Friday, July 30, 2010

(Wo)Men at Work

More women than men are graduating from university. Plenty of women fill middle management positions. Few women hold executive or board positions.

Sports teams recognise that each player brings different things to the game – different skills, strengths, experiences, approaches, attitudes – and from that they build much greater strength, something bigger than the sum of the parts. Not much sense having a team of goalies!

At work women are damned if they retain their difference, and damned if they conform to male-like behaviour. Repeated research shows that management is (unconsciously) biased towards people like themselves.

How much stronger might our businesses be if we learned to celebrate and harness the essential differences instead of ploughing on with the same-old same-old? How much more effective might our businesses be if CEO’s and boards sought out the difference and built a multi-talented, gender-balanced team?

Is it really so hard?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

(Un)Acceptable Alpha Male Behaviour

David Jones, a department store largely staffed by women for women customers, is being sued for $37 million by a young woman who alleges she was sexually harassed by the former CEO. It is to his credit and that of the Board that he resigned promptly - acknowledging in that act the substance of the allegations.

That is not that substance I want to discuss here. I’m more interested in the tone set from the top.

The CEO in question was by all financial measures a star, generating improvement on improvement and rewarding shareholders for their investment in the company and their faith in him.

He is a classic Alpha male - driven to success and instinctively competitive. In the primate world those characteristics would translate into competition for mating rights. And I heard one commentator suggest that we should accept that it would be a really ‘hard call’ for an Alpha male at DJ’s not to take liberties with female staff.

Whether we accept that it is a hard call or not, all organisations reflect the tone set from the top - by the Board and by the CEO and management team. We know that for a senior member of staff to use their position to take liberties is unacceptable. We can probably accept that a person who demonstrates a lack of restraint in one area of their life is likely to be unrestrained in others.

Reports indicate that DJ’s ex-CEO’s behaviour was widely acknowledged. It would appear that it was tolerated firstly as no other woman had the courage to face the scrutiny which comes with making public allegations, and secondly because of ‘halo effect’ - where good performance in one area dulls our ability to perceive the lacks or lapses in another.

The tone from the top seems to have put financial performance well above staff welfare.

Could an organisation with a CSR-driven culture, an organisation that lives and breathes respect – respect for society, people, the planet and profits – have prevented the opportunity for this behaviour?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Corporate generosity trumps legal shenanigans

In the early 1960s the drug Thalidomide, taken by pregnant mothers, caused birth defects in thousands of children around the world.

Thalidomide had been marketed by Distillers, a company which, in 1974, offered and distributed a modest compensation package to the victims. It was a ‘full and final’ payment, meaning that the company had discharged its legal obligations.

Distillers was subsequently bought by Diageo, a multinational drinks company, which has this week agreed to set up a $50 million fund to assist the remaining 45 Australian and New Zealand Thalidomiders who had out-lived the original compensation.

This is a significant example of CSR in action, of corporate understanding and generosity; Diageo has no legal obligation to provide further assistance, however it has accepted a moral obligation for the damage caused in the 60’s. Where many companies would have employed lawyers and delaying tactics, Diageo listened to the appeal lead by the father of a Thalidomider, and responded with compassion.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A message in 12,500 bottles

Plastiki, David De Rothchild’s 60-foot catamaran with a hull made of 12,500 CO2 filled plastic drinks bottles, arrived in Sydney harbour this week, after completing an 8,000 nautical mile trip across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, California. The aim of the trip was to highlight the quantities of plastic debris found in the oceans (for every kilometre of the world’s ocean there are 13,000 pieces of microscopic plastic waste) which seals, dolphins, turtles and whales mistake for food and ingest.

The trip contrasts,

  • The glory of human ingenuity and innovation (who in their right minds would consider making a 60’ catamaran from drink bottles, let alone setting off to cross the Pacific?)
  • The folly of human hubris (once the plastic is out of sight we classify it as ‘dealt with’ and keep pumping out more).

This gives us two things to think about:
  • What are we doing that is outlandishly innovative and potentially beneficial to the world?
  • What are we doing that involves out-of-sight-out-of-mind thinking, that we could change?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

We should be clear about transparency

Wikileaks has hit the headlines this week – posting 92,201 military, intelligence and diplomatic documents on its site, and simultaneously The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel published analysis. Whatever you think of this exposure of confidential military information what Wikileaks is doing points to one of the most important features of sustainable and responsible business practice – transparency.

In committing to CSR a business sets clear baseline figures, creates 1, 5, 15 year and even longer (I know of one Not for Profit that has a 500 year plan) targets for improvement. There is no benefit in setting the targets and progress towards meeting them, if they are not communicated internally and externally.

Your business might not be perfect (in fact it probably is not) but by honestly telling your story and showing your commitment to change you have the opportunity to engage meaningfully with staff, suppliers, clients and the community.

If you are really lucky you will find your transparency allows others to spot weaknesses and flaws that you have overlooked (that you’ve been too close to see) and by telling you about them give you an opportunity change.

Transparency and open communications are powerful business opportunities.

