Social change – or, if you must, social impact – is wickedly hard to measure. But in order to produce the change we want, we need these measures to be robust and meaningful. It’s too important a tool to waste.
Most social impact measurement fails by ignoring our inherent autonomy as individuals. Different people react to the same things differently. Initial reactions might look similar, but closer inspection will reveal differences. Multiplied out over many people and over time these differences can amplify and interact in ways that fundamentally undermine simple casual explanation.
Let’s take as straightforward an example of a social intervention as you can think of – vaccinations. By definition, effective vaccinations prevent a terrible disease and don’t make people sick in other ways. The first vaccine is almost as old as the United States. Today, vaccines protect billions and save untold millions of lives. It is fair to say that vaccines are the major contributor to the massive increase in human health worldwide over the past two centuries.
And yet, in the grip of a global pandemic that has caused over 2.7 million deaths and thrown the whole world into a deep economic recession, 15% of health workers in America refused a COVID-19 vaccine when first offered. And twice that level of Black American health workers refused the jab. Why?
The answer is simple, and if we’re honest with ourselves, understandable; they don’t trust it. Despite two centuries of spectacularly successful science and health benefits, a shocking percentage of American health workers do not trust the COVID-19 vaccine. Or maybe it is more correct to say, they do not trust those behind the science, be they in government or industry.
Hindsight is 20-20, so let’s bring this back to measurement. How might we, looking forward, earn trust and belief in our actions to change society for the good? How might we use measurement as a tool to accelerate progress and create sustainable prosperity for all?
Single Organizing Idea offers an answer to this question that we want to hold up. SOI® is a change management system that any organization can use to integrate sustainability and social impact with its commercial objectives. The end benefit is sustainable prosperity for all.
Step One: Recognizing that proprietary IP is not a trustworthy basis for accelerating progress for the good of all. SOI® has set out its system in detail in a recently published playbook.
Step Two: A company uses the playbook to identify and define its unique single organizing idea (4-6 months).
Step Three: The company rides the wave of energy created in the process to make and execute plans to align itself to its SOI®. This may involve everything from being carbon neutral in its production by 2030 to revising its social impact work to be directly accountable to those experiencing that impact. Each of those plans will have clear and measurable indicators of success that will be tracked and communicated in real-time to internal and external stakeholders. These measures include physical things – like CO2 emissions, pollution, and the use of natural resources. They also include metrics for tangible changes for humans – for example mortality, disease prevalence, birth weights, incomes, and knowledge attainment.
Step Four: The company invites SOI® Ltd to conduct independent, regular assessments that invite internal and external stakeholders to say whether the company is actually living its single organizing idea. Assessments follow six business themes: core purpose, values, positioning, network, success indicators, and strategy implementation. The metrics look to beliefs, values, relationships, and behaviors. By communicating the results of these independently administered assessments, the company gets in front of those who will call them out as greenwashing, purpose washing, or even “woke washing”.
Step Five: The transition to alignment with your single organizing idea is a major undertaking. Assessment scores will highlight the need for improvement actions beyond the ongoing alignment plan activities from Step Three. The SOI® measurement system calls for the creating of learning loop teams, with clear mandates to understand the underlying causes and co-create solutions.
A company that runs effective learning loops will achieve two things at once. It wins trust across internal and external stakeholders who can see for themselves the company is living its SOI®. And it builds its capacity to learn and improve in real-time by tackling root causes.
It is this capacity to learn and improve, and to do it by bringing everyone along with you, that distinguishes ineffective from effective measurement. Instead of stopping with metrics one sees in social impact reports –indicators like “lives touched” and “training delivered” – SOI®-led companies publish all those activity and output indicators (they have their place), but more importantly they track and report the quality of engagement with stakeholders, the extent to which learning loops are discovering and amplifying proven solutions.
Measuring social change depends upon a guiding star, a call to action, against which we collect and review evidence. Companies that are transitioning to SOI®-led businesses have a top-line metric – The SOI® Alignment Rate – that could literally change the way we change the world; the average number of weeks it takes for a learning loop to discover and implement a solution to a root cause problem, to the satisfaction of the constituents of the problem/solution.
