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_

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Volunteerism vs. Entrepreneurship

There aren’t enough good things to be said about young people doing voluntary work in areas of the world where educational and competency resources are scares. Volunteers help build schools in Costa Rica, they teach children and young people how to read and write in India and they help build NGO’s in South Africa. Further more they are motivated, able and make it possible for good projects to be realised because they do not require a big overhead.

For many volunteers it is a experience of a lifetime and expands not only their personal understanding of how the world works but also gives a opportunity to contribute in a very real way. In short volunteers makes a real difference for people for very real people.

However, when it comes to the development of a flourishing private sector, economic growth and sustainable development there is no substitute for the entrepreneur. To some extend the entrepreneur is competing against the volunteer at least this can be the case in some sectors. For instance when it comes to education there can be competition in the areas of higher education and specialised courses that could prevent higher quality firms involved in education creating a sustainable business platform. Or when takes up cleaning and reconstruction it could mean the “creative destruction” that Schumpeter talks about never happens simply because of the hit-and-run nature of volunteering.

I write this not to put down volunteering it is just stating a fact that if you compete against zero wages and zero profit you will almost certainly loose as a up and coming small business. So while we hail the volunteer we might consider that by doing good now one might be doing harm in the long-term separating people and society from creating and shaping their own future.

It is the nature of the entrepreneur to take a chance and to some extend take in a significant risk in order to gain first-mover advantage and maybe conquer a whole market. This risk is that the entrepreneur will loose everything that is invested in the project, but that is at the very hearth. In that way she or he is at the very front of what society needs in order to grow. Believing in something, taking a risk in order to accomplish the goal and harvesting the fruits of the hard work. And by doing that he or she is creating jobs, paying tax, creating new markets and innovating society.

As part of the analysis that any would be business creator will do is to evaluate if there is a market the product that might be introduced. The analysis will state if the market is either open for more competition or if it is saturated, if it possible to create a business model that can be scaled up or if it is a small business will continue to be small. A true game changer in that analysis would be if volunteering is part of business model used. For most, if not all entrepreneurs it would mean that he or she would find other places or other products to launch simply because you cant compete against zero wage and zero profit.

http://www.goabroad.com/

It is the secondary effect that is central

When working with CSR we like to believe that there is a cause effect relationship between the activities that we engage in and the results we can measure. But we often overlook that it is the secondary results that represent our greatest achievements.

Most organisations look at the direct effects of communication technology like CSR systems and efforts to introduce sustainable technologies with a communication component. There is no doubt that there persist other perspectives on how organisations can achieve sustainable business development but in all cases is the communication part central. To illustrate one can look at CSR as part of the branding strategy of companies that in order to boost their image advocate their products as green or sustainable. This I will characterise as a 1st order communication strategy like a cause-effect system of meaning.

 

We can look at communication technology like CSR as “what management wants”. This can be decentralisation into global teams, working from home systems or technologies that enable projects to work cross boarders. The common denominator for these communication technologies is that they enable people to process more data more efficiently or/and with greater ease. However it is often the side effects or secondary effects of the introduction of a CSR systems approach that have the greatest impact on business development, an effect that is often ignored or underestimated in the original prospect. So what management wants is often not what management really gets because the secondary effects outweigh the first order ones.

So what does management need to look out for when implementing a new technology, like CSR. First of all one should not underestimate the effect of cultural changes. Organisations cant implement a new technology without assuming that people will do their tasks differently meaning that they will use or at least relate to the introduction of this new process that is presented. They do not have to embrace CSR but the presence of systems that coerce employees to relate to something than them selves will force a cultural change no mater what. One could say that CSR questions the status quo forcing employees to ask themselves; “who are we as and organisation and how do we interact with people outside”.

Another effect closely related to cultural change is the raise of new types of conflicts. When people question their own ethics they will natural also question the ethics of their fellow employees. This give raise to conflicts that relate to our understanding of the consequences of how we interact and do business with customers or other stakeholders. Are we really doing good? Or are we only doing well? Just look at the banking sector that for a long time did not ask these fundamental questions, but almost exclusively used CSR as a means create a image of “goodness”. But when the ethics were questioned an internal conflict erupted questioning the very fabric of what the business was all about which was mainly grounded in CSR or Ethical framework of understanding.

