AccountAbility in mist of turmoil

The directors of AccountAbility and the practical caretakers of the AA1000 standard have suffered a major setback. In their efforts to turn the previous “open source” standard into a basis for a sustainable business model they are experiencing a crisis of identity.

On the 11th the whole standards board (SB) resigned in an open letter to the directors of the organization. You can find the letter here.

The event that is described shows a couple of issues that I think one can learn from.

  • That culture matters. The AA was established as a multi-stakeholder run organisation with the aim to:
    • Enable open, fair and effective approaches to stakeholder engagement;
    • Develop and recognise responsible competitiveness in companies, sectors, countries and regions;
    • Create effective collaborative governance strategies for partnerships and multilateral organisations that are delivering innovation and value, and
    • Set and influence sustainability standards.    

None of which it has been able to achieve with any great success creating a crisis of the purpose of the organisation was really in sync with the stakeholders it so badly wanted to communicate with. When the AA became professionalised in order to “turn the ship” around the old culture of the NGO had to be put aside this created a identity crisis from which the organisation have been unable to recover.

  • When creating change you also need to change the artefacts. The AA1000 was the artefact of the old organisation it meant something to them that somehow was sacred and untouchable. When the professional management took this icon of what was “right” about CSR reporting they practically tried to sell the cultural soul of all the people that was involved. This cultural sell-out created tension within AA which it was unable to control and resulted in first that the Governing counsel in November 2010 resigned and finally the SB.

I do not offer an opinion (even though I have one) on if it is right or wrong for AccountAbility to change their reison d’etre. I the case of this organisation I find it interesting that that change is a difficult thing even for those that wanted change is their main purpose.

When business moves forward

Within the world of CSR there is a tendency to focus on the negative stories who did what to whom or who and what effect did it have. But sometimes we need to look at all the other things that companies do in order to be good citizens. I have spent some time reading through the A.P.Møller-Maersk (APM) first published CSR report and it is big and impressive. For a company that has made a virtue out of being as closed as possible it is a giant leap forward.

There are some key areas which I would like to highlight for other to learn from.

It utilizes the tools that technology can offer when navigating the 140 page report. When I first took a look at the report I thought that it was a monster but when I dug into the material it was easy to navigate around. So the lesson for others is that you should provide extensive information about the performance of the company but keep in mind that mortal have to read it too.  

APM identify and create strategies for stakeholder engagement. I think is a sheer brilliance most companies just write that stakeholders are important and we communicate with them but APM goes a step further and tells us how they aim to achieve this. I like this a lot. (Yes, I know there are properly a lot missing but for a company the size of APM they give it hell of a shot.)    

They set them self ambitious target (from a Danish perspective) on getting female representation in top management. Knowing APM as a male testosterone driven organization it is clearly a way of showing that this company is moving also on the fundamentals.

I also like the absence of “Hurray”-words. There is nothing like a report filled with green this and green that it just does not do it for me. The APM report is a serious piece of work and they are ambitious but keep the business perspectives in focus.  A lesson to be learned from many others in the CSR industry.

I look forward to the reports to come on how APM have come true on the ambitions.