Sustainability and Collaboration
I was fortunate to attend my second – and the 23rd bi-annual – Corporate Affiliates Workshop Series presented by the AHC Group, June 20 - 21, 2012, in Saratoga Springs,New York. This workshop was very similar in format to the session that I attended in Phoenix, and wrote about here.
The workshop was led by AHC Group founder, Dr. Bruce Piasecki, and focused on “Achieving Results”.
Side note: Bruce wrote a piece here on the Delta Blog about his new book, “Doing More With Less: The New Way to Wealth”, last February. The book has since made the bestsellers lists for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today!
The speakers were industry leaders who were addressing their peers in closed sessions. So, as before, I’ll not be crediting individual speakers. If you want to know who was saying what – and trust me, it was a very impressive list – you’ll have to register to attend the next event.
Second side note: Do you know where the next Leader-to-Leader Workshop will take place? Right here in Ottawa! Delta Partners is collaborating with Bruce and the AHC Group to present “Shifting Boundaries in Corporate Responsibility” which will be presented in conjunction with the 5th Corporate & Community Social Responsibility Conference. Find out more here
“Listen & Respond”
One of the first sessions was delivered by a key change agent from an industry that faces some of the most difficult environmental and social issues. A few of the ideas that resonated:
- Industries – especially those dominated by engineering types – are accustomed to using a “Declare & Direct” approach to dealing with various stakeholder groups. This is to say, they state their case then go about educating the audience as to why their declaration is accurate. However, the new, and far more useful approach that his firm has embraced is referred to as “Listen & Respond”. Take a moment to digest the underlying premise between these two approaches to communication – especially as you deal with those who have been very critical of your organization.
- Success requires a commitment to transparency. Transparency raises the bar for engagement for all stakeholders.
- Remember that visuals always win in the battle of words. Make clear visuals that are simple, professional, and un-cluttered. This invariably is better than talking… and talking… and talking…
Collaboration v. Cooperation
Another critical component in dealing with stakeholders revolves around the concepts of “collaboration” and “cooperation”:
The difference? Collaboration indicates an active commitment to action between the parties, whereas cooperation is much less engaging – it’s more a question of coming together to share ideas and information.
Always try to create an environment to collaborate. You’ll accomplish a lot more.
Kicking off Day 2 was a discussion led by two gentlemen who are board members for large, multinational firms. The perspective they brought to the conversation illuminated the differing issues of concern between the “shareholders’ representation” and those of the senior manager.
- How do firms continue to create growth in a sluggish economy? The short answer for many is via increased M&A activity. Of course, this creates issues with integrating acquired assets (often referred to as “people”) into the existing culture of the firm – and this represents a common point of failure with these initiatives. Turns out, “people” are messy.
- The media likes to make hay with ongoing stories about the piles of cash that corporations are sitting on while ‘x million people go unemployed or under-employed’. The piece that is rarely reported, yet keeps board members awake at night, is the tremendous outstanding cost of funding pension obligations. CFO’s worldwide must find ways to pay for pensions as the Boomers enter retirement at an accelerating pace, and they must do so in an investing environment that offers no returns of consequence. Perhaps this is one reason why firms are so reluctant to part with their cash reserves?
- The regulatory jungle continues to grow, and public corporations labour under ever-increasing complexities and reporting requirements. Beyond the usual suspects, there was a significant discussion of the challenges facing North American firms as the push continues to create a unified, worldwide accounting standard – harmonizing American GAAP with IFRS.
Enterprise Risk Management
It is difficult to decide how much space to commit to this topic – and not because it was a minor point of interest, rather the opposite. Most every speaker touched either directly or indirectly on the topic of Enterprise Risk Management.
The business impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster continues to create waves across all industries.
In fact, there was so much great information on this topic that it will be the subject of another (two?) dedicated post.
Ultimately, I was left with three take-aways from these peer discussions:
- Risk Management has been, and will continue to be, extremely important to the ongoing sustainability – not in the ‘ecological’ sense, but in the ‘let’s not go broke’ sense – for enterprises of all sizes and industries.
- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is also commonly referred to as “People, Planet, and Profit”. Most firms appear to have a pretty good handle on the Planet and Profit side of the equation. The maturity of the conversation around the People bit has far less substance. And a willingness to approach the topic in the open appeared to be inversely proportional to the corporate responsibility of the individual. Much work remains.
- ‘People’ remain at the center of the storm. Plans and strategy revolve, as ever, around the ability of humans to understand, embrace, and implement them. Technology is the great accelerator. Our ability to lead, engage, and develop our people has not remotely kept pace. (Watch this space for more information on this front)