Lesson is that when starting on the path of CSR it is not only that directly related effects of the system that one needs to take into account of, but also the changes that comes with thinking differently about the organisation. If you ask the organisational members to think (and I mean really think) about the consequences of their actions one should take this into account when embracing a technology. CSR asks employees to think and react to consequences of the actions. So be prepared to embrace rather their input rather than only thinking of CSR as a way create a better image of the organisation to outside stakeholders.

 

People can be ethical organizations can’t

From time to time the discussion of ethics arises in the CSR debate. We would like to think that CSR is a way for organisations to conform to the norms of society and what is expected from companies in terms of behaviour. But can you really directly link ethics with CSR ?

First of all, I would like to make my position clear on what I think of ethics and its relation to organisational behaviour. People can be ethical in the way that they can distinguish between what is good and what is bad or at least most people can do so. That can make a fairly good decision on the consequences of their actions in most cultures around the world even though they have never been there before. There will of cause be differences from region to region based on cultural norms, religion, politics etc. but it would be fair to say that all cultures would not accept murder, theft, or other forms of harmful behaviour towards people.

Secondly, organisations are made up of people but this does not mean that the sum of their ethics can describe the decision making process that it goes through. Rather an organisation lets say a company, will develop it own rational for make decisions. In this case it can be profits as the raison d’etre is to make a profit for its owners, it is what one could call a fundamental condition of being a firm. So even though people might bring ethics in to their workplace it will be overruled by the condition that they have to make a profit.

This it where it becomes interesting because what CSR is trying to do is to make the organisation receptive to other conditions or the ethics of other stakeholders. Remember that stakeholders can be other organisations as well as individuals that have a stake in the actions of the firm. These stakeholders might have other raison d’etre than the firm such as reduction pollution or creating better work conditions. They might not regard profit as a very noble goal at all or they might even think that the whole concept of profit before people is an unethical condition. But with CSR the two create a platform from which that can communicate in a meaning full way. As one can not talk to an organisation like wit people so what is needed is the creation of a language that both parties can think of as meaningful and as a way that it can express its ethics through. In terms of CSR this language have become expressed through the use of systems.

CSR systems are in my mind the codification of ethics that enable organisations and stakeholders to communicate with each other in a meaningful way. With my almost 15 years around different management systems I have come to believe that the only way an organisation is effectively able to communicate with it self or with its surroundings is though the use of systems. Mind you I have used the word effectively as individual are able to communicate outside the management system but it will always less effective in relation to reaching organisational goals. Codification means that the organisation negotiate and in some cases just accept the norms which a stakeholder present. F.eks. is the ten principle in the Global Compact a codification which a large proportion of firms are willing to accept and subscribe to. Or a firm can subscribe to the code in SA8000 that communicate to stakeholders that this organisation is upholding the Human Rights, Rights of Children and ILO declarations and conventions. This does not mean that individuals can make mistakes and break the rules or that decisions can be made which are poor or bad, but like “people” this is what is to be expected.

So back to the question if you can directly link ethics to CSR. If one accept the sentence that; “people can be ethical but organisations can’t”. Then one needs to invent some form of bridge between the two that gives meaning, but at the same time accept the conditions that each must function under. For people this means the ability to distinguish between good and bad, and for organisations their raison d’etre eg. Profit (firm), knowledge (education), helping the poor (NGO?), survival (the poor), etc. Bringing these two together is done through the use of systems that enable toe codes from one stakeholder to be understood and acted upon by the other. This bridge or translation systems is continuously negotiated between the parties involved based on their individual understanding of what is good. So can you directly link ethics and CSR? Well yes if you accept that CSR is a coding system for effective communication between stakeholders that would otherwise not understand each other.

Storytelling at the core of corporate CSR branding

Miami Beach, Florida Hand made sign advocating...