This example of a 21st-century top-level dashboard shows how the business guides the integration of social and economic strategies. Of course, it will have detailed metrics on commercial and overall business performance. This dashboard tells us that:
Measuring is key to the success of any business wishing to embrace a sustainable future. The measurement needs to go both deep and wide in order to have meaning and impact. Businesses that align with a Single Organizing Idea involve internal and external stakeholders throughout the process. This ensures that everyone has a voice. It’s a continual process of reappraisal, assessment and alignment. The end result is a measurement with purpose.
I am embarrassed to admit that at the conclusion of my environmental science class in high school, my thoughts were consumed by how to suppress the devastating facts I’d just learned. I had been taught about how our consumption of greenhouse gases was destroying entire ecosystems, causing the mass extinction of animals, disproportionately harming poorer nations and communities, and I had been fed grim predictions for the future of our planet. What I had not been taught, however, was how to prevent this dismal destiny. I had not been taught about the companies bringing solar energy to remote villages, or the advances in plant-based food production, or the resiliency species displayed when hunting regulations afforded them the chance to repopulate.
This is not to say that we should coddle students, plucking out examples of advances in sustainability to paint a rosy picture of the planet’s future, yet we also must not be scaring them into resignation. I spent the first part of my college career believing that since my interest was not in science, I could not be a part of the climate solution. It did not become evident to me for some time that it would be a fool's errand to address any of the issues I am interested in, whether it be inequality, public policy, human rights, or development, without simultaneously confronting the climate crisis. It is not a noble or ethical decision to incorporate sustainability into any field of work – it is a logical one.
The film Our Planet, Our Business makes that point abundantly clear. Two interviews in the film really resonated with me – one with a Canadian fisherman and one with a Texan mayor, who both explain protecting the planet as a purely logical business decision. In America, climate change has been branded as an issue point of the far left, a point of contention on par with abortion or welfare that the left and right squabble over. Images of icecaps the size of Manhattan skyscrapers crashing into the ocean or sloths clinging onto
a lone tree amid the wasteland of a former forest are used to appeal to our pathos. Yet this strategy has failed to mobilize the majority of people, and it will continue to fail.
Climate change is not a moral issue nor an issue that can be relegated to a certain field. Rather, it is a reality that will permeate every aspect of the business world and as such, it is purely a logical decision to confront it. While businesses have long been the enemies of sustainability, they have the power to be its champions. As Our Planet, Our Business explains, the same innovation and speed that the business sector infused into the Industrial, Technological, and Digital Revolutions can be harnessed into the Green Revolution. This requires a complete shift in the way we approach the purpose and actions of businesses – it’s not enough to just tack on a CSR team or adopt a trendy sustainability motto and call it a day. What, then, is enough?
I stumbled across the answer to this question a few months ago when I discovered Single Organizing Idea and began my internship with them. At first, I worried that their plan to reorganize a business's strategies and operations around a sustainable idea was just another untested framework, albeit an intriguing one. It didn’t take more than a few minutes of research to realize that was not the case. They didn’t have some lofty, nebulous idea for an ideal business world that was out of reach, instead they had spent years developing precise, proven tools to help companies identify, define and align with their SOI®. Their goal is simple: accelerate progress. And they understand the way to do this is by providing businesses with the tools and technology they need to discover their precise, sustainable potential, and then transition to it.
This transition is not only a demand of our planet, it is one of customers too. Millennials expect more from businesses – our generation represents a fundamental shift in seeing businesses’ sole imperative as wealth creation to expecting businesses to deliver some form of social impact. The prevalent misconception is that pursuing the latter requires abandoning the former. Single Organizing Idea is chipping away at that belief, proving that operating at the intersection of growth and social impact provides benefits to all. There does not have to be a trade-off.
There are countless inspiring young people – the Greta Thunberg’s of the world – who see and feel climate change at a visceral level; they are fighting to save our dying planet with a level of tenacity and vehemence many could only fight for a loved one with. While their efforts are significant, we cannot rely on them. They will not be enough. A crisis of this magnitude requires the innovation, speed, resources, and creativity of the entire business sector. As Our Planet, Our Business explains, humans are the greatest problem solvers this world has ever known. Our job is simply to provide them with the direction and tools to solve our greatest problem.
Larkin Dennison is an SOI Ltd research intern. She is currently reading Political Economy at the University of California, Berkeley
Once upon a time, an enterprising young businessman bought a large amount of corn and set sail from Alexandria to Rhodes to sell it at a time when corn was particularly expensive in Rhodes due to a shortage brought about by famine. But what if he knew that his wasn’t the only ship on its way to Rhodes, and that just a day behind his ship was a whole fleet of ships with more corn than the people of Rhodes would ever need?
