law, that demonstrate the ability of the organization to maintain viable its business operations (including financial viability as appropriate) whilst not negatively impacting any social or ecological systems.”

The board of directors in principle is ideally placed to envisage and lead this demanding journey, given that it has responsibility for the interests of all the stakeholders, not just shareholders, as its mandate. Without the board of directors’ interest, broad experience, vision, knowledge, and leadership, regarding a chosen sustainability variant, it is not likely that anyone else in the organization will pay much attention, other than for “window dressing”, and this has been born out through our research [1].

Furthermore, even a top management that is committed to sustainability does not last forever, and the responsibility for maintaining a change initiative falls back on the governance structure. If the board of directors does not understand the essence of an organizational change, the risk is that top management will be replaced with new managers who have new ideas of their own – organizations are replete with change-credibility “black holes” created when change sponsors have moved-on from much hyped initiatives without accomplishing their objectives.

As I look around at sustainability initiatives in progress, I see more and more evidence of the application of the traditional reductionist approach, whereby responsibility for sustainability is parceled out to individual organizational entities without regard for the need for a new and innovative organizational strategy plus an overarching planning process capable of addressing systemically the unpredictability and dynamic complexity in which today’s organizations operate. All too often innovation, the key to sustainability, is targeted to saving electricity, reducing waste, or preventing usage of non-biodegradable materials; of course such initiatives are important, but typically they are cherry picking, and no consideration is given to applying innovation to business planning that could lead to restructuring of the organization, and the optimal redesign of its strategy to eventuate in an organization truly designed for the tbl sustainability journey.

This kind of bold new thinking must come from the board of directors which has the power and the mandate to exercise leadership in setting organizational direction for the CEO and the C-suite … when will you directors heed the call? If someone in leadership is reading this blog and would like to know how we at The Leadership Alliance Inc. can assist an organization to set-off optimally on the tbl sustainability journey, please contact us, and as always your comments are of great interest to us.

 Reference:

[1] Smith, P.A.C., Sharicz, C., “The Shift Needed For Sustainability”, The Learning Organization, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2011

Advertisements

The Why, What & How of Organizational Sustainable Advantage™

February 1, 2011 1 comment

This blog is condensed from a six part blog that was published beginning October 2010 co-authored with Tia Carr-Williams.

In 2011, business as usual is not an option – organizations need new ways of thinking and organizing if they are to do more with less, and ensure ongoing business growth and renewal. How successful your organization becomes at acquiring and retaining a leading position in your niche marketplace depends critically on how you position your business relative to other businesses. In the past this involved gaining Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA) over “competitors”; we recommend replacing this outmoded concept with Organizational Sustainable Advantage™ (OSA™).

OSA™ differs significantly from the familiar SCA. Both OSA™  and SCA involve introducing the right products and/or services at the right time in the right contexts with the right supply chains, and then continually updating, optimizing, and retiring them as necessary; however. SCA pits both employees and organizations against one another in a never ending competitive “survival of the fittest” which is out of date in this era of open innovation and collaborative stakeholders. OSA™ strategy and implementation are based on the win-win collaboration of all parties, and on plans that are ethical, and without negative impact on relevant ecological, sociological or environmental systems. In other words, SCA tries to push change into being – yeah, just like pushing on a rope – whereas OSA™ pulls change into being and at the same time adds the desirable Triple Bottom Line (TBL) elements as a significant component of sense making and decision making.

Implementation of OSA™ mandates an engaged workforce as a necessary component of its culture. This employee-centric culture then becomes as much the organization’s foundational differentiation as the products or services it provides. Having significant differentiation continuously proposed from an engaged workforce provides a formidable distinctive resource for promoting and maintaining marketplace uniqueness.

Genuine OSA™ demands a decentralized organization with a polyarchic approach, providing both independency and interdependency of all major components of organizational processes. People at all levels must be epi-central to the co-evolution and co-maintenance of strategy, structure, processes, and rewards. This human-centric style organization will include employees in most of the organization’s responsibilities and decision-making, ensuring incremental investment by each member in the rigors and rewards of a profitable company.

So how is OSA™ introduced into an organization?  To ensure and encourage the necessary organizational climate of innovation and TBL focus, monitoring, and reporting, when an organization begins to navigate the transition from SCA to triple bottom line OSA™, The Leadership Alliance Inc. [TLAINC] has led the way in creating an easily understood seamless performance-based process. This process is one that an organization may readily morph into. It reduces the organizational complexity typically involved in such a large scale change; promotes formation of a fractal organization; fosters common OSA™ understanding and values across all organizational levels; nurtures a culture with innovation at its heart; encourages collegial, participative, open business systems; promotes and leverages networks and social interaction; and provides systems to measure and report progress continuously.