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The story corporate story should be at the core of any CSR effort. It is what I would call the cement that holds everything together inside the organisation and makes it possible to communicate with a degree of persuasion with its audience.

If one looks at storytelling as elements of branding one can distinguish three elements Culture, Identity and Image.

Culture being the stories that employees tell each other from the old t the new guy or among the old-timers or is the ones told in the employee magazine as examples of good cultural behaviour. It is also the informal stories that circulate among employees or close associates about how we saved the day by some act of heroism or how we beat the people from accounting at the annual summer go-card trip.  All these stories being told everyday at all levels of the organisations is building, reshaping and reinforcing corporate culture.

The Identity is what employees belie to be unique to being in just this organisation. One can call the corporate identity the reflection of the stories that is being told. One could say that they are the collective way of interpreting the stories we call our own which outsiders might not understand the fine details of. One cannot totally distinguish culture and identity from each other, as they are interlinked and always evolving. However, one can project or at least try to project ones identity on the surroundings as explicit examples of corporate culture.

This leads to Image, which are the pictures outsiders get of the organisation when it hears the corporate story being told. Stakeholders listen to the stories being told but are also taking part in its reproduction creating a mirror of the corporate image that the organisations identity can use as tool for affirming or renegotiating its culture and its feeling of being one.

In order to analyse and understand corporate storytelling one can use the actantial model developed by Greimas, which basically breaks down the story into six different but essential components.

The axis of desire, which refers to the subject or hero (who can be both good or bad) and the object, which is the thing he/she/it, desires. The axis of power that can be broken down into a helper or the person or thing that helps our hero and the opponent that is the person/thing trying to stop our hero from achieving his goal. The helper assists in achieving the desired junction between the subject and object; the opponent hinders the same.

Finally we have the axis of knowledge that is composed of the sender and the receiver. The sender is the person or thing that is requesting the establishment of the junction between our hero and the object he desires. The receiver is the element for which the quest is being undertaken.

Using this framework of understanding one could for example look at the most prominent CSR stories of 2010 the BP oil spill or the Google battle for free speech.

BP‘s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Deepwater Horizon was one of the world’s largest ever oil spills, and understandably this story absolutely dominated 2010. Not only did it put a final nail in the coffin for BP’s once vaunted sustainability reputation, but it heralded a major rethink about the viability of deep sea drilling. BP didn’t cover itself in glory by failing to come up with a realistic remedy until far too late – and ended up picking up most of the tab, thereby putting paid to the usual assumption that pollution is simply an ‘externality’ of business.

Here the CSR policy of BP could be seen as a helper in telling the story that the company was trying to communicate. However, the hero or BP executive management was not able to use the help they were getting and ultimately failed to keep the BP CSR brand intact. That the power to decide if BP was allowed to win or fail in the efforts was given to the local fishermen by a combination the statements in the CSR policy and the medias efforts to find a compelling case to write about.

Google’s battle for free speech

Google’s withdrawal from China at the beginning of the year was a landmark decision in the battle for free speech on the web. A real clash of titans, no other story this year illustrated better the clash between government and big business around human rights issues.

In the Google example we have a case were the CSR policy was used successful even though the case did not come out as a commercial success for the company. When the company was challenged on its policy it stood by its values and identity and ultimately was able to prevail as a ethical brand taking a decision to withdraw from china rather than compromise its ethical standpoint. The winner becomes the Google identity and brand which is viewed its stakeholders as a company who puts people before profit.

These stories and many more show that CSR is an essential part of the corporate brand and that it is central in the story that we tell. Also that the policy is not something that corporate executive should take lightly but that it is actually a document which quite literally can help or break a company brand.

Getting to the early adaptor using IMC – Strategies for implementing CSR

When trying to implement any kind of new innovation within an organisation or in a social context it is not without importance how and with what tools this is done. With CSR or Business ethics it is even more important because it is hard if not impossible to remove or erase what has already been done. What is important is that you get the ethics of your business into the DNA of your organisation, as Wayne Visser would put it. While this might not seem a like an enormous task it is not as complicated as it might seem. It might take a while for it to sink in but if you keep it simple and stay close to your strategy at hand you will get there eventually.

