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“All in” business leadership for business sustainability

2020-08-25GoldenBeeGoldenBee0



Guest profile

David Grayson

Emeritus Professor of Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield School of Management, UK. From 2007 to 2017, he was the founder-director of the Doughty Centre and Professor of Corporate Responsibility. He was a visiting Senior Fellow at the CSR Initiative of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government during 2006 to 2010.

David has chaired or served on various charity, social enterprise and public sector boards. He currently chairs the national charity Carers UK and the international charity: The Institute of Business Ethics. He is part of the Circle of Advisers for Business Fights Poverty. He is a former Managing-Director of the Responsible Business Coalition: Business in the Community and has worked with many international coalitions, institutions and companies around the world.

David is the author of seven books and has contributed to a further 10. His most recent book is: “All In – The Future of Business Leadership,” co-authored with Chris Coulter and Mark Lee.


“Going All In makes a business more resilient to future shocks because it has a better grasp of the changing external environment. It makes a business better able to attract, retain and get the best out of employees, business partners and suppliers.” David Grayson, Emeritus Professor of Corporate Responsibility at the Cranfield School of Management, Chairman of the Institute of Business Ethics, showed such foresight in his book All In: The Future of Business Leadership before the outbreak of the global pandemic.

It is true that the COVID-19 pandemic has once again confirmed the importance and urgency of sustainable development. In the wake of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, can we still be sure that enterprises are a significant driver of SDGs? What should businesses do to adapt to the external changes and promote sustainability? Recently, China Sustainability Tribune had an interview with David Grayson about business sustainability.

 
Q: All In: The Future of Business Leadership draws an important conclusion: corporate sustainability leadership is essential to developing and sustaining the markets and economies needed for environmental and social prosperity. Could you please introduce the concept of "corporate sustainability leadership", as well as its characteristics, value, development process and future trend?
 
A: I have written the book with Chris Coulter, CEO of GlobeScan, and Mark Lee, executive director of SustainAbility for business leaders. All In is a practical book. In the book we present the All In Leadership Framework to embed sustainability. We hope it will help businesses that aspire to continue into the indefinite future.

While in no way having followed the same path, interviewees collectively revealed several constants which we refer to as the Sustainability Leadership Threshold. For simplicity, we label them as the Three Ps: Pressure, Perspective and People. Pressure relates to the external conditions that drive companies to embrace sustainability, for example changing societal expectations expressed by new policies and regulations, activist campaigns and/ or shifting consumer demand. Perspective comprises several things including: the ability to plan long-term, which is connected to the nature of business ownership; capital investments and the degree of short-term financial pressure faced; origin and heritage, where organization longevity can develop a worldview that lends itself to sustainability, and; the ability to see the world as it is evolving, not how it has been. People often come down to one or a few key leaders who have had significant impact during company transitions to sustainability leadership status.
 
All In also identifies five critical, interlinking attributes of businesses that go All In for sustainability. These attributes start with having a clear Purpose, which explains why the business exists and how it creates value for itself and for society. It is about having a comprehensive Plan, which minimises negative social, environmental and economic impacts, maximises positive impacts and covers all aspects of the business and extends into the supply-chain. Going All In means having a sustainable Culture, which is innovative, empowering and engaging, open and transparent, and with a core sense of ethics and responsibility. Fourthly, it is having the skill and will to Collaborate extensively with a range of business, civil society and public sector partners. And, lastly businesses need to act as Advocates, speaking out and up for social justice and sustainable development.
 
Q: Compared with large enterprises, a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises(SMEs) are at a disadvantage in capital, resources and other aspects. Their awareness and practice of sustainable development are also relatively weak. How can SMEs go "All In" to enhance resilience against future shocks and contribute to the SDGs?
 
A: I would argue that SMEs can have far greater agility and can embrace sustainability more easily than large national and international companies. One way that some small businesses are choosing to go All In is by becoming benefit corporations – often referred to as B Corporations or B-Corps. The business universe is greatly enriched by the emergence of the B Corps as a new class of corporations leading the quest to grow a true well-being economy. This new class of companies are trying to redefine the purpose of business by including public benefit and positive impact on society, workers, the community and the environment in addition to profits. While the number of B Corps existing today is relatively small, and B Corps themselves tend to be predominantly entrepreneurial start-ups and smaller firms, the notion that corporate charters can be written or re-written to better balance shareholder and societal interest.
 
Q: Under the impact of the COVID-19, maintaining economic efficiency has become the top priority of enterprises. Even many large enterprises around the world have taken measures such as lay-offs and salary cuts. What negative effects will these measures of ensuring performance at the expense of social responsibility bring to the corporate sustainability? Can we still be sure that enterprises are still a significant driver of SDGs?
 
A: The COVID19 pandemic and the lockdown of the global economy that has followed, is clearly a massive economic shock. All businesses are having to think: “Adapt – Survive – Thrive.” If ever there was a time for businesses to apply the Golden Rule of the world’s great religions and philosophical traditions: “to do unto others, as you would have them do to you,” this is it.
 
