Nobody wants one in their back yard

Who want a two by two kilometre and 100-meter open pit mine in their back yard or for that matter several square kilometres of land, plastered with 130-meter high windmills? Well the answer is simple nobody. Local communities together with special interest groups have been good at creating media stories on how the “little” man gets brushed aside by big business and sometimes with good reason. It could seem like that business in general and multinational companies especially have been struggling with getting on the same “wavelength” as the communities where they conduct their business.

Industries like mining and big renewable energy projects are especially exposed as they involve heavy machinery, removal of vast amounts of dirt, dangerous working conditions, damage to the environment, destruction of nature and farmland. And a lot of the time all these activities translate into a massive impact on the social life of the surrounding population. So it is not strange that the locals finds it difficult to accept they should be subjected to this kind of influence. Factors like these are all well known and the companies involved have created a wide range of systems and tools in order to cope with both the positive and negative side effects of their activities.

Teghut dumpster 3

There have been mining in the world in the last 5000 years and its effect on society is well documented. Companies who are active in the industry knows that local communities are confronted with uncertainty as to what the future brings and have put in-place management systems and organised in order to confront these challenges. Sometimes these systems are to the benefit of the local population and sometimes not. Even though social risks are well known and described in numerous cases it remains the principal reason why mining projects have to close down after start of operations. In practice this means that mining companies are left to experiment and relay on the knowledge they can get when things goes wrong, either in their own back yard or when one of their competitors get in trouble. However, we are now seeing companies in other industries being confronted by some of the same risks and having the same types of difficulties handling the risks that local communities present.

Most people agree that the renewable energy sector by their very nature is working for a common global good. They help us reduce CO2-emissions, limit the impact of global warming, makes us free from the geopolitical implications associated with fossil fuels and creates a healthier local climate. However, they are also confronted by local communities who are not too keen on them setting up shop in their neighbourhood. These companies are making the very same mistakes that mining companies did that historically have resulted in closed down projects. For windmills and other great alternative energy infrastructure projects the story is repeating itself as we place windmills in areas where people complain about noise or that protected forests are destroyed in order to make room for some of the extremely huge mills that we are now able to produce. While we continue to argue about the pros and cons of alternative energy the fact remains that we do not want these structures where we live and we can muster significant resistance against projects which are perceived to be destroying local communities. The result has been that all major windmill projects in Denmark are now being moved to the sea despite the fact that this will drive maintenance costs up and make green energy more expensive. This development could ultimately mean that green energy will not be competitive with fossil fuel and in the end destroy the sector, as a real energy alternative.

Companies faced with social risks have tried in different ways to mitigate issues with local communities. The most common approach that companies have taken when confronted with these types of risks is to implement a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) system that is designed to address stakeholder grievances in the local communities. These systems can take many and have different implications for the company that uses them. Evidence of this trend is clear if one takes a quick look at multinational companies and their websites where they routinely communicate they aren’t just in business to make a profit. A lot of companies actually goes as far as to communicate that their goals are equally focused on servicing the communities for a broader and bigger social purpose. It has been shown that CSR has been an effective way for companies to show that they are good corporate citizen with a conscience. And has been a way for them to communicate and convince local communities, nongovernmental and governmental organisations that they are working for a common good that will serve social, environmental and economic aims.

However, fieldwork shows that local communities might not be too keen on the sometime very fluffy speeches given by corporate executives. These communities do not only get their information from the company when trying to make sense of a proposed project but get insights from a wide variety of sources ranging from other community members to NGOs and government officials. This means that while the CSR systems might look good on paper they often miss the point that they are not the only way that communities get information and create an opinion about a given project. And by interviewing community members it actually shows that CSR systems are giving rise to even more risk as they provide ammunition in instances where companies say one thing but do another. Like for example when companies communicate a zero environmental impact on water sources but communities experience mud in their drinking water. Or when companies document that their windmills make no noise but people living close by creates headlines when telling the press about their sickness history.

Teghut tail 3

While research into social risk is still in an early stage it shows that companies have little control over how stakeholders sense making processes surrounding the projects that they propose. It also shows that CSR might not be the “miracle cure” that most of us would like it to be and could actually be counterproductive to the aims of the company and society at large. So called normal people will continue to make their own mind up around the world that they are part of and they will continue to change their mind when and if they get smarter. Even though companies would like to think that they can influence their surroundings by claiming that certain things are true such as green energy and windmill projects are for the good of everyone, it does not make the individuals affected by such project think that this is necessary true in their local community.