Put your feet in the shoes, or perhaps sandals, of this young businessman. What might you do? Sell the corn at a high price, as the people of Rhodes are desperate? Sell it at a low price, as there’s more corn coming? Or perhaps give it away?
The question is taken from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s latest book ‘Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life’.
Here’s another philosophical gem from Professor Taleb:
“An honest person will never commit criminal acts, but a criminal will readily engage in legal acts.” It’s a statement that captures the very essence of what is wrong with the way some carry out their business.
Both examples are of course about ethics, but what they illustrate to me specifically is the idea of ‘getting away with it’.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of this in action.
Shell’s website is pretty adamant about its green credentials:
Our core values of honesty, integrity and respect for people – first laid out in the Shell General Business Principles more than 40 years ago – underpin our approach to sustainability. A commitment to contribute to sustainable development was added in 1997. These principles, together with our Code of Conduct, apply to the way we do business and to our conduct with the communities where we operate.
But then let’s compare that to Shell’s CEO comments reported in the Financial Times on 8th December, 2020 by writers Anjli Javal and Leslie Hook.
According to the paper, “Ben van Beurden, Chief Executive, said that oil will continue to be a huge cash generator and the company will expand its gas division. “There is going to be a place for our upstream business for many decades to come,” he told a conference.
Mr van Beurden has form. A year and bit earlier, in an article entitled 'Royal Dutch Shell searches for a purpose beyond oil' published on 27th September 2019 in the same paper, it was reported that the “single biggest” regret for the Shell boss would be abandoning its oil and gas business prematurely. That, he says starkly, is something Shell “could not live with”.
Here’s another. This is what McKinsey say on their website:
Our purpose as a firm is to help create positive, enduring change in the world.
Our approach to social responsibility includes empowering our people to give back to their communities, operating our firm in ways that are socially responsible and environmentally sustainable, and working with our clients to intentionally address
Now look at what they said back in December 2020 regarding their involvement with Purdue Pharma.
As we look back at our client service during the opioid crisis, we recognize that we did not adequately acknowledge the epidemic unfolding in our communities or the terrible impact of opioid misuse and addiction on millions of families across the country. That is why last year we stopped doing any work on opioid specific business, anywhere in the world. Our work for Purdue fell short of that standard.
A couple of examples of companies ‘getting away with it.’ Saying one thing on their websites, but behaving differently when it comes to how they operate.
As we decide what kind of future we want to create, I wonder where we all fit in. Professor Taleb’s book establishes that too many people impacting our world don’t have skin in the game. In my book too many people simply aren't walking the talk.
Have a look at these four types of business and decide if your business is.
Emperors These businesses have jumped on the purpose bandwagon. They are not driven to make a difference but are okay talking about it. Their modus operandi is to make declarations and cite meaningless values to support claims of social purpose that aren’t backed up by actions.
Champions These businesses are proactively walking the talk. Doing good is at the core of their business strategy. The structure, plans, actions and decisions they make are all guided by a Single Organizing Idea (SOI) against which progress is continually measured, shared and celebrated.
Squatters These traditional businesses don’t pretend to have a social purpose. Maximisation of profit for the satisfaction of their owners or shareholders is their primary goal.
Box tickers These businesses aim to do just enough by cherry-picking ‘do-good’ projects, tweaking their governance, making ad-hoc contributions and meeting obligations set by external watchdogs when told to do so.
If you’re anything other than a Champion, it may be time to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask what sort of business you’re building, and, just as importantly, what sort of society and planet you’re creating.
If you’re prepared to change take a look at my new book, the CORE Playbook.
It’s aimed at the millions of business leaders who see what’s happening now and are ready to plot a course that goes far beyond ‘getting away with it.’
Containing over 40 diagrams and detailed step-by-step explanations, the CORE Playbook is the most comprehensive resource available for those who understand that businesses have to change if they are to meet the challenges of the next decade and beyond.
The world needs more Champions. If that sounds like you, we would love to hear from you.
My new book has been sat on our brand-new website for the past two weeks. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to finally announce that it exists.
