Increasingly we recognise environmental (and social) limits. With this change comes opportunity. Companies can best meet this with an integrated approach.
[ The CSEM-BMP Sustainability Leadership Programme includes an Integration module. The following essay is based on insights gained from running that module. ]
Most businesses see integration as just good planning, organisation or management. Such integration covers work on mission, vision and values. It also includes meetings of various types. As well it covers risk-based and other planning, budgeting and reporting.
Such a view appears to miss something important. This is particularly when dealing with the environment and sustainability. Typically different parts of a company consider their:
- impacts on air/ land/ water/ communities;
- social impacts; and
- regulatory compliance.
In addition each part deals with rapidly changing technological options and opportunities. In practice parts of the company cause environmental impacts and effects. Each such part tends to adjust independently in relation to these. Such changes are more or less successful.
For many large companies, since at least the early 90s, disparate responses happen in different parts of the company. These responses are organised by different people. People who have little or no awareness of what others are doing!
Often this work is ‘under the radar’. That is senior and particularly top management are not aware of what is happening or why. They may well remain ignorant of what and how much is happening in their company. Management can be caught in an outmoded mind-set. This mind-set sees a necessary conflict between profitability and sustainability. Knowing little, they will sometimes block these ‘under the radar’ changes.
They may still not put the whole picture together. They may have no-one doing this for them. They encounter changes in their company. These changes may be a very necessary response. [Very large and unavoidable changes in the market require a response.] However they do not see the connection.
Integration of these multiple local positive responses helps top management. It helps them to see the whole picture. It helps to see where and how to lead the company.
Without integration of these piecemeal activities, the company remains in reaction. This has a cost. The world is waking up to the need to work within ecological (and social) limits. With change come opportunities. Without integration the company may miss these opportunities.
Integration allows for a coherent, active response to the new agenda. This would include identifying relevant products and services. It would include shaping the sector response. It would include taking a consciously strategic approach.
One might simply call this ‘getting organised’. But hitherto ‘getting organised’ was related to narrower goals. Such goals have included producing a new product or a new product range or reducing costs. They have included ramping up production or improving service experience. They have not included a comprehensive response to a new agenda.
This agenda requires all of these responses and more! And the sooner the better! The time for change was yesterday. Every aspect of every company – at every level – needs to change, adapt and transform.
Every employee’s mental picture of the world they live in also needs to change. It needs to adapt and transform. Every employee has prejudices, mental sets, attitudes feelings and emotions about this agenda. These may be called up, called into play. Employees need to be allowed their space for expression, consideration, discussion, debate and resolution.
Their partial knowledge of the science needs to be supplemented. It needs supplementing by providing the best available science area by area. Each employee needs to be won over on a rational scientific basis. They also need to be won over on a rational ethical and business basis. Otherwise there will be a pent-up reaction. There will be potential for damaging upset in the future.
This will lead each employee through a process of re-integration. Each employee will experience internal changes. These changes will be mental, feeling, emotional, attitudinal and more. They will be about the science. The changes will be about man’s necessarily evolving relationship with the environment. It will be about their evolving relationship with each other.
For the next few years integration will be important. It will play a key role in the necessary sustainability transition. Integration is needed at the level of the company. It is also needed at the level of individual employee and adviser.
This needs to be put very intelligently to top management. They need to be won over. Top management need to support a programme of education, change and cultural change. Such a programme will assist the company to achieve deep integration. It will assist:
- function-by function; and
It will be required until integration is achieved across the whole company. It will also be required until it is achieved across the extended organisation. This will provide a key part of a successful transition to real sustainability.
Success could include gaining market share. It could even include avoiding disasters such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Success is likely to include cost reduction on regulatory compliance. It is likely to include new and profitable products and services. It will likely create new markets, and new business openings. Also likely are new sources of capital. That is in addition to reduced costs of capital and insurance. Success will likely lead to recognition and happier regulators, shareholders, top teams, employees and communities.
© Ross King and Michael Baker, August 2010.