Saturday, November 20, 2004

Corporate social responsibility - triple bottom line.

The challenges of the people and planet elements of the triple bottom line (the third being profits) seem to be getting some traction under the title of " corporate social responsibility". From the McKinsey Quarterly:
The UN's corporate-citizenship initiative, the Global Compact, has enrolled more than 1,800 corporations, which have agreed to support human rights, environmental protection, and noncorrupt business practices. Unfortunately, participation—particularly by US companies—has fallen short of expectations. The take-away: Some 40 percent of the compact's participants say that it had a good effect on their corporate citizenship, but hard work lies ahead to generate the insights and practical tools needed to implement its principles and to change the world's corporations for the better.

From an FAQ with Ikea President, Anders Dahlvig :
Is it possible for IKEA to be the good company that shows respect for people and the environment at the same time as IKEA sells products at low prices? "Yes! It isn't always easy. There aren't always quick-fix solutions. But there's no conflict between good business and good companies. By making demands on suppliers with regard to environmental and social responsibility and by helping them meet these demands, our business relationship contributes to a better everyday life for the people manufacturing IKEA products. Better working conditions lead to more efficient production and better productivity. In this way suppliers can produce at a lower cost and IKEA can sell at lower prices in its stores."

For example, initially IKEA thought of an eco-friendly furniture line but then decided that was not good enough and defined a goal of all their offerings being socially and environmentally friendly. To do this they help suppliers meet higher standards in their own communities - social responsibility extended as a "green chain" that reaches across the world! Ikea believes in a journey of many small steps taken consistently.

Emphasis in the quote above is mine. Ikea's work is not new, they have been head and heart committed for some time. Propelled by their own crisis in the late 80's as they struggled to meet Swedish and German standards for formaldehyde, Ikea adopted and later adapted The Natural Step (TNS) program and this has become their mantra for doing business internally and externally. Skipping the discussion about western materialism, we can focus on the concept of effective use of resources and ecologocally sound investment in countries and communities where survival has been the first priority. No I don't work for IKEA, nor are they the only company actively working to do a good job in this area. Take a look at Bob Stiller, CEO of Green Mountain Coffee who is committed to fair trade coffee as a piece of GMC's social responsibility practice. The GMC story is also one of personal conviction, persistence and informed action. More examples please!For links to more info...

See Green Mountain's story and principles at

Ikea's plan and more importantly, action for PPP at

A paper on Ikea's early experiences with TNS

And for more in depth...

The Natural Step Story :Seeding a Quiet Revolution by Karl-Henrik Robert, foreword by Ray Anderson
Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

It may be unlikely that a Swedish karate champion, family man, and cancer scientist could be at the center of developing a systems approach to life on Earth that could revolutionize the way humans operate in the world, but this is the story of just that: the idea, and the man behind it.

As a cancer specialist, Karl-Henrik Robèrt faced a stream of parents who would sacrifice anything to save their children. Yet that same selflessness did not seem to extend to saving the environment. For debate on how to achieve sustainability was divided, with no agreement on universal principles. But Robèrt’s experience convinced him that consensus on how to meet the most basic requirements of life should be possible.

Thus began a long process of consultation among scientists and others that eventually led to the definition of four system conditions essential for the maintenance of life on Earth: conditions that have now been agreed upon world-wide and encapsulated as The Natural Step framework. Supported by the King of Sweden, Robèrt’s original ideas were mailed to every household in Sweden. Exported around the world, they were elaborated, refined and eventually adopted by companies like IKEA and McDonald’s, and business leaders such as Ray Anderson, CEO of US carpet company Interface, and Paul Hawken, successful entrepreneur and author who later headed the US Natural Step organization. Dramatic, visionary and inspiring, The Natural Step Story will appeal to all with a passion for sustainability including business leaders, academics, journalists, activists, and students.

Karl-Henrik Robèrt is a cancer scientist and Professor of Resource Theory at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Having initiated The Natural Step movement in 1989, he was awarded the Green Cross Award for International leadership in 1999, and the Blue Planet Prize (the 'environment Nobel') in 2000.

To Buy (and I don't get commision!)

If there's more, read it here...

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Just Work, Russel Muirhead

In an interview with Mallory Stark, HBS Working Knowledge, Russel Muirhead says..

That we should avoid work to which we are ill suited, that we should not be miscast in one of our life's main activities or stuck serving purposes we cannot embrace, is of obvious importance. In this respect, the concept of fit addresses the basic question "Why is it right that I am doing this?" This is a personal question, though not a trivial one, as it reflects an understanding of both who we are and what we deserve. Its answer hinges on an understanding of how we might fit our work. In one sense, work is a good fit when it calls on the aptitudes and talents through which we can best contribute to society (or the market). When our abilities are aligned with the tasks or jobs society needs performed, work fits. This "social fit," between individual aptitudes and the tasks society generates, is necessary if people are to be moderately successful and societies efficient and productive.