The CORE Playbook is the product of 15 years of experimental development, refinement, listening, testing, questioning, proving, writing, sharing, yet more questioning, encouragement and collaboration.
In my first book, CORE: How a Single Organizing Idea Can Change Business for
Good, two-thirds of its pages were dedicated to making the case for change. The case was strong but it would have been even greater if I’d been able to point to Greta Thunberg, Larry Fink and Blue Planet. But when the book was published in 2017, Greta hadn’t started her lonely protest outside the Swedish embassy, Larry Fink was only just joining the sustainability and economy dots, and David Attenborough’s Blue Planet Part 1 was still largely seen as a simple BBC nature programme, not a clarion call.
Today, many more people are aware that our world isn’t running quite the way it should be. While Joanna and Joe Public may still not know what the SDGs are, or what the Paris Agreement is (despite the involuntary publicity given it by a certain lame-duck president); are still viewing the weather as an inconvenient truth and Extinction Rebellion as an inconvenience in general; one thing is for sure, they certainly know what COVID-19 is. Commercial gain at the expense of nature’s resources is a dangerous and unsustainable game. It has dire consequences, as we are all experiencing. Yet despite all the evidence, despite the growing frequency of societal and environmental upheaval, both saddening and alarming, our response to what is happening to people and our planet remains painfully slow.
Regretfully, despite the efforts of Fink, Thunberg, Attenborough and a host of other lesser- known champions of change, the pace of change has picked up little since I set off on my book tour with CORE under my arm three years ago.
I had a very clear objective for my tour. TV, radio and keynote presentations are all well and good (and fun!), but I wanted to question not preach. Specifically, I wanted to get to the heart of what is stopping businesses from changing. To achieve this goal, a posse of friends and partners helped me stage fifteen 'CORE Dinner Debates' in twelve different countries. Specially selected, those invited to attend came from over 80 leading organizations from business, academia, government and non-governmental
institutions.* At each dinner I posed one simple question: If business leaders understand that their enterprises are uniquely capable of creating both financial and societal value, AND the positive payback for all is plain to see, why aren’t many more pushing for change and cashing in on a sustainable future?
There was lots of debate as you can probably imagine, but when you boil it all down, there are three basic reasons why things aren’t changing fast enough:
The CORE Playbook is my response to what I heard and what I learned. Unlike my first book, it's not about making the case for change. It's not about convincing leaders, especially the leaders of the 200 or so businesses that dominate the sustainability media space with their massive sponsorship budgets. But rather, it's aimed at the millions of other businesses and the business leaders who also see what is happening, and are ready NOW to plot a new sustainable course but need proven tools to achieve their aims.
With over 40 diagrams and detailed step-by-step explanations, the CORE
Playbook brings together all the tools necessary to make immediate change possible. From identifying and defining a sustainable Single Organizing Idea (SOI®) to organizing and aligning all the business functions and then measuring the commercial and societal outcomes, the CORE Playbook is the most comprehensive resource available for those who understand that businesses have to change if they are to meet the challenges of the next decade and beyond.
Excitingly, the CORE Playbook does not stand alone and thankfully, neither does my ambition to help accelerate progress and make real change practically possible. Working with old friends and new partners, over the next 12 months every element of the Single Organizing Idea (SOI®) system is being digitised and automated. Harnessing technology will make accessibility to SOI® even cheaper and easier for businesses, wherever they are. In tandem, we are also actively recruiting and training a small army of SOI® Practitioners around the world.
Accelerating progress is an exciting and rewarding challenge. We would love to hear from you if you can help us make it possible.
* A complete list of all the organizations that took part in the CORE Dinner Debates appears in the Playbook.
So, Larry Fink has posted his annual letter, rightly called into question by the ever- alert Economist. Greta Thunberg has again castigated the great and the good at the annual bash in Davos and Donald, the leading defender of the status quo is carrying on being, well, Donald.
Welcome to 2020.
Exactly two decades ago BP declared it was going ‘Beyond Petroleum’. Imagine if it really had. Imagine if its rivals and policymakers hadn’t abandoned Lord Browne to the vagaries of the marketplace but instead put competition aside, embraced his vision, stepped up and supported the leadership being shown with immediate, radical action - emergency style. Today we would likely be facing a somewhat less challenging era.
On its website, at the time BP declared ‘Beyond Petroleum’ as “a powerful way to unite 100,000 people under a single brand with a unified sense of purpose”.