Monday, July 19, 2010

This ecologically driven farm literally sustains food for thought


For a wonderful insight into balance and sustainability in farming, you must see Polyface Farm in Virginia USA.

Don't expect to see their produce in your local supermarket - they won't transport anything out of the local area. And to travel there to see it for yourself you are likely to carve a considerable carbon footprint. But you can see it sustainably through these videos:

I first read about Polyface Farm some time ago in Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, a real eye-opener that will change the way you think about your next meal.

Tim Flannery, a favourite writer of mine, also talks about Polyface Farm in his book and essay Now or Never: A Sustainable Future for Australia?.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The often-overlooked value of employing someone with a disability


Have you ever worked with someone with a disability?

Have you ever employed someone with a disability?

Have you ever deliberately searched for a disabled (or differently-abled) staff member to fill a vacancy?

Some time ago our local suburban supermarket employed a lad with Downs Syndrome to collect and return the trolleys from the car park to the mall. He was a friendly, outgoing lad, and applied himself to his task with an engaging enthusiasm.

He was quite clearly delighted to have a job, and I am sure his parents were pleased as well. The shoppers were happy because there were always trolleys waiting at the supermarket doors. And without doubt it was a win-win for the supermarket’s management – they had a happy and willing employee, and satisfied customers.

Similarly I worked at a company who employed a young woman with social ease and limited intellectual aptitude to empty the dishwashers, stack and restock the cupboards, fridges and stationery. She could punch holes, fill envelopes, and follow simple instructions.

She couldn’t bind manuals as she had no idea of chronology – pages would end up all over the place. But she could do many things that needed to be done to keep the office running smoothly.

By 1pm each day she was exhausted and went home content. And like most of us, she was delighted to have been able to make a valuable contribution, and to have been paid for it.

Next time you are recruiting – think about the abilities you need for tasks to be done within your organisation, and give some thought to defining and offering a role to someone with a disability.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Is shifting responsibility for recycling a manufactured argument?


As a manufacturer, if you had to take back everything you made at the end of its life – what would you do differently?

If you had to take back everything once it lost its usefulness?

If you had to take back everything when it wore out?

Currently, in most cases, once items are sold, manufacturers pass on responsibility for the disposal of packaging, and eventually the product itself.

The purchaser currently takes ‘responsibility’.

That makes sense, right?

The manufacturer produces something, sells it, and it’s gone. Out of sight of the manufacturer, out of the mind of the manufacturer and beyond the realm of the manufacturer. The manufacturer’s role is over.

So what changes might we see to products and packaging if manufacturers were to be made responsible for their products from ‘the cradle to the grave’?

And by the grave, I mean the grave – that is, if the manufacturer were to be the end point for recycling, not landfill.

I think it would lead to change, much of which could benefit the manufacturer, the consumer and the environment.

If we were to take a cradle to the grave approach to manufacture, it’s likely that:

– fewer resources would be used in products and packaging

– a greater percentage of recyclable resources would be used

– products would be designed and made to last longer

– products would be designed to be repaired and their lifecycle extended

– we might even see some meaningful guarantees and warrantees!

To make a change in manufacturing that seriously addresses sustainability will take effort and smart business practice – manufactures shouldn’t expect to sell more just because an older model is broken or unfashionable.

It is likely that the businesses that challenge the current models and change their practices, before it is legislated, will be the winners.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Trimming the buy-product: making good on packaging


When the giant US retailer Walmart told their suppliers to cut down on packaging or lose their place on the shelves, it provided a catalyst for companies, many of whom admitted they hadn’t improved their packaging for years and even decades.

Two drivers of change in the Australian packaging industry are the National Packaging Covenant and the Sustainable Packaging Alliance.

788 Australian companies have already signed up to the National Packaging Covenant and 725 are now compliant.

The Sustainable Packaging Alliance has a web-delivered life-cycle assessment tool (PIQET©) for environmental impact assessment of packaging systems.

Are there limitations to finding solutions to CSR 2.0? Look at your keyboard before typing the answer


Invented in 1873 the QWERTY keyboard we still use today was designed to overcome mechanical limitations of the 19th century.

With what today would be described as antique mechanics, the arrangement of the keys was designed to avoid jamming when two or more adjacent keys were pressed in quick succession.

Nearly 60 years later, in 1932, new technology eliminated jamming and allowed a more efficient arrangement of the keys. This new arrangement proved it could:
– double our typing speeds
– reduce our typing effort by 95%.

But this new faster, more efficient keyboard was never adopted.

Based on short-term thinking at that time, there was too much vested interest.

The QWERTY model ruled.

The processes, the people and the technologies – across manufacturing, sales, training and the ‘business of typing’ – that had been built around the QWERTY model for over 60 years, were ‘too entrenched’.

Too entrenched at what cost?

When thinking about solutions for Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility we need to learn from the 19th century handicap built into much of our 21st century technology.

78 years later we are still feeling the effects of an inferior solution.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Trust: is it really none of your business?


“An affront to commercial morality.” What a pithy, descriptor! It weeps disgust, impatience, frustration and sheer exasperation. I would love to claim to be the author, but that honour goes to a NSW Supreme Court Judge, Justice George Palmer.