Looking at the people side of risk

I was reading the McKinsey article by Alexis Krivkovich and Cindy Levy called ”managing the people side of Risk” which promote the argument that a strong risk culture can mitigate risk and maximize opportunities for business development. The idea seems appealing, that with the right leadership it is possible to implement the right type of risk culture and thereby enabling companies to “[acquire] new businesses, entering new markets, and investing in organic growth”.  However, this functionalist, positivistic idea of culture and risk does leave a lot of questions unanswered and possible constitute a risk in itself. Their main arguments can be split into three headlines.

Culture as a static entity

Is a risk culture something you can implement? Well, I will let it be up to you but from my almost 20 years in private an public organisations I can’t come up with just one example where a risk culture or any other culture have been implemented by management. I have seen many attempts, but never a successful one. The reason is that a risk culture can only be identified retrospectively. You only know that you have a successful risk culture if risk does not materialize into issues and tangible threats, on the other hand it could be that no issues arise because that issues and threats are simply not there. So the question is then, who can identify the culture if you have a strong risk culture if it is impossible to measure? Maybe it takes a McKinsey consultant…

People is the problem not the solution

Management rule their organisations like kings who can choose how individuals think and act in the world around them, or at least this is the claim of McKinsey. In their paper it is the idea that management have in-depth insight and knowledge about all the actions of their employees and that successful companies are the ones that have as much (mind)-control over their employees as possible. However, while we might strive for improved control and efficiency of organisational processes it’s only a few (feebleminded) who will claim that they have total control of employee’s actions. I think that we should count ourselves lucky that we do not have this type of control as adversity fuels organisations ability to innovate and develop and that striving for increased control on the magnitude indicated by the authors will only lead to organisational demise. So instead of perceiving people as the problem organisations should look upon people as the solution to mitigation of risk, not the cause.

Risk is universal

The claim is that successful organisations are the ones that hold people accountable for mistakes made – “To make aspirations for the culture operational, managers must translate them into as many as 20 specific process changes around the organisation, deliberately intervening where it will make a difference in order to signal the right behaviour.” It is not my claim that individuals should not be held accountable for their actions, but it should only be the extent that they actually have control. As risk is universal (fuelled by human actions and decisions) it cannot be one role or person sole responsibility to identify and mitigate risk. It would be impossible for one person to process just a fraction of the information on possible outcomes that organisations produce every day. Rather organisations should empower and disperse decision making to all individuals and groups in the organisation and hold them accountable for their own decisions and its consequences. The role of management becomes one of encouragement and support rather than control and punishment. They are there to ensure that people with right type of training and personal competencies are invited to participate in the continued development of the organisation so that they are equipped to handle mitigate or take advantage of the operational risks that they are facade with.

Mckinsey_MoF46_Managing people risk_

CSR is about focusing on the little things

It seems odd that when corporations show their commitment to society through CSR they get the most out of doing something about the little things. Companies that are successful looks at what they do well and tries to figures out how this impact communities that they are active in, in ways they could not imagine if they did not have the tools provided though CSR.

When reviewing the many definitions of CSR that is out there it gives little or no clue how actually to conduct social responsibility. It would seem that if one just followed conventional wisdom it would be hard if not impossible to satisfy even the simplest requirements given by all these different classifications.

“The Social Responsibility refers to the obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society.” Bowen, 1953 in Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, which commonly regarded as the first milestone in modern CSR research and practice.

Another more modern definition have been issued by the International Standards Organisation (ISO) through their guidance on social responsibility “Responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that contributes to sustainable development, including health and the welfare of society; takes into account the expectations of stakeholders; is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour; and is integrated throughout the organization and practiced in its relationships.”

Both of these very fine definitions give little or no clue to what companies should actually do to both successful in terms of profit, development and continued competitive advantage, and at the same time being in tune with societies moral compass.

But some companies have actually done quite well trying to combine their CSR with their core business. Just to give a few examples.

Danish Novo Nordisk has committed themselves to the task of “Changing diabetes” and have successfully introduced new products like Victoza inline with their core mission statement

The Swedish fashion company, H&M have under the statement “Conscious” has with worked to create sustainable fashion through a comprehensive CSR system that reduce risks in their supply chain.

Vivendi, the French telecom company, have initiated a program that promotes the safe use of the Internet to youth.

All of these initiatives are small when it comes to the efforts that the company needs to put into them because it is embedded in the “what we do” part of their business, but even so that have a huge impact on their outreach to the communities they are active in.

So even though it would seem that these successful companies are focusing on the “little things” they do represent a significant societal impact exactly for that reason.

Mapping the components of Social Risk

There is no doubt that companies are faced a level of scrutiny that the world have never seen before. Almost on a daily basis are companies being exposed as fraudsters, environmental culprits, tax evaders or child labour abusers. No company can know what or who will be next to be exposed in the media as the biggest unethical corporate abuser of the worlds resources.