First of all one needs a holistic but structured approach. What you need to do is to answer the What, Why and How and When of your organisational CSR. This is not to say that this is a simple four step model or the only way of finding out what is important but it makes sense to establish a clear platform from were your business ethics can be expressed.

You need to define what is important to your organisation. If you are consulting company it might make much sense for your organisations members to talk about carbon footprint even though it is a very ‘hot’-subject in the CSR community. What might make more sense is to talk about how you see your relationship with the customer, how far will you go in coaching them, and at what point will it be important to say stop or escalate a issue to your management. If you are a designer it might be important to look into the people who produce your cloth. Are their any child labour and what about women’s rights in the factories that produce your unique designs? It is the ‘What’ is important to my company, and to me that should be in focus not what is the hot issue in the news or what the marketing department tells you will sell.

When you have made it clear what you stand for you need to investigate why these issues are important to You and not somebody else. It might seem trivial but if you can’t answer why something is important it will be really hard to persuade your employees, management, customers and suppliers why change is such a great idea. There is no one-size-fits-all on the Why of CSR and Business ethics. You might have personal reasons why this issue is important or it might be part of the collective memory of your organisation the central issue is that it is an ethical issue that you feel strongly about. This dos not mean that you should be blind for other would be subjects out there, but if you are going to build you business on ethical grounds than it should at least have a strong foundation and answering the Why will help you do just that.

What you have looked at the What and Why you turn to How. You have gathered some thought on how you are going to interpret the issues, which are important to you into some kind of guideline for the whole organisation. The How can have many forms it can be codes of conduct or code or ethics or it can be less visible as part of the standard operating procedures that you ask everybody to follow. In my experience the later is the better because it directly influences human behaviour, but one as an organisation you might have to make a clear statement both inside and outside its boundaries and then a code could be a good option. Both because it create a clear statement to your employees and management on what is acceptable behaviour but also because it tells your external stakeholders and not least your customers what you stand for.

Last one in the initial exercise is to plan the When and this is where you need to think about your early adaptors. You now know your What, Why and How of your organisational ethics now you need to let your invention grow. You know that your idea about the ethics of your organisation is founded in its DNA and the idea behind and know that it is rooted in your product and cultural heritage.  This means that you need to identify who you want to communicate with and find an appropriate channel that will enable you to reach these people.

However, you need to communicate the same message to all stakeholders not only the ones that you want to adopt your innovation. As you only have one opportunity to communicate your message and reach the people who will act as agents for change you have to use all the channels at your disposal. Integrated Marketing Communication is concept that is designed to make all aspects of marketing and internal communication such as advertising, publications, sales promotion, public relations, issues management, media relations, direct marketing and not least CSR to work together as one unified and powerful force, rather than permitting each to work in isolation. The combination of marketing and public relations tools lets an organisation influence for instance the image, public reputation and employee attitudes through the consistence and persistence of a few powerful messages.

“[IMC] is a process which involves the management and organization of all ”agents” in the analysis, planning, implementation and control of all marketing communication contacts, media, messages and promotional tools focused at selected target audiences in such a way as to derive the greatest enhancement and coherence of marketing communication effort in achieving predetermined product and marketing communication objectives.” (joep Cornelissen, 2008 among others)

The selected audience in this case is your agents of change. So even though all members of your audience will have the information at hand about what you are communicating it is the agent who is in your mind when you design your message. He or she properly already known to you or at least your vision of such a person, he is competent both as a person but also as a technician. It is a respected person who has their own values but is loyal giving the person credibility among his peers. It is a person who lives for the future and is willing to take a limited risk in trying something new her or his fuel is passion and the willingness and ability to transform a vision into something more tangible (such as your vision for a ethical business platform). It is a self-starter and motivator that do need fuel to run but ones started will interpret your vision and make it his or her own.