In responding to the crisis, some businesses have clearly been much more responsible and ethical than others. There are some obvious points about doing business ethically. Such as taking decisions in line with the values and stated principles of the organisation; being authentic and true to the stated Purpose of the business; and acting in the long-term interests of the business and its stakeholders. I know employers who are insisting on regular video conference calls where line- managers can check on how colleagues are coping and arranging “buddy” systems to call those known to be on their own and at a greater risk of loneliness and depression. We have also seen examples of creativity and rapid innovation as some businesses switched production to start making hand-gel and sanitisers and ventilators and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). While the pandemic temporarily affects the progress of business sustainability, enterprises are still a significant driver of SDGs.
 
Q: Having been tested by the COVID-19, what changes do you think enterprises need to make in terms of business philosophy and approach?
 
A: Pandemics have profoundly changed our lifestyles, and this can last for a long time. Therefore, enterprises must adapt to new external changes. Responsible businesses will do their utmost to keep paying their staff rather than making them redundant. CEOs, boards and Senior Management Teams can lead by example, and forego pay during the crisis. Similarly, responsible businesses are trying to protect supply-lines: speeding up payment of suppliers – especially small businesses – where possible; and extending credit terms / offering low-interest loans for small business customers, where they can. In future, I want to see better pay and conditions for those now on Zero Hours contracts and in jobs which were previously under-valued but which the pandemic has revealed to be so important for the maintenance of vital services. These include the public transport workers, the hospital porters and other support staff, the supermarket shelf-stackers and delivery people and so on. I hope there will be faster adoption of Circular Economy models.
 
More broadly, business leaders need to give more attention to the purpose of business and their responsibilities to different stakeholders. Similarly, there needs to be far greater focus on organisational culture: “the way we do business around here.” Many of us will have heard the maxim that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I would add: Purpose, without positive supporting and enabling culture, goes hungry. Purpose and ethics are not alternative approaches but instead reinforce each other. Nowadays, with the climate emergency and hyper-global inequalities, which will be exacerbated in the economic fallout from Covid-19, it is hard to see how an organisation can really aspire to do business ethically if it is not also trying to become sustainable. Any business, however large and famous, will need to be humble enough to recognise that it does not have all the answers. It needs to work in partnership with many others. Hopefully, that will be another enduring lesson from Covid-19: the need to collaborate with a wide variety of different actors from different sectors.
 
Q: Enterprise managers are crucial to the sustainable development of enterprises. In the context of SDGs becoming the largest consensus in the world, what qualities and abilities do you think an outstanding business leader should have?
 
A: On this issue, many scholars and organizations have done related research, and I would like to list a few here which are more influential. The first is from the business leaders’ perspective. An influential taskforce-based study, involving corporate leaders’ own views on the issue, was published in 2010 by Business in the Community. Entitled Leadership Skills for a Sustainable Economy, it defined a number of corporate sustainability leadership attributes, including the ability to consistently work towards a longer term vision of how the organisation might contribute to a sustainable economy, together with an ability to inspire people—both inside and outside the organisation—to take action on corporate sustainability. Also important was the ability to empower those people within the organisation to make corporate sustainability business decisions, commercial awareness to identify the risks and opportunities that might lie behind those decisions, and sufficient knowledge about corporate sustainability to develop successful business strategies. Just as valuable were the ability to innovate in terms of sustainable approaches, technologies, products and services; the ability to work collaboratively with different stakeholders, and the possession of effective and persuasive communication skills.
 
From the survey-based perspective, Cranfield’s Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility, visiting fellow Anita Hoffmann has published her own take on the issue, with the corporate responsibility coalition Business for Social Responsibility (BSR).

An experienced board level executive coach, she surveyed chief executives, chief human resource officers, company chairs, industry experts, NGOs, and chief sustainability officers around the world, probing their views on what constituted effective corporate sustainability leadership. Six separate corporate sustainability leadership competencies are included: ethics and integrity; external awareness and appreciation of trends; visioning and strategy formulation; risk awareness, assessment and management; stakeholder engagement; and flexibility and adaptability to change.
 
Finally, from the corporate sustainability expert’s perspective, Canadian corporate sustainability expert Coro Strandberg’s 2015 report on Sustainability Talent Management: The New Business Imperative distilled a decade of sustainability and management literature into just five interdependent competencies, including systems thinking; external collaboration; social innovation; sustainability literacy; and active values.
 
Clearly there are some common themes here and also common ground with the views of real-world companies that have explored the issue of corporate sustainability leadership. Unilever—now widely recognised as a global leader in corporate sustainability—for instance, now has four key leadership competencies: adaptability; systems-thinking; empowerment; purpose & authenticity.
 
When it comes to corporate sustainability leadership competencies, I’d suggest these four qualities are amongst the critical building blocks:
 

    - The ability to contextualise; to understand sustainable development trends, and how and where your own organisation fits into the wider system - strategic systems thinking;
     - The surfacing of a personal purpose, together with authentic values;
     - A capacity to inspire and empower in a corporate sustainability context; and increasingly;
    - The ability to conceive, create, continuously improve and—where appropriate—exit collaborations with other businesses and interested parties.
 
But then, corporate sustainability itself isn’t any of these things, either. While this is not easy, doesn't it require the same process for enterprises to achieve sustainability? We are confident and believe that more and more business leaders are now aware of these issues and going All In for sustainability.
 
 
 
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