But this is only part of what the idea of fit involves. Even when we are able to do our work well, we might still find that the work fails to engage our interests, purposes, and most distinctive capacities. To map our aptitudes onto social needs is one thing; to find work fulfilling is another. A "personal fit" with work, where work contributes to our own development and expression, may elude us even when we fit our work from a social perspective. The difficulty of combining social fit with personal fit reflects a provocative question at the heart of justice: Can we each get our due while at the same time contributing to the common good? When some do work that fits them badly yet contributes to socially important ends, another version of this question surfaces: Why ought some be constrained so that others or the whole may thrive? At the other extreme is an ideal of fit with work "where love and need are one."2 According to this ideal, work is aligned with our purposes or good development; it engages us in the service of ends we endorse, expresses something of who we are, or develops our powers in ways we experience as good.

HBS Working Knowledge: Organizations: Is Your Job Just Work?
Just Work,Russel Muirhead

from book publishers review

This elegant essay on the justice of work focuses on the fit between who we are and the kind of work we do. Russell Muirhead shows how the common hope for work that fulfills us involves more than personal interest; it also points to larger understandings of a just society. We are defined in part by the jobs we hold, and Muirhead has something important to say about the partial satisfactions of the working life, and the increasingly urgent need to balance the claims of work against those of family and community.

Against the tendency to think of work exclusively in contractual terms, Muirhead focuses on the importance of work to our sense of a life well lived. Our notions of freedom and fairness are incomplete, he argues, without due consideration of how we fit the work we do.

If there's more, read it here...

Monday, November 08, 2004

Should the Wisdom of Crowds Influence Our Thinking About Leadership?

Blogged earlier about Jim Surowiecki's book The Wisdom of Crowds and I'm fascinated to see the variety of responses to Jim Haslett's orginal column on the implications for leadership. Note that Surowiecki has some criteria for wise crowds incuding "being reasonably informed and motivated, have diversity of points of view, independence from each other’s opinions, and be decentralized with access to and the ability to draw on “local knowledge”. And they have to have some kind of mechanism for aggregating “private judgments into a collective decision.”

Some respondents to the column are noting which decisions would be suitable for wise crowds with one person specifically EXcluding visioning. Another wonders where these "crowds" might be. Put your AI hat on - believing is seeing and take a look - let me know what you think.

HBS Working Knowledge: What Do YOU Think?: Readers Respond: Should the Wisdom of Crowds Influence Our Thinking About Leadership?

If there's more, read it here...

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Talent Retention - the good and the ugly

The focus on talent, the "War for Talent" and the "Talent Economy" are smack dab in the spotlight. There are however, a number of different takes on the issues and solutions.

A question: why would "Talent Retention" not always be a key strategy? Why would we throw away or let slip the best people in any organization at any time? One key to surviving and thriving on the realities of this crisis (and avoiding the media and consultant hype) is to take a hard look at your organization for what is working now.

Assuming that people have actually stayed with you, ask them why? Ask them what's important to them about the organization and how they participate in it - their organizational citizenship. Ask them what makes they feel valued. Then figure out how to get more of that!

Beware the dangers of being "star struck" with a talent focus that makes you vulnerable by concentrating all your energies on a few performers. In our enthusiasm for creating engaging workplaces we need to be sure that the people we ask to help us design them are the ones that we we need for sustainability. A production designed just for the star only runs as long as they are willing to stay. You never know, there may be untapped talent in the chorus line.

Take a look at the manifesto "The Talent Myth" by Malcolm Gladwell for a well timed warning.

If there's more, read it here...

Monday, November 01, 2004

Appreciative Inquiry as access to "The Wisdom of Crowds"

In an HBS Working Knowledge article, Jim Heskett muses that if we believe in the wisdom of crowds (The Wisdom of Crowds, James Suroweicki) does this affect our views of leadership? He writes:

"Are large groups of reasonably informed and motivated people able to make better decisions than a small group of experts? James Surowiecki, in his recent book, The Wisdom of Crowds, reports on a diverse body of work that suggests that they are. If the researchers whose work he chronicles are right, it could have profound implications for the role of leadership in organizations. And it should provide some comfort to all who, like Americans this month, vote to elect their leaders.

In addition to being reasonably informed and motivated, the “crowds” in Surowiecki’s title, to be most effective, have to have three characteristics: diversity of points of view, independence from each other’s opinions, and decentralization (with access to and the ability to draw on “local knowledge”). And they have to have some kind of mechanism for aggregating “private judgments into a collective decision.” In a variety of situations researchers have found that the median view of members of a crowd is more accurate than all but a handful of individuals, and that no individual is able consistently to make decisions superior to those of the crowd. Large groups of people have been found to be better than a few experts at everything from estimating the true magnitude of things (as in guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar) to diagnosing causes of problems (as in determining that the O-ring seals were the primary cause of the Challenger disaster) to predicting outcomes (through, for example, market-mediated trading systems, so-called “decision markets,” for predicting the outcomes of things such as presidential elections and even potential success
in war)."

If diverse, large groups have better answers than small groups of "experts" then leadership must focus on how to access that knowledge and capability. The Appreciative Inquiry processes are one such way. The appreciative interview can be used for exponetially fanning out across the group giving diverse access with an " interview two friends" format.The AI Summit approach with large group processes are natural venues and rely on crowd wisdom for creative solutions and action. We need however, better ways to collect, synthesize and collaboratively apply the "wisdom of the crowd" to the results.

A new style of group dialogue software is emerging from companies with in depth understanding of the power of the inquiry to make change. Icohere's OvationNet ( and Intrashift's Vantaj software ( provide opportunities for strutured conversations and information synthesis. Check them out.

If there's more, read it here...