One of the main features about the change agent is that it does not have to be a employee it can be a customer who likes your product and buys in to your corporate culture and want to be evolved. It can be a supplier who sees the long-term benefit of a close relationship with your organisation or a junior member of your staff who buys into your idea. The innovation can get hold anywhere where there is a change agent present who displays the features that you are looking for.

Next week I will try to have a go at how you can use different types of communication channels including social media to get your change agent motivated and not least engaged in your strategic CSR efforts.

We need the NGOs as much as the entrepreneurs in the world

A kid repairs a tyre in The Gambia

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Schumpeter said that ‘the function of the entrepreneurs is to reform or revolutionise the patterns of production by exploiting an invention or, more generally, an untried technological possibility for producing a new commodity or producing a old one in a new way, by opening up a new source of supply of materials or a new outlet for products, by reorganizing an industry’. I will argue that the NGO have much the same function in society.

In this case I define the NGO as a relative small organisations, which is bound together with a purpose of societal change either domestically and/or internationally.

Like the entrepreneur is the function of the NGO to create new knowledge and question old habits in society. Both of them know their area of expertise much better then most and deal with the challenges of their micro-cosmos every day.

The NGO is often poorly organised and under managed but they cope with this challenge through a clearly defined mission and a sense of common purpose. And just like the entrepreneur there are plenty of challenges, which needs to be addressed administratively but gets handled through sheer footwork.

While many people in business look upon the NGOs as a pest that just makes life hard they should welcome the actor as a friend but a critical one. In business you will find plenty of people who will tell you what you want to hear but the NGO will almost certainly tell you what you should improve and were you have done wrong. I would not say to the NGO that they should partner up with business because then they loose their legitimacy and ability to be critical. But they should like the entrepreneur be welcomed at an arms length.

Business has for year scanned the market for new competitors and ideas. We all know plenty of stories about you innovative people having the business should for millions if not billions of dollars. But they would only have been able to create their brilliant designs if they were outside the corporate sphere on the inside they would only have been crushed under the weight of corporate naysayers. They thought and believed in their ideas and were willing to take a risk in pursuing their dream come true.

The NGO functions in much the same way, they are only effective if they are in opposition. If they get surrounded or encapsulated by too much structure they will only be less effective they do not exist for the sake of excising (as could be said for many other organisations) but they do so for because they want change. In business innovation it is the idea of creating something that other wants and the fulfilment of appreciation by others and for the NGO it is about making this place we live in a little bit better in the small niche were they are active.

In many countries there is a possibility for new entrepreneurs to get help in the starting phases of their project. This help is made available in order for the entrepreneur to be able to handle all the red-tape and hopefully make it possible for them to start a successful business. When they clear the first stages of creating a business plan and maybe even producing a prototype of the product they will if they are lucky be able to attract a angel or venture capitalist who will provide the funding needed in order to make the final transition from small scale to large scale production.

If we are to cope with the challenges of globalisations we need to produce organisations that will challenge the governance of the organisations on the global market. We have seen and continue to see that corporations are left with self-governance or governmentality and no stat or interstate enforcement of international proclaimed ethical or governance standards.

I have seen plenty of NGOs that have pursued the money that business can provide but through the process looses their soul and purpose as an independent observer. To me this is the very hearth blood of being a NGO is to be able to claim that they are free of close ties to private or even governmental organisations and the only reason why they can claim to be independent. If they can’t do this in a convincing manor they will have no right to criticise under the shield of the NGO banner. In my mind they would rather be names as lobbying companies who tries to influence key decision makers to see things their way, basically putting them in the same booth as tobacco, farmers, oil and weapons cartels.

My suggestion would be that we support the NGOs in their efforts to be even better just like we do for the entrepreneur. And just like the up-and-coming small business the NGO needs support in order to acquire the skills needed in order to become even better at what they do. They need to be educated and to some degree finances or at least be able to identify streams of funding which will insure their independence.

We need the NGOs critical voice in order challenge our perceptions of reality and our already established norms. Were would we have been on food safety, human rights, child labour, dangerous drugs and environmental issues if it had not been for the resilience and independence of the NGO.