One side effect of this trend have been the numerous standards and quality management systems that focuses on different approaches to reducing the risk of poor decision making and unethical corporate behaviour. There is no doubt that companies need a systematic approach in order to keep their managers and decision makers on a leach. However, there are limits to how comprehensive a given system can be and still be relative effective. Just think of the Sarbanes-Oxley or BASEL 2 frameworks, which did little to prevent the biggest financial downturn with an epicentre in the very industry that they were put in place to regulate.

As I see it is traditional risk management programs such as the above mentioned narrowly focused on operational and compliance risks and consist of short-term point solutions. Which are narrowed down to mitigation actions specific to particular sources or impacts of risk. But what happens when risks are rising from multiple sources and places within all the corporate entities? Point solutions can work well for pinpointed risk areas, where the main objective of the risk management effort is to avoid or prepare for a particular event and in so doing reduce the associated cost. However, focusing on one point or case cannot work for strategic risks, where complex origins demand an integrated management approach across entities, borders and levels of authority.

One dimension of social risk’s complexity is that it is often a function of strategic or operational decisions companies have made that affect issues that stakeholders care about. So instead of being a “one system fits all”-approach it encompass a wide range of areas which overlap and are integrated into each others systems in order to create a fine masked network which enables organisations to catch issues as they arise and before they become a crisis.

In the coming weeks and months I will try to explore the different parts of the Social Risk wheel that I have developed in order to better understand the organisational impact these individual elements might have on the positive developments of corporations in a global context.


A Measure of Success – CSR Business Intelligence

It would seem that we have been over this a thousand times before… What gets measured gets managed. It was true when we invented TQM in the 80’ties and LEAN in the 90’ties and while we seem to forget about basic management skills when we adopt network organisation and self-empower our employees it is still true that if you can stick a number to your performance there is a much better chance that improvements follow close behind.

My good friend Michael Koploy have for a number of years been working with evaluation and documentation of CSR performance. As I he has realised that with CSR comes complexity on a scale that is mind-blowing. For TQM, LEAN and other quality management systems there were at least boundaries that was relatively narrow outlook defined by customers, suppliers, competitors and employees, but with CSR there are no scope.

So how do you work with CSR data, how do you get your hands on it and how can you present it in a way that gives meaning to decision makers and stakeholders. Michael has adopted an approach that might work and builds on some of the fundamentals of TQM and at the same time takes into account that the world (and organisations with it) is always changing. Build on three basic principles with data as “King”.

First – Automate and improve data collection to get a better picture of corporate sustainability;

Companies generate millions of data points every day and as time of progressed much of these systems have been integrated into various systems like SAP or other Business Intelligence (BI) structures. Finance, HR and operations have for a long time used these systems in order to improve their processes and it is high time that CSR professionals do the same.

Second – Use analytics applications to find trends and make informed decisions;

The graphic integration that comes with advanced BI systems can prove to be even more useful when it comes to sustainability performance. Often we see fragments of a total effort displayed in the CSR report or through corporate announcements and newsletters. But what we really need to specialised and specific information that is valuable to the individual stakeholder. For instance if I’m interested in anti-corruption issues I would like to be able to access the policies related to the issue but also audit reports and key performance indicators tracked in real time. What I do not need is a general understanding that this or that company is working actively to reduce corruption in its supply chain I want to know the “how”.

Third – Develop sustainability teams that are data-minded and accountable for business decisions.

The Crap-in-Crap-out principle is of cause also applicable when it comes t CSR Data gathering, reporting and presentation. So when data have to be managed it is done by people who know what they are doing and not by some random employee who have little or no knowledge about a given subject. A team approach works because it forces us to articulate our assumptions about how the world works and enables us to be challenged on our views. Within the field of CSR there are many opinions about what is the right thing to do and how its should be done, so instead of just having one person deciding a team of people agree and are accountable for the approach.

Data is not only king when it comes to CSR it is central, but not without the right people and approach to come with to terms with sometimes difficult to comprehend facts about the organisations that we work with. Data and data processing can unveil truths about an organisation which calls for hard decisions and sometimes for managers to change their perception of right and wrong. But without a common BI platform we will never get close to realising the knowledge that we can gain from systematic and comprehendible CSR data approach.

