Positive Impact Blog

Thought provoking insights for change makers


2 Comments

What is the role of business to contribute to a world worth living in?

House of ReligionsToday I spoke at the beautiful House of Religions in Bern, a wonderful open space for dialogue across cultures. Together with an engaged public, we discussed the decoupling of the many corporate responsibility efforts on one side and the pretty poor state of the world on the other side. The Business Sustainability Typology (BST) developed by Thomas Dyllick and me served as welcome framework for the discussion. It allowed to channel and focus the various perspectives and enabled a positive, solution-oriented nature of our discussion. The BST differentiates between three types of business sustainability and challenges organizations to fundamentally rethink their corporate strategy to become “truly sustainable”. This BST 3.0 ideal state invites business to adopt an outside-in perspective and to start by considering burning societal issues and evaluating what relevant resources and competencies they have to help solve these challenges. Or, as Peter Drucker said: “Every single social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise”.

Much time was spent considering alternatives to address and resolve the European refugees crisis and besides overcoming a defensive fear that is well present, we concluded that most urgently of all, we need a space where stakeholders discuss this problem and explore avenues of solutions. I concluded by referring to the 50+20 vision which out this responsibility squarely into the hands of public universities. With their unique convening power and the right stakeholder engagement facilitation (see the collaboratory solution), universities and also business schools can create the space to ensure that we start the dialogue now about how to integrate large numbers of immigrants into a Europe that has just become a new entity we need to redefine and embrace pro-actively.

On my way home, I have embraced my little part of an action: I will mobilize relevant stakeholders of European business school to issue a Call of Action for b-school to provide immediate and non-bureaucratic scholarships to refugees stranded in Europe, irrespective of their visa situation. And I am considering housing such a student at my place when Business School Lausanne will accept such students as early as next February. Obviously, I feel inspired! Thanks for a great afternoon.

 


1 Comment

Question-based learning

The secret to uncover solutions that leap-frog above and beyond current practices is the ability to ask pertinent questions. Enabling students to ask good questions is the higher purpose of teaching and represents an essential factor of successfully educating leaders to embrace problems we don’t yet know and come up with solutions that don’t yet exist based on technologies that have not yet been invented. An intended side effect of question-based learning is the increase in a student’s ability to hold the tension of not knowing answers and the ability to live with half-truths, partial answers without shying away from courageously taking a step in what appears to be the right direction given what is known at that time. Acting – reflecting – correcting – and acting again will be the future dance of our leaders. It may be called “stumbling forward”[1], a not so elegant yet courageous engagement towards the world.

The key benefit of question-based learning is the development of liberal learning. The 2011 Carnegie Foundation report on undergraduate business education in the United States demands from business education an integration with liberal learning, in order for students to:

a)       Make sense of the world and their place in it,

b)       Prepare students to use knowledge and skills as means toward responsible engagement with the world, and

c)       Instill students a sense of responsibility for the Common Good, guided by commitment & values.

This is achieved by a) analytical thinking, b) multiple framing, c) reflective exploration of meaning, and d) practical reasoning.

Reflection and awareness  in a world becoming more complex, more unpredictable, more challenging, means getting rid of unilateral thinking, conventional ideology, and reductionist vision of the raison d’être of the firm. – Philippe de Woot

Un-covering assumptions that shape the way we look at the world is a critical step to be able to start forming one’s own opinion about what feels right. Another element of this approach is the inherent possibility to render conscious the many currently undeclared assumptions of the oppressing current economic thinking, opening the opportunity to discuss alternative avenues. Some of these assumptions are:

  • Growth and consumerism as the unquestioned answer to economic downturns and crises since the 1960s. Despite that fact that growth has driven us to a state in which we use 1.5 planets to cover our current needs.
  • The contribution of business to society is measured by the return on shareholder equity limiting the purpose of business to maximizing shareholder value,
  • For the longest time, goods of Mother Nature have been free of charge (fish stock, forests, water, commodities, etc.) with capital only being required for the exploitation and often the destruction of these resources. Governments of emerging countries have started to lease or sell entire regions (valleys, glaciers, frost land) to companies to exploit the inherent natural resources that often took millennia to develop.


[1] This term was developed by Katrin Muff in the case study of Business School Lausanne with Prof. Dr. J.B. Kassarjian of Babson College (2008-2010).


It may be shocking but Charisma matters…

In a most relevant and highly enjoyable TEDx Lausanne presentation, University of Lausanne’s John Antonakis presents latest research on how people get elected and how important charisma is to succeed. He doesn’t just let us hang there, he demonstrates a few easy tricks of how to build charisma yourself so that you can do measurably better, irrespective of the fact with how good looks you were born!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEDvD1IICfE&sns=em

John Antonakis


What if organizations evolved like people?

Based on Frederic Laloux’s inspiring book Reinventing Organizations, Peter Green has created a most enlightening visual arts video both summarizing Laloux’s work and translating it into a lesson of “Lean and Agile Adoption”.

