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.

Women on boards study from Cranfield School of Management

It is always a pleasure to post good news especially when it is on an area that I think is important. Women in top management and on boards have a significant positive impact on corporate governance, financial performance and stakeholder engagement.

I would like to see a gendered approach to HRM and recruitment policies being implemented as part of a strategic effort to strengthen the corporate backbone. Some of the research I have done in the area on how this can be done could actually be made to work if companies believed that corporate executives have to grown using the corporate pipeline.


Women on Boards six month review

Corruption – The disease that kills new business

No Corruption

No Corruption (Photo credit: Ann Douglas)

What is Corruption?

Corruption can defined as “the misuse of entrusted power for personal benefit”. It can also be described as letting personal or family relationships influence economic decision making, be it by private economic agents or by government officials. Corruption is always kept more or less secret and therefore is the individual behavior of corrupt agents almost impossible to observe systematically in real life. You know it when you are subjected to it.

The objectives of government are vital to the understanding of the diverse negative effects of corruption on the public service. Corruption renders governments unable or unwilling to maximize the welfare of the public for personal or the gains of a small group of people.

A corrupt principal creates allocation inefficiencies and cripples its credible commitment to effective policies, and opens the door to opportunism. Because corruption must be hidden from the public and is not enforced by courts it entails transaction costs, which are larger than those from legal exchange. This suggests that corrupt contracts are primarily relational contracts where legal exchange serves as a basis for sealing and enforcing corrupt agreements. Legal exchange not only provides for corrupt opportunities, but for the necessary enforcement mechanisms. Examples of such legal exchange are long-term business exchange, belonging to the same firm or political party or being embedded in social relationships. The latter may even comprise the engagement in charitable institutions. Reform should not only focus on limiting opportunities for corrupt behaviour but also on impeding the enforcement of corrupt agreements.

Two types of Corruption

According to transparenecy International there are two types of corruption that one can encounter “According to the rule”- and “Against the rule”-Corruption.

“According to the rule” constitutes a situation where an individual receives an illegal payment for something he/she is required to do by law – for example when a state official solicit bribes from a company for expediting a routine public service. “Against the rule” refers to a situation where a bribe is paid to obtain a service that the receiver is not authorised to provide but gains access to through a bribe. For example skipping the queue to gain access to a prestigious school or gaining a permit for which would normally would not be granted. Both of which are deemed as counterproductive to positive social and economic development.

There is no way to know how widespread corruption really is and the level of impact on financial and social development. As a Social Risk corruption is properly one of the first things that organisations investigate when investigating possible investments in a region or country primarily because there is a direct link between the perceived level of corrupt behaviour and general social issues like crime, rule of law, healthcare, etc.

When evaluating social risk in a region Transparency International, EBRD, OECD, IMF and the UN good sources for your assessment pared with local sources such as trade groups, the embassy in the region, government business development initiatives, etc.

Links on more information on Corruption and its impact:









Bishop, T.J. and Hydoski, F.E. (2009), Corporate Resiliency: Man- aging the Growing Risk of Fraud and Corruption. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 51–208.

Uslaner, E.M. (2008), Corruption, Inequality, and the Rule of Law: The Bulging Pocket Makes the Easy Life. New York: Cambridge University Press, 30–249.

Svensson, J. (2005), “Eight Questions about Corruption,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 19(3): 19–42.

Weitzel, U. and Berns, S. (2006), “Cross-border Takeovers, Corrup- tion, and Related Aspects of Governance,” Journal of International Business Studies 37: 786–806.

Luo, Y. (2006), “Political Behavior, Social Responsibility, and Perceived Corruption: A Structuration Perspective,” Journal of International Business Studies 37, 747–766.

Cuervo-Cazurra, A. (2006), “Who Cares about Corruption?” Journal of International Business Studies 37: 807–822.

Jensen, N. et al. (2010), “Understanding Corruption and Firm Responses in Cross-national Firm-level Surveys,” Journal of International Business Studies 41: 1481–1504.

Clean safe water build societies

Česky: Pitná voda - kohoutek Español: Agua potable

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Help build resources for a clean water supply through helping water projects like the Charitywater project in Rwanda. Clean water is key to building societies and at this point it is not going in the right direction.

The rate of improvement in access to safe drinking water has long been in decline; the percentage of the world population with access to safe drinking water rose by 11.1% between 1970 and 1975 but grew by only 2.4% between 2000 and 2006.

Within the next half-century, access to safe drinking water may fall below the level of 1977, when the international community launched its first attempt to increase access to safe drinking water.1

The lack of access to safe drinking water is likely to impinge upon economic growth by 2050,if not earlier.

The emerging economies are expected to be the first to suffer from a decline in access to safe drinking water.

Because the emerging economies are an important engine for world economic growth, the impact on those economies’ performance is likely to have wider implications for the global economy.

Industry, governments and supranational agencies have an important role to play in conserving and increasing the supply of potential safe drinking water.

Water purification at the point of use is expected to make a major contribution in increasing access to safe drinking water around the world.

Clean water saves lives and builds society.

Directions of the CSR movement

For the past five decades we have seen a tremendous development within the CSR movement from a few hippies in the sixties shouting curses at Dow Chemicals to businesses build on the idea of sustainability such as the Body shop and Starbucks. This blog is about what I think will happen in the next few years. The list is far from complete but gives an overview of some of the trends that will shape CSR in the coming years.

