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Triple Bottom Line (TBL) Sustainability Via Interactive Planning

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

In a previous Blog, it was noted that organizations critically need new ways of thinking and organizing if they are to do more with less, and ensure ongoing growth and renewal in today’s business “Perfect Storm” – A Perfect Storm is the term that describes the situation some organizations and programs are experiencing today. This situation is a product of an exceptionally new and rare combination of unforeseen circumstances. Circumstances that produce severe business turbulence that drastically aggravate an already perilous situation. Sound familiar?.

How successful your organization becomes at acquiring and retaining a leading position in your niche marketplace in this Perfect Storm depends critically on how you position your business relative to other businesses. In that Blog, why the concept of gaining Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA) over “competitors” was outmoded was also discussed, as well as why it has been replaced by Organizational Sustainable Advantage™ (OSA™). In 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 (Triple Bottom Line Sustainability).

Genuine OSA™ demands a decentralized organization founded on independency and interdependency of all major components of organizational processes. Stakeholders 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 stakeholders 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.

To deal with the overwhelming complexity that an organization faces when it begins to navigate the transition from SCA to triple bottom line OSA™, The Leadership Alliance Inc. [TLAINC] recommends a design process that utilizes the stakeholder-centric Interactive Planning Methodology first introduced by Dr. Russell Ackoff (1981; 1999; 2006); this planning methodology  addresses planning on any scale from local to global.  Interactive Planning is highly relevant to successful design of an organization seeking OSA™ since, as mentioned above, the organizational climate will be characterized by the need for inclusion and alignment of all stakeholders in the planning process in conditions of increasing rate of change, complexity, and uncertainty – conditions that make it very hard to plan for the future using typical non-idealized planning methodologies.

Interactive Planning Methodology is guided by three operating principles:

  1. The participative principle which implies that no one can plan effectively for someone else. Professional planners and planning units should provide whatever motivation, information, knowledge, understanding, wisdom and imagination required by others to plan effectively for themselves.  Indeed, participating in interactive planning promotes the development of the members of an organization. Development, as opposed to growth, is defined by an increase in competency and one’s desire and ability to satisfy one’s own desires and those of others. Interactive Planning enables members to acquire an understanding of the organization, making it possible for them to serve organizational ends more effectively.
  2. The principle of continuity which is important because plans, no matter how carefully prepared, need to be continuously reviewed and, if necessary, modified as there are events that cannot be foreseen, especially in conditions of complexity. Changes in facts also alter the value we place on such plans. Interactive Planning is a system that allows continuous monitoring, evaluation, and modification of plans.
  3. The holistic principle that illustrates the importance of planning simultaneously and interdependently across all levels of the organization and all parts of a system. This principle has two parts, coordination and integration, each focusing on a different dimension of the organization. The principle of coordination implies that all units at the same level should be planned for simultaneously and interdependently. A threat or an opportunity that appears in one unit may best be treated in another unit or in several units simultaneously. For example, a marketing problem may best be solved by a change in production or sales or vice versa. The principle of integration asserts that planning done independently at any level of a system cannot be as effective as planning carried out interdependently at all levels. Conflicts between and within levels of organization can be avoided if planning is done in a coordinated and integrated fashion, as everyone is aware of the effects of what one level or unit does on other levels or units.

Interactive Planners believe that the future can be created and is dependent upon what one does between now and then. In planning, it is not the plan, but the process and the associated learning that are the most important products. Interactive Planning participants first dissolve a problem by changing the nature of either the entity that has it, or altering the environment in order to eliminate the problem entirely. They idealize by designing a desirable future and inventing ways to bring it about. The methodology aims for the participants to collaboratively and collectively design an ideal-seeking system based on the fundamental premise that the “system (with the problem) was destroyed last night.” The purpose of this is to free the participants from the trap of just improving the limitations of the current system – clearly a demoralizing proposition when transiting from SCA to OSA™. Rather, they are encouraged to be as creative as possible in coming up with out-of-the-box ideas that lead to innovation. The only constraints are that the new idealized system should be technologically feasible, operationally viable, and have the capacity to learn and adapt quickly.

If you are serious about having your organization achieve Triple Bottom Line Sustainability by navigating 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?