It spectacularly failed. It failed us then just as any ‘unified sense of purpose’ is going to fail us again. The reasons are plain to see in the thoughts of one employee who cared to share them in October 2006 with Fortune magazine following the life-ending explosion at BP’s Texas City Refinery five years after the journey beyond petroleum began.
“Constant turnover only worsened matters, as new bosses would seek to beat the previous manager's numbers. The values are real, but they haven't been aligned with our business practices in the field.”
Big corporations like BP are hostages to growth and wealth creation. There is no getting away from the fact that they are hooked, addict-like to feeding on numbers. Despite all the evidence, despite all the talk of a new corporate consciousness being awakened by the monumental challenges humanity faces, the profit card continues to trump the purpose one. Money and the pursuit of it were still at the core of BP five years after the Texas catastrophe when Deepwater Horizon added another eleven people to the death toll, and it is still at the core of BP today.
The conclusion I have reached is that it’s not that big businesses can’t have a purpose, they can. The issue is that they are simply not ever going to be fit enough to deliver a purpose. They are simply the wrong kind of beast. Meat-eating wolves don’t become grass-eating sheep though they can do a pretty good job of dressing up like them - some of the time.
Just as going ‘Beyond Petroleum’ was beyond, and some would say still is, beyond the big oil companies, so going ‘Beyond Purpose’ as being anything other than an aspiration is beyond them too.
Professor Colin Mayer, whom I interviewed for my book Core and for whom I have the greatest admiration and respect, this week discussed the Principles of Purposeful Businessthat he and The British Academy have been busy defining these past two years in a Business Fights Poverty podcast. Published in November 2019, what lies behind the eight principles is a determination to “reconceive [sic] the notion of business over the coming years.” The ambition of the project is wide-ranging and simultaneously both exciting and sobering. Amongst the recommendations is that purpose, by law, be placed at the core of all corporations. That leader's of corporations are measured and made accountable for performance against a purpose, and that a set of values necessary to deliver purpose be embedded in their corporate culture.
I say yes to all these new ideas (they fit very nicely with my Single Organizing Idea - SOI®), but here’s the sobering part. I know from first-hand experience just how difficult it is to even introduce let alone implement the kind of radical changes being proposed. Resistance, passive or active is not just embedded at every level of top-down silo cultures but often also permeates the servile, self-serving, short-term driven agencies (public and private), that surround them.
It will take years and years of the very limited time we are told we have left by scientists to change these businesses. So why bother? Why bother saving them at all when our first and foremost concerns are about achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and making our world a safer, more caring and sustainable place.
It’s not new ideas like Professor Mayer’s that scare me. It's the old ones that do. Purpose is a tarnished old idea that is being promoted by out-of-date, noisy, attention and lobbying reliant big businesses who are themselves no longer fit for purpose. Businesses possess an array of unique attributes and the potential to make a huge contribution to all our futures. But it’s time to set old big businesses and the purpose life-raft they are clinging to adrift and instead back and fast-track legislation for new businesses that are being founded upon and organized around a single, simple idea that makes things better.
Dragons Den*, the international reality TV franchise that came out of Japan in 2006 and pits fund seeking entrepreneurs against celebrity seeking venture capitalists was on Canada’s public broadcast channel CBC last week. ‘Cleaning up with a dragon’ and similar whoo-hoo one-liners introduced an ‘Up-cycle Special’ featuring fledgling businesses setting out to make the world a better place.
I happened to be in Montreal with my Canadian partners Umalia and as part of our week I spent one morning talking to the founders of the business which would set the den on fire that very night.
Norden is a business inspired by a book about a single organizing idea (SOI) that led to an epiphany that, in turn, bonded two forward thinking individuals in a partnership that has delivered a world’s first. Norden’s outer clothing range is the first to be completely made out of used plastic water bottles. The shell, lining and insulation are all entirely made out of traceable digitally numbered fibres supplied by Repreve®. Only the zips and fastenings are not made out of waste. Mayer Vafi and his silent partner, investor and mentor Michael Eliesen have created a world first and in so doing shown how being organised around a single compelling idea can deliver the kind of practical sustainable solutions the planet urgently needs.
Mayer beamed as he set out his pitch. “Wow” a Dragon exclaimed; “It’s so fashionable”, “Hard to believe”, “Very cool”, “A good buy” others chimed in as choreographed models paraded Norden’s wares and the Dragons tried on various styles for themselves.