Doing “good” also means taking hard decisions and being accountable for ones actions

Some people tend to think that if you are doing good you somehow do not have to be accountable for you actions. It would seem that it is like that ones you are “goodness industry” it is automatically a license to bypass the normal channels of communications and scientific standards. But with the growing number of stakeholders there is however an urgent need for more transparency also on the other side of the fence.
Very few of the stakeholder groups like NGOs or CSOs that I know of have a standardised method and understanding of how to report findings. Most often they god for a headline approach where what ever fits the main thesis is included in the reporting and all that contradicts will be left out. It is not that I think that they do this to be evil or that they are trying to twist the facts in a conscious way it is just that they are unaware that for anything to be true it needs to be transparent and capable of being reproduced. Unfortunately this is frequently not the case.
We often hold the most transparent companies accountable for their actions and dig into their annual and sustainability reports in order to find inconsistencies that we can explore but it rarely is the other way around. The possibility are explored that there is a discrepancy between what the company says and what they are actually doing. And when a flaw is found we make sure that everybody knows about it either through the press of using dedicated campaigns.
The Haitian earthquake disaster provides a good case for. NGOs and to some degree CSOs came under fire from locals who claimed that not enough had been done to transform temporary shelters into permanent homes, or to provide access to drinking water and sanitation services. In some camps run by NGOs, people were still dying from cholera a year after the disaster struck and by that actually doing more harm than good. Of cause it is not all NGOs that are active in Haiti that did wrong but it goes with the case that they cannot be left without some form of control and accountability for their actions.
Another example comes from Cambodia where international NGOs actively contributed to corruption, which was documented in the documentary “The Trap of Saving Cambodia”.

The film puts a spotlight on some of the troubling issues facing this country: government sponsored forced evictions; corruption on a massive scale; the underground trafficking of women and children. And maybe even as disturbing is that local NGOs with the finances of the World Bank, joined by huge donor countries are contributing to the continuation of these problems by providing access to billions of dollars in aid where most of the money is going to officials rather than to the people in need.
There are still NGOs that think the accountability is not for the “Goodness”-industry. Or as Mango a UK based NGO puts it “Research has shown that results-based management is not an effective way of managing and reporting most NGOs’ performance.” And Goes on to list why they should not held accountable for the results that hey produce. To a large extend reminding me of the discussions in the private sector in the 80 ties and 90 ties about quality management.
NGOs need to shape up if they are to continue to be the beacons of truth and uprightness that we have come to know them. They will need to shape up their processes and weed out the organisations that does not live up to the basic criteria of accountability, transparency and good governance or the whole sector will be dragged down into the mud from where it will be difficult of not impossible to escape.

Removing Cash is effective Anti-Corruption management


scott-schaefer-politics (Photo credit: ScottSchaefer)

How do you systematically combat corruption when it seems to be found everywhere? In many countries around the world corruption is part of how business is being done, how you deal with officials and how you get things done. In a lot of places you will hear that it is part of the culture that there is nothing one can do about the phenomenon because the system as a whole would not work if there were no one to skim the cream so to speak.

In my mind there is at least one successful way that will insure the reduction of corruption significantly and that is by removing cash as the main means of payment from society. Cash is the fuel that ensures that corruption can flow freely and if one is able to reduce the amount of cash one can combat the most visible forms of corrupt behaviour and maybe even affect other forms of corrupt behaviour higher up the favours-for-cash food chain.

Corruption is operationally defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain (Transparency International) and can be found in two forms:

  • “According to rule” corruption – Which is corrupt behavior that ensures that people of power uphold the laws and rules that they have been entrusted with because to their position in society. F.eks. getting permits within a reasonable timeframe or speeding up bureaucracy.
  • “Against the rule” corruption – Is when a member of the public is able to ensure that a government official does not enforce rules. f.eks. A fine or penalty.

The cost of corruption is four-fold: political, economic, social, and environmental and the more advanced society becomes the more advanced is the corruption that one finds. From police officers taking small bribes to make up of the lack of adequate pay to election fraud through paid ballots.

It is my argument that societies that are not very advanced and therefor have a high degree of cash or natural economy, will be more prone to the two forms of corruption that ones where electronic transfers are more common. Another argument for removing cash in order to reduce corruption is that cash is most common at the bottom of the “food chain”. By cutting off the supply to higher levels in the chain and more damaging types of corruption one is able to reduce the impact as a whole.

We now have low-cost technological systems that can ensure that there is a less of a need for cash in society but more importantly these systems can be made available in developing and emerging markets thanks to telecommunication and improved systems of control. Systems like the ATM or home banking have found its way into the mainstream of all societies around the world and at affordable prices for everybody. Especially if one takes into account that a more transparent system will ensure that the cost of a credit card, interconnection and security systems are covered by the positive impact.

There are of cause challenges to reducing cash and as a technology it cannot be replaced in some parts of the society simply because it is the cheapest alternative. But by strategically targeting government and educational institutions, banking and international business there will be significant gains to be had through relative small investments for all parties involved.