References:

  • Russell L. Ackoff, Jason Magidson, and Herbert J. Addison. Idealized Design: How to Dissolve Tomorrow’s Crisis…Today, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Wharton School Publishing, 2006
  • Ackoff, R.L. Re-creating the corporation – A design of organizations for the 21st century. New York, NY: oxford university press, 1999.
  • Ackoff, R.L. Creating the corporate future – plan or be planned for. New York, NY: John  Wiley & sons, 1981
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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 …

Successfully Developing Triple Bottom Line Sustainability: #1

October 22, 2010 6 comments

This is the first of six Blogs dealing with TBL Sustainability to be published over the next few weeks. All these Blogs are being co-developed with my colleague and TLA Associate Tia Carr Williams.

“We now know that the source of wealth is something specifically human: knowledge. If we apply knowledge to tasks we already know how to do, we call it productivity; if we apply knowledge to tasks that are new and different, we call it innovation. Only knowledge allows us to achieve those two goals. Organizations that are efficient and effective in applying knowledge will succeed better than their competitors” – Peter Drucker

Business as usual is no longer an option – it is obvious that traditional organizational design has not worked in today’s complex business environments. New ways of thinking and organizing are critically important if organizations are to do more with less, and ensure ongoing business growth and renewal.

Most of today’s organizations are set up like spider webs with thinking and command at the centre, and planning and control exerted through the web threads. The problem is that command and control operation is far too inefficient in terms of speed and efficiency, too clumsy in terms of knowledge management, and too lacking in variety for today’s complex dynamic business contexts. Top-down corporations need to adapt their fundamental structure to change from a command and control model to one that promotes facile communication incorporating social trust and widespread knowledge sharing – in other words to survive surging market competition organizations must decentralize.

A decentralized organization has distinct market advantages over a wholly centralized organization, allowing not only for the natural development of the key capabilities needed for the organization to operate creatively and successfully in face of today’s constantly changing circumstances and environmental demands, but equally to address the needs of a churning workforce that increasingly includes a new breed of worker – the Generation Y Millennials, the cohort born between the mid-70s and the early 2000s. Organizations challenged with three generations of employees need novel organizational strategies to accommodate employees’ varied learning requirements and to foster work satisfaction. Decentralized organizations are more responsive to market forces and employee variety, are agile in implementation, and are consistently adaptive to innovative processes that promote and empower continuous improvement at the rock face of employee daily-deliverables.

Decentralization as it is implemented today typically involves creating a starfish configuration, comprised of small hubs capable of operating, growing and multiplying interdependently of each other. The starfish model is used by innumerable organization designers around the globe today. Although it is an advance over the spider web design, and does facilitate significant strategic advantages to emerge from daily operations in ways that play a significant role in continuous improvements informing sustainable advantage, the starfish model still does not go far enough to provide a truly sustainable systemic approach to organizational design.

Genuine Sustainable Advantage (SA) demands a much more polyarchic approach, providing both independency and interdependency of all major components of organizational processes. In the SA model people become epi-central to the co-evolution and co-maintenance of strategy, structure, processes, and rewards. Human-centric organizations 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.

In the second Blog of this series the critical differences between Sustainable Advantage (SA) and Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA) will be explored, and the relevance and promotion of innovation reviewed.

Developing Sustainable Organizations Using the Sustainability Score Card™

September 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Blog by Peter A.C. Smith and Dr. Carol Zulauf-Sharicz (Suffolk University, Boston)

Definitions of sustainability range over many different domains such as profit, viability, energy, ecologies, natural resources, organization, and society to name just a few. Most of these definitions are different and none of them totally satisfy requirements to cover all aspects of the subject.  We feel that since a complete definition is not feasible at this time a pragmatic approach based on relevant current research and practical concerns is valid. Therefore we focus here only on the sustainability of commercial organizations, especially organizations functioning in complex environments such as those that face firms locally and globally today and for the foreseeable future. This is not to say that some or all of the following may not be more generally relevant. Further, we define sustainability as the capability of an organization to be viable over extended periods of time in a commercial sense whilst being an exemplar in avoiding potential or real negative ecological and social impacts related to its activities.