How I’d hate to be the subject of the invective; that ‘honour’ goes to Jim Byrnes, a man whom it would appear embodies all the characteristics most eschewed by honest and good business people. A man for whom, apparently, the notion of trust has no substantial meaning.

And yet the economy, and all spheres of our social life and interaction, rely absolutely on trust. Try for one minute to imagine business operating without trust at the core of every interaction we have.

Suppliers would only supply with cash up-front, employers would have to pay employees daily (or even half up-front, half at the end of day), customers would be reluctant to buy without testing first, and you would be reluctant to let them try, and so on and so on. How would we access credit, get services like telephones and Internet?

Trust is the basis of business. Whenever anyone dishonours trust the bond, the glue, of business is weakened for all.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Can we really have prosperity without growth?


I was impressed with Tim Jackson’s presentation at the 2010 Alfred Deakin Lecture series, ‘Brave New World?

This video of his presentation is well worth watching.

Tim Jackson is a professor of Sustainable Development and author of the book, ‘Prosperity Without Growth’.

This link will take you to the video, which appears on Big Ideas from the ABC.

(The lecture takes just over half an hour. If you would like to also listen to the Q&A please allow yourself about an hour.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Can we gain and sustain?


I was interested this morning to hear Dick Smith talking on ABC Sydney Radio – specifically in response to the newly created Minister for Sustainable Population, and in an aside about the current model of continuous economic growth.

Smith applauds the idea of sustainable growth, identifying that ongoing growth in Australia’s population will strain resources. And that while a bigger population will provide a bigger market the people who benefit from that are ‘rich people like me’ and that it inevitably means that the rest of the population will have less to share, and so less in absolute terms.

But what really took my breath away was his observation that what we need to do is address the very basis of the capitalist model, growth.

The growth model is predicated on our ability to constantly produce and consume more. However over the past fifty years scientist have grown to understand, and the rest of us have grown to realise, that the world’s resources are finite, and we’re beginning to realise that the ‘always more’ model cannot work forever.

Recognising sustainability in every aspect of our government and business means ensuring that we take no more than we can put back.

It shouldn’t mean going backwards or turning our backs on progress. However it does require conscious innovation, and responsible business practice.

Playing with numbers: a new spin on creativity


I thought I knew a fair bit about creative thinking. But when I started looking at derivatives I found a whole new angle on the concept of creativity.

I think we all became familiar with derivatives over the last couple of years. But going beyond familiar and getting into the detail is a real eye opener.

For some food for thought, listen to today’s ABC National radio program: Financial derivatives, their rise and rise.

This puts a new spin on the term ‘where did you derive that creative idea?’

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

26000 reasons to address Corporate Social Responsibility


When the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) first proposed new standards for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) back in 2002 there were justifiable concerns.

How could culturally and individually defined concepts such as social and ethical responsibility be standardized and certified?

While performance standards in technical areas of quality and environment have been readily established, designing performance standards and processes around social and ethical responsibility, and even political ideology, are not tasks that ISO has ever addressed.

Now, eight years on, the new ISO 26000 is on target to be released by the end of 2010.

However, unlike other ISO standards the new ISO 26000 will only be a voluntary guidance standard, not a certifiable performance standard.

This move away from certifiable performance standards highlights the impossible nature of putting in place a structured, global approach to social issues.

There is no single best-fit solution.

Whether you are for or against this new standard, the fact is with ISO being the most referenced standard globally, the new ISO 26000 could have considerable influence in mainstreaming social responsibility.

And whether you are a big business, SME, government or non-government organization, that’s just one more reason to address Corporate Social Responsibility.

I found this video to be a nice starting point for future discussion on CSR. The video features Oshani Perera, from the Canadian-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

Friday, July 2, 2010

The invisible customer loyalty program


What if you had a customer loyalty program that none of your customers knew they were on?

They just felt it. It was there. The something that was different to all the others. It didn’t need a box, a label or a promotion.

It was something deeper inside that didn’t have to be explained. It felt right, it felt good, it made the difference.

What if your team were empowered by this program with a real sense of purpose and passion?

Developing relationships means creating commitments and obligations, having real and open conversations. It means building chemistry, confidence and commitment.

And it means loyalty that your customers may not know they are giving.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Is logic the basis of good thinking? What's your perception?


I came across a blog article yesterday by Seth Godin titled
Not so good at math. A simple quiz for smart marketers

Seth sums up the article by saying, “We're not wired for arithmetic. It confuses us, stresses us out and, more often than not, is used to deceive.”

Looking at this I couldn’t help thinking that while you can solve the problem with logic, it’s a whole lot easier to solve using perception – that is, how you look at it and how you see it.

I believe that most faults in thinking are not faults in logic but faults in perception. This applies equally in business and in marketing. It’s perception – seeing things differently – that leads to quite often simple solutions.

Using perception as the basis for thinking allows us to be more proactive in our thinking.
So looking at Seth’s simple quiz in this way, it really is simple. With the right way of seeing, the math is clear and logical.