But then it all went wrong and Mayer’s beaming face dimmed. It would be easy to criticise, and well, that’s what dragons do, so they did. They ravaged the poor guy.
They made some audience pleasing points, but what the Dragons singularly failed to understand is that Norden and other emerging businesses like it represent a new breed of business whose primary focus is not on maximising profit but on saving the planet. When the
clearly nervous Mayer tried to explain why he would welcome competitors into his space he was ridiculed “That’s not true, that’s not true, tell the truth” one fire breathing dragon exclaimed. Another suggested that he was talking nonsense. “No one puts $1.2m in just hoping everyone else takes a market share.”
But actually they do - because that is exactly what Norden is doing. As Michael explained to me earlier in the day. “Our objective is to lead change; to help make our industry sustainable. It’s not at all easy and we can only do that if we all act together, not just with our suppliers and partners but also with our competitors too.”
"...what the Dragons singularly failed to understand is that Norden and other emerging businesses like it represent a new breed of business whose primary focus is not on maximising profit but on saving the planet."
It makes total sense. It’s makes total sense to the likes of Stella McCartney, it makes total sense to Community Clothing’s Patrick Grant and it makes total sense to Eileen Fisher and Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard. It even makes sense in other industry sectors as the Chairman of France's leading multinational Suez pointed out during a NY Climate Change Week 2018 meeting I was privy to “The only way to deliver real change is for all competitors to act together.”
“The only way to deliver real change is for all competitors to act together.”
I’ve always had a problem with Dragons Den and don’t get me started on The Apprentice. I totally get that being nice in the reality TV game unfortunately doesn’t cut the ratings mustard TV and advertising exec’s desperately seek, but actually what aspiring entrepreneurs need is not criticism but encouragement, constructive guidance and feedback. Dare I also say a bit of empathy? Yes I dare.
Right at the very beginning of the show one dragon said “I think the den has always been a reflection of what is happening out there”. Sadly that maybe true. To change that we need a change of attitude and that needs to come from business leaders in whatever guise they come be they dragons, titans or sharks. Sustainability isn’t a business "trend to plug into” nor an act of charity “because I have a foundation” - it’s our future.
Maybe Norden was on the wrong show but 'business as usual' is out of date and maybe the show is too?
*Apologies: The recording can only be viewed in Canada.
It's great to see my partners @MartinJenkins and their clients in New Zealand making strides forwards (see here). It is progress when communications and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) teams unite under the purpose banner*. But to deliver sustainable success for all it is critical that Executive Teams and their Board's grasp the initiative and hot-wire purpose into the core of their business strategy. When that happens purpose is elevated and given the status it requires to affect real change. It subsumes old school generic mission/vision statements and becomes THE Single Organising Idea (SOI), of the business and the ecosystem it both influences and relies upon.
The positive impact of an SOI is tangible and in some parts of the ecosystem almost immediate. For example, internally staff sense being part of a new and meaningful movement that matters not only to the wellbeing of the business but to their own personal wellbeing. Externally, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) factors aligned with an SOI designed to deliver sustainable value for all stakeholders, attracts interest from long-term institutional investors. Meanwhile, admiration of the SOI sparks interest from the most motivated in the employment market and game changing innovations that align with the SOI arrive via new, dynamic partnerships and enhanced collaboration with existing ones in supply chains and elsewhere.
It’s all very positive and of course all very possible, but to make any of this happen we need the 'activist CEO's' touted by Edelman @Davos in January and referenced in various publications like the Harvard Business Review and CEO Magazine to show up, get involved and start delivering.
This does NOT mean speaking out or standing up for 'cherry-picked' causes. That is just cynical short-term brand management, dressed up as CSR or Shared Value with an eye on the perceived 'brand preferences' of Millennials.
No. This is about radical realignment and organisational development that will deliver practical outcomes. It's about fundamentally redirecting the businesses they lead to deliver actions at scale that will save planet and people.