What makes an organization sustainable?  First, achieving “Right for Market™” (R4M™).  R4M™means introducing the right products and/or services at the right time in the right contexts at the right price with the right supply chains, and then continually updating, optimising, and retiring them as necessary; and secondly, making sure that achieving R4M™ does not negatively impact relevant ecological or social systems. These two points demand extensive internal and external knowledge and awareness. This may only be satisfied if the organization is founded in complexity and learning based on systemic approaches.  In particular sustainability demands innovative approaches and fresh thinking for the necessary transformative changes to take place and organizational self-actualization in terms of sustainability to be achieved.

With respect to individuals and their self actualization, Abraham Maslow developed a well-known hierarchy of needs.  Maslow postulated that human beings have an innate drive to satisfy these needs, and that they form a hierarchy – Maslow drew the hierarchy as a pyramid. At the lowest level he placed a person’s physiological needs e.g. food, water. Once the physiological needs are met humans look to satisfy what Maslow called the safety needs e.g. law, stability.  When the two lowest needs are largely gratified, there emerges the need for belongingness e.g. love, community.  According to Maslow, only when the three lower needs are satisfied will the individual seek esteem.  Maslow divided this class of needs into two sub-classes.  The first involves the need for self-evaluation e.g. self-esteem, confidence; the second involves the views of others e.g. reputation, prestige.  There is a further less-well formulated stage that often, if not always, develops even if the lower needs are satisfied whereby individuals feel a new discontent and restlessness unless the individual is doing what they are fitted for – this is epitomized in the expression “What a person can be, they must be” and relates to self-actualization.

Maslow made the point that some needs are under the control of others (in the others’ domain), for example safety, recognition, enumeration. Other needs can be satisfied by the individual him or herself (one’s own domain), for example self-esteem and self-actualization. In this regard, Maslow had the further notion of “threshold limits” making the point that individuals should set a target for satisfying their own needs “in others’ domain” at the boundary between “justifiable appetite” and “greedy desire”.  Maslow further postulated that the energy used in seeking to satisfy “greed” saps the individual’s capability to satisfy needs “in one’s own domain”.

So what does this have to do with sustainability? Turns out by analogy “quite a lot”! We can view the needs and development of organizations in a similar way to those ascribed to individuals by Maslow. Further, by equating this development as a journey toward self-actualization in sustainability terms, we can identify organizational behaviors and stages of sustainability development. For example, the initial stage is related to making a profit sufficient to stay in business; short term viability is the key concern and other sustainability aspects are not of concern. The second stage is related to having standards and laws that protect the organization and sustainability other than viability is seen as burdensome. The third stage involves lip service to the communities and the ecological and social standards in which it operates; the organization no more than complies with regulations that govern organizational conduct. It is not until the organization has satisfied these needs that the organization will address Maslow’s “esteem” level when what employees think becomes important, and the organization is confident of its viability and its place in the world of business. After this what others in the broader community think becomes very important, and since this organization now yearns for high reputation and prestige it will take the initiative in preventing negative ecological and social impacts. Finally, an organization will truly become sustainable when it applies the idea that “what an organization can be, it must be” and it then operates as an exemplar of all that is included in our sustainability definition. Further, as Maslow suggested, such an organization will operate at a commendable boundary in “others’ domain” and will be thus able to channel its energies internally to appropriately satisfy the needs of “its own domain.”

For organizations to meaningfully contribute to their own sustainability their activities need to be reported and measured against identified goals. To this end the profit/ economic survival balance sheet must be amended to include bottom lines for environmental and social accountability. This has become known as the triple bottom line and there may yet be other measurements that will be added.  This new way of assessing an organization’s performance is one of the biggest challenges facing organizations today; however, the application of the Maslow hierarchy to an organization allows stages and behaviors on the journey toward sustainability to be described, and a “Sustainability Score Card™” developed, that allows the organization readily to track progress and report measurements.

Please clic the link to if you would like information concerning the related Seminar. To get to  know more about building & leading sustainable organizations and how the Sustainability Score Card™ enhances your potential to achieve this goal, please give us a call through The Leadership Alliance Inc. …. our best to you, Carol and Peter