In order to easily understand and rapidly adopt TLAINC’s seamless performance-based process to navigate the transition from SCA to triple bottom line OSA™, organizations need to cultivate a culture having sustainable business principles, learning and innovation at their heart. There must be a motivational visionary strategy allied with a deep human context structure; workforce integration systems of high efficiency, capability and efficacy; a synergistic co-operative culture that fosters thinking on how everything can be improved and costs reduced; and there must be task agility for optimal productivity.

This is a tall order, but to achieve these ends, TLAINC supports its clients in undertaking two processes concurrently. One process involves creation of an organizational “attractor” – a central core of strategic business concepts, business processes, and social norms to be refined and used by employee networks at all levels to mutually shape the organization in a dynamic manner; the second process is cultural, and involves creation of a socialized environment based on trust, true dialogue, and the lessening of the power struggles that exist in organizations.

These interventions may be optimally achieved based on TLAINC’s transformative approach. This involves forging a unique ‘solidarity network’ that is inclusive of all the important organizational networks. In this approach representatives of all the various key organizational and governance networks, including the Board and CXO’s, hold dialogs together for the good of all the stakeholders. TLAINC has the proven capabilities to identify the representatives of the key organizational networks, and the real-life organizational experience to assist formation of the solidarity networks.

These solidarity networks re-design and re-develop the systemic organizational structure, business processes, roles, and tools, to specifically develop an environment where learning and adaption will be essential to successfully carrying out the work of every employee. In this pursuit, new structures and ways of working to adjust to, and to continue adjusting for, a changing set of conditions are created by the continuous dynamic process of co-evolution with a changing environment that is underpinned by learning. This approach leverages a distinctive characteristic of complex systems which is their ability to create new order; that is, a different way of working, thinking and relating —  OSA™ is this continuous process of co-evolution. It is neither a one-off change which remains static, nor a reversion or adherence to the status quo. This means understanding and working with (not constraining) the characteristics of organizations as complex social systems.

The measurement, monitoring, and reporting of the above pivotal features are critical to success. TLAINC will collaborate with a client to provide a customized version of TLAINC’s Sustainability Scorecard™ to truly reveal the advances that indicate improvements are being realized, and to highlight next steps. If you are serious about having your organization navigate the transition from SCA to triple bottom line OSA™, TLAINC is the consultancy to help you make it a reality – why not give us a call?

Corporate Sustainability – Board, Management, Market, and Stakeholders

January 17, 2011 5 comments

I am carrying out research on the adoption of Triple Bottom Line Sustainability (TBLS) in business companies, and I am pondering the question “Is it all about financial return?” In this regard I am interested in tapping into the wisdom of readers of this Blog.

I define TBLS as the outcome of the activities of an organization, voluntary or governed by law, that demonstrate the ability of the organization to ethically maintain its business operations (including financial viability) whilst not negatively impacting any social or ecological systems.

As I understand it, the Board of Directors of a company is responsible to the shareholders for optimizing shareholder value, making sure profit compares favorably with businesses in comparable industries, being competitive relative to challengers, and guiding the company’s strategic management by controlling and monitoring the activities of the company’s management. The CEO and management team in theory only design and run the company to satisfy the Board. This looks to me like a directive tailored for ‘Financial’ not ‘TBL’ Sustainability.

The Board and/or the CEO and the management team may be wise enough to envisage enhanced profits and market position by taking advantage of the uniqueness of products and services tailored to TBLS; however, this approach is still financially, rather than ethically, motivated.

It would be encouraging to see large numbers of companies embracing TBLS for ethical reasons, but that may not be realistic given the Board mandate highlighted above. It seems to me that the ethically driven leverage for introduction of TBLS comes from the marketplace, the shareholders and the stakeholders – we the people!! In other words, if enough consumers, shareholders and stakeholders are sensitive to ethical concerns and place pressure on companies to operate in a TBLS manner or else risk earning lower company profits and reducing shareholder value, then the relevant Boards have a responsibility to make appropriate changes to introduce and sustain TBLS, and must ensure the changes take place (or risk the corporate consequences). Indeed under these circumstances the CEOs and management strategists ought also to be pressing for change based on strategic imperatives. However, even if corporate action is based on the ethical concerns of “we the people”, the outcome is still based on a Board’s financial obligations.

The only other option for introduction of TBLS that I see is by Government intervention through a change in Corporation law – not likely to happen I think.

Your thoughts and comments on the general thrust of this Bog would be most welcome and thanks in advance for taking time to consider the thoughts expressed here …