The tools are there to activate and achieve such a transformation as demonstrated during SOI®SparkLabs in New Zealand, in the USA with Sustainable Brands - @SustianBrands and in the UK at Business Fights Poverty - @FightPoverty in the last four months. But according to the experts the time to use them is fast running out; https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change- heatwaves/think-the-heatwave-was-bad-climate- already-hitting-key-tipping-points-idUKKCN1UN065
Last week the UK government rejected all 18 of the recommendations put to it by a committee established to investigate, amongst other concerns, the negative impacts of the world’s second largest polluter - fast fashion. Meanwhile in Brussels the European Union was incapable of uniting to set a net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050 and over in Canada the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, gave the go ahead for the completion a controversial oil pipeline that will help ensure the survival of our world’s first placed polluter.
Despite all the evidence, despite all the activism and their own mealy mouthed rhetoric, why is it that policy makers are prepared to make such astonishing decisions?
It’s sad, but simple. In the same way that big businesses are the feeders of a system that only values the creation of wealth, policy makers are the status quo champions of another, not unrelated system, that only values success at the ballot box - whatever the societal or environmental cost. According to media reports, the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, quipped on his arrival at the EU summit: “Why should we decide 31 years ahead of time what will happen in 2050?”
These systems and the self serving, one-eyed, short- term deny and delay jockeys who gain from their existence are the problem.
We need a radically different approach and an alternative that will always, always, always (yes, three times), put the long-term wellbeing of people and planet first. It can be done. This month New Zealand showed the way by publishing the world’s first “wellbeing budget”, broadening the measure of a nation’s success from GDP to an increase the happiness of its people, with non-core spending orientated to a set of “wellbeing” measures.
I believe that NZ’s lead will eventually be followed and leaders will reach the right conclusions as indicted by Latvia’s prime minister, Krišjānis Kariņš when he said “We have come to the conclusion that this is a hell of an opportunity.” But how long can people and planet wait?
The businesses we work for, we invest in and buy our goods from have the power to act now. More importantly they can act where it actually matters.
But to achieve this we need a hell of a lot more business leaders prepared to prioritise understanding why sustainability and wellbeing has to be at the core of their businesses. The first practical step to achieving that is being prepared to consign 1990’s business school thinking to the history books. The second step is to invest in a human collaborative approach that will define what is possible. And the third is getting all the functions of the business organised around an idea that will make the promise of that possibility real.
Change is not without its challenges but the benefits are immediate and tangible. The pursuit of such a goal will create more businesses that have the ability to go beyond policy makers often compromised codes of compliance. It will embolden business leaders to question the clever sustainability reports that a cottage industry of third party agencies create to hoodwink stakeholders into believing that achieving CSR standards is somehow a great feat of commercial success (see how investors are pushing back on this). It will give confidence to businesses to step out from behind their brands and
demonstrate who they really are through actions not words. And finally, it will give voice to and nurture a growing generation of activist CEO’s prepared to call out the systems that are preventing them focusing the talents of their people and resources on uniting the eco-systems that the future of their businesses depend upon.
It takes guts but it can be done and the admiration generated by pursing such a course will deliver some surprisingly beneficial results, for us all.
Want to know more? If you are serious about championing change in your business and want to learn more about how to identify, define and align your businesses from the core with a Single Organising Idea that goes beyond 'greenwashing', mere compliance or brand management inspired purpose promises, we are running a short 90 minute introduction to
our SOI®SparkLab program next month at Business Fights Poverty Oxford 2019: 11 July, Said Business School, University of Oxford
Sometimes the future is not hard to predict - it’s totally logical. Widely cited, Star Trek’s Chief of Logic (COL), Spock nailed it when he said that “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” If we are bold and if we act now to change our organisations and our systems we will help ensure that future generations do that other thing the pointy-eared one said and “Live long and prosper.” Some people who hold the key to realising that future seem to be finally getting the message.
A survey of fund managers responsible for a whopping $10 trillion (£7.7 trillion) say that oil companies will not remain an attractive investment unless they change. This was the headline that came out of the second report published by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) and its partner Climate Change Collaboration at the end of April.
Contributors to the survey included some of the biggest names in the investment field such as Legal & General, Insight, Schroders, Aviva and HSBC Global Management. Just under a third of those who took part in the survey do not “see IOC’s (integrated oil companies), as an attractive investment on any time horizon.”
“... businesses that are single-mindedly focused on shareholder returns are history.”
I was told by some it was a bold thing to say and I even received a Shakespearean quote about the futility of my quest to challenge the status quo from one ex-colleague. But I believed it then and almost two years later, having engaged with leading businesses, NGO’s, activists and government representatives all around the world, I believe it even more so now.