Codes of conducts as a “license to operate”. Code of conducts was, a few years ago, seen as a source of competitive advantage, and to some businesses a method to organise its philanthropic efforts. Today they are seen as something that most international businesses have as part of their normal business approach and more a given than an extra feature. Even companies like A.P.Møller-Maersk that until recently did almost nothing within sustainability is now implementing Codes of Conduct and have become member of the Global Compact.

Moving from a fragmented approach to CSR companies now work strategically with philanthropy and stakeholder engagement/management. As described by Porter and Kramer there are real advantages to be gained by working strategically and long-term with the company’ philanthropic activities (Porter & Kramer, 2002). And companies are using philanthropy to gain access to students and other important resources that they will need for their future growth. Apple computers have successfully engaged with university students as part of their strategy, which has moved the company from being marginalised in the market to be directly comparable with Microsoft.

The further evolution of sustainable and social risk management into real tools for business. Where companies engaged with stakeholders because they represented a business risk they would in the future also be part of business development. Globalization have meant that business have expanded its scope and reach significantly. Fuelled by waves of liberation in developing and emerging markets have initiated a significant increase in contact with countries and regions that can be categorized as difficult to do business in. The increased sphere of contact and influence have spread to every coroner of the world and is to a large extend fuelled by the prospect of high returns, first mover advantages and market shares (Haufler, 1997, Mehmet, 1999, Banfield et al., 2003, Gouldbourne, 2003,

Jamali & Mirshak, 2010). According to the World Bank some 1,5 billion people are affected by organised violence or conflicts (World Bank, 2012), this number constitute roughly one fifth of the total population of the world making it one of the world’s biggest social issues. Conflicts are present in all parts of the world and have a direct or indirect impact on the lives of everybody on the planet either through social ties or as part of our professional lives. For people who are directly affected it is an ever-present threat that invades all activities and decision making processes, for the societies involved it puts social lives and development in a state of suspended animation. To a large extend the issues that business needs to confront are outside what can be considered the norm within traditional risk management strategies (RMS) because the issues are socially embedded and complex (Holzman et al, 2003). As seen in the case with Starbucks NGO and companies can work together on areas of common interest and create new products and services (Austin & Reavis, 2004).

Social responsible investments or SRI will become more and more influential on driving investment decisions and thereby the choices of management. It is not argued that investment companies will become more social conscious but customers like institutional investors will become more and more concerned about how they are growing their portfolios (Hawken, 2004). This will not happen because they suddenly become aware that they have a significant social or environmental impact but that the customers of instructional investors are starting to wonder how their pensions are growing.

The raise of the corporate citizen. The idea of corporate citizenship was first seen a few decades ago (Crane & Matten, 2010). The idea of corporations as citizens with obligations and rights really saw its emergence with several big international finance scandals such as scandal around Enron and Arthur Anderson around the turn of the century. The idea of a corporate citizen comes from the notion that companies like people have an obligation to the community they are part of. This means that they are obliged to behave in accordance with ethical norms formulated by society. In many ways the corporate citizen come from the idea of engagement with salient stakeholders and acting in accordance with their expectations and wishes. While there are many companies that claim corporate citizenship a very have moved beyond mere rhetoric.

The inter-linkage between CSR and development studies. Will further develop and as we will see in this book gender will be one of the lessons learned from the field of development studies that will define corporate behaviour in the years to come. For decades development practitioners have known that economic growth, democratisation and security does not happened in a vacuum and that development a sustainable business climate is linked to society and governance structures. As companies increasingly becomes global even at very early stages of business lifecycle so does the issues that they have to confront. But as older companies have had time to cope with different cultures and business environments young entrepreneurs does not have the same privilege. In essence this means that they will have to experience a much steeper learning curve of they are going to survive on the global marketplace. The tools that have been refined through years of development studies will be an integrated part of creating a sustainable business platform for the future.

Since the 80’ties have seen large-scale privation of traditional state enterprises in areas like transportation, communication, healthcare, energy and infrastructure. Mostly influenced by neoliberal thinking in United Kingdom and United States were large-scale privatisation programs were implemented under Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan (Bhagwati, 2007:98, Harvey, 2005:57ff). As this happened private business also found its way into areas traditionally controlled by the state and as time have progressed more and more areas have seen either total takeover by private business as we have seen in telecommunication, part privatisation with majority state ownership as with railroads or private companies in direct competition with or as a alternative to state institutions as we have seen in Healthcare and Private security companies (Harvey, 2005, Dicken, 2003, Klein, 2000, Friedman, 2007).

The concept of CSR have found it’s way into the business world largely due to the weakening of the state and as a result of pressure by stakeholder groups to act as information have been more widely available from even the most remote part of the world. Word like ‘Sweatshop’ and ‘child labour’ would not have found its way into everyday language if it had not been for the increased transparency and persistence of stakeholders who have come forward within the last two decades.

CSR and Partnerships

partnership agreement

partnership agreement (Photo credit: o5com)

One of the more resent developments within the field of CSR has been the emergence of strategic partnerships. Ever since the start of business there have been different forms of partnerships from small business franchises to large-scale outsourcing. In the last decade there have been an emergence of other forms of partnerships such as business and governmental institutions and in the last few years between Business and NGOs. While the first form of partnership is relative unproblematic as it is assumed that both parties have similar end goals in their efforts to maximize return on investment it is another case for the two last forms of partnership.

Business and Governmental partnerships have been seen in areas were both parties could see synergies. This could be in cases were companies wanted to explore markets in developing countries but needed support in-order to get a foothold in the market. In both Sweden and Denmark business partnerships are promoted by governmental development agencies like SIDA Business-4-Devlopment and DANIDA Business-2-Business programs (SIDA, 2012, DANIDA, 2012).