But there is hope and while many businesses will indeed choose failure over change, the conversion of some fund managers is in an indication of real progress. But right now it's only a change of mindset and still restricted to a minority, albeit a seemingly growing one.
Reading the report carefully, what is suggested is that while fund managers are acutely aware of the changing attitudes of investors, consumers and employees - like the rest of us they are hearing the increasingly alarming findings of surveys and seeing the resulting activism - they are being frustrated in two ways. Firstly, by the short-term greenwashing tactics of oil companies who are seeking to deny, delay or disrupt change. And secondly, through their own lack of knowledge about what change actually looks like for themselves. According to the report only 39% of fund managers have a public commitment to achieving the targets laid out in the Paris agreement. 13% have a private commitment and at present 47% have no commitment at all.
The fossil fuel sector is not the only one facing challenges and unfortunately climate change is not the only negative outcome of the systems we have created as the Sustainable Development Goals clearly set out.
Leaders do need to be bold to bring about the kind of radical changes required to overcome these challenges, but it doesn't need to be a leap of faith. What is required to translate mindset change into the kind of action stakeholders are demanding is an inspiring but overwhelmingly practical solution that can be implemented, monitored and measured. Single Organizing Idea (SOI®) is a proven, values led approach to business management, that challenges the norms and overturns the business practices we have developed that are killing our planet and the prospects of future generations. Crucially, it unites and equips people with the tools and belief necessary to turn words and feelings of concern into proactive, tangible outcomes.
There is hope and change is entirely possible. But the systems and rules we will need to live by to ensure that all stakeholders (human and otherwise), live long and prosper now and into the future cannot be the same ones we abide by today.
If you are serious about championing change in your business and want to learn more about how to identify, define and align your businesses from the core with a Single Organising Idea that goes beyond 'greenwashing', mere compliance or brand management inspired purpose promises, we are running short 90 minute introductions to our SOI®SparkLab program in the coming months at the following events:
Sustainable Brands Detroit 2019: 3-6 June, COBO Center, Detroit, MI
Business Fights Poverty Oxford 2019: 11 July, Said Business School, University of Oxford
Prof. Ioannou's latest article on sustainability and strategy in the Harvard Business Review confirms that companies can do well by doing good. "Our exploratory results confirm that the adoption of strategic sustainability practices is significantly and positively associated with both return on capital and market valuation multiples, even after accounting for the focal firm’s past financial performance." This is good news but how should companies react to this news? The article goes on to suggest that companies considering the adoption of sustainability practices are arriving at a cross roads that questions their motivation "are we doing this to survive or compete". Of course it is both. But there is a third and more important factor to consider that makes adopting sustainable practices in the hope of achieving either objective a fool's errand. That factor is commitment.
Unless the business is totally committed and motivated by a genuine human desire to contribute to a future that benefits all its stakeholders, any actions it takes will be seen as little more than a branding makeover whose real purpose is to gain either competitive advantage or a cynical attempt to survive by appearing to care. There are many examples but ExxonMobil is a case in point as highlighted by the #ExxonKnew campaign and The Economist's recent article on the oil industry and climate change. Only by defining or redefining the core purpose of the business and putting 'doing good' front and centre of its strategy, ensuring every single function of its operation is actively pursuing alignment with a cause that matters beyond making money, can a business truly demonstrate that it is worthy of the support and essential resources - think money, time, ideas - of its stakeholders.
In the final chapter of my book 'Core' I tackled the need for commitment. To introduce the subject I quoted the acclaimed economist and strategist Pankaj Ghemawat whose 1991 book 'Commitment: The Dynamic of Strategy' had helped shape my early thinking about the potential of Single Organizing Idea (SOI®)*. He wrote:
"Commitment is the only general explanation for sustained differences in the performance of organizations...What needs to be emphasised is that the degree of commitment in regard to choices ensures that they can lead to sustained differences rather than merely transient ones."
For further reading David Grayson, Chris Coulter and Mark Lee underline the need for total commitment in their aptly entitled 2017 book 'All In'. It's time businesses and business leaders made that commitment.
* Single Organizing Idea (SOI®) is a management tool that makes purpose real. Identifying, defining and aligning your enterprise with a SOI® is proven way to define, align with and monitor the progress of a sustainable business strategy.