If you are a general manager, HR manager, a team leader, business student, young entrepreneur, start-up wizzkid, this video will inspire you to consider different ways of organizating for success. I am so curious to hear what you think of the video and what concrete action you are inspired to do! Let me know please!

https://vimeo.com/121517508


Reflections about the B-Corp movement launch in Europe

The importance of unintended consequences when creating change

The B-Corp movement in Europe was officially launched yesterday, at the corporate headquarters of Triodos Bank, in the Netherlands. Triodos is the European posterchild of the B-Corp movement, much like Ben & Jerry was in the U.S. We celebrated the founding 70 B-Corp companies across Europe, a cohort of mostly small, often start-up entrepreneurs in a variety of sectors including consulting. A few stand out: Fairphone and Dropper are good examples for the kind of DNA these founding companies share – coming up with innovative solutions to environmental or societal problems, looking at the business value chain and governance structure in a holistic way.

I represented Business School Lausanne as B-Corp country representative for Switzerland, a position we share with Codethic in Geneva. BSL is not (yet) a B-Corp. We completed our accreditation with the Economy for the Common Goods (ECG) movement in 2014, a slightly more profound and progressive movement with otherwise very similar ideas as the U.S. initiated Benefit Corporation. More profound in the sense that its starting base is a matrix that measures the contribution of a company to the common good (or society) in a holistic outside-in way. More progressive in the sense that the ECG is based on values derived from many European constitutions whereas the B-Corp frames doing good within a broadened business paradigm (of triple bottom line). The difference simply depicts the philosophical differences of the two continents: Europe is generally acknowledged to have a much deeper sense of sustainability and responsibility, whereas the U.S. is generally acknowledged for the innovation power of business and an inane sense of embracing opportunistic effectiveness. This may sound judgmental, but it isn’t. Both approaches are hugely important and relevant. From where I stand, they are hugely complementary and mutually enriching. I would love for the two movements to join forces and double the pace and scale of change we need business to deliver for the benefit of society and the world. Will this ever happen? Probably not; for many reasons that have prevented similar parallel initiatives to join forces. I recall that it took one third of the time to get similar initiatives on talking terms when we initiated the 50+20 movement – a compound name reflecting the need to give up individual brands for a larger cause. Quite a challenge!

Another thing that strikes me is how differently the two movements have gone about expansion and growth. On the one hand, the ECG has spent much time and probably too much energy on building a bottom-up democratic base structure with carefully discussed governance in every member country, honoring transparency and dialogue at the expense of speed and effectiveness. On the other hand, the B-Corp movement appears to have operated in a nearly diametrically opposed manner. Selection of regional partner (entire continents) or country partners (for example across Europe) has happened haphazardly at best, instilling little transparency in the process and investing little to nothing in building relationship across countries in regions (I can talk for Europe). Communication is scarce and the information gap between those in the know and those wondering, is significant. Both processes have their advantages and disadvantages. While the ECG movement frustrated me with their endless discussions and internal organizational focus to the point that I largely withdrew from the community, the B-Corp movement caused frustration due to overlaps and multiple uncoordinated country representative appointments. While the ECG movement decided to first built up a strong community at the expense of speed and impact, the B-Corp movement decided to focus on accrediting as many companies as possible in a short a period as possible at the expense of a coherent and transparent organizational operating structure. One may be tempted to say that these very different approaches themselves may be indicative of the different operating modes in Europe and the U.S. But that would be too stereotypical and easy.

What I find interesting is to reflect on the impact of the two very different types of frustrations which really reflects so-called unintended consequences of otherwise meaningful and well-considered decisions. If I could choose if I rather be frustrated because I cannot seem to be able to move into action because of the slowness of the ongoing internal alignment process (ECG), or if I prefer being frustrated because others are stepping on my toes in an effort to move ahead and implement change (B-Corp), I must say I much prefer the latter. And this is important: it is not about attempting to prevent frustration at all – that would be not only mission impossible but would require a degree of reflection and preparation that would kill any movement before it would ever get started – but to choose the least damaging unintended consequences. And here, I must say that the B-Corp movement is light-year ahead of the ECG movement. It is important to outline that there is also – unsurprisingly – a downside: namely the risk of partners angrily leaving or dropping out and the initiative needed to relaunch in a given space. Yet that downside is very similar to the reaction I had experienced in the other approach.

For the moment, both movements are quite comparable, have achieved similar adaptations and accreditation of leading small and medium-sized companies and have started a process of global outreach. Yet, of my students, 80% know of the B-Corp while only 20% know of the ECG. It may be a language thing: the B-Corp benefits from English being such an international language and the ECG movement still stuck in mostly German and Spanish with few efforts beyond what our BSL students offered as voluntary help 3 years back when they translated the measurements into English. It may be more. I think it is more than just language. I would suggest here in closing my reflection of the two movements, that the B-Corp movement has been fortunate enough to create frustrations that trigger action and advancement, as compared to the ECG movement that created frustrations that triggered non-action and retrieval.

This is an invitation to be mindful about the kinds of unintended consequences our attempts to “occupy the common space” have. How can we step up and embrace change and err in the direction that will result in more action and more engagement rather than in less action and less engagement? I like dilemmas and what I describe certainly is one. It also demonstrates that perfection is neither important, relevant nor desirable – a focus on unintended consequences (or risks to be mitigated) is much more relevant when choosing an implementation strategy. Remember, you can always adopt and change. Or to use the words of the founder of the Jesuits: “It is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”. My B-Corp vs. ECG case study is a clear demonstration of the upside of such a radical (maybe even unconscious) choice.


There is hope – alternatives to cloning Paul Polman!

I am not the only one to have suggested that if we want to save the (corporate) world, we have no choice but to clone Paul Polman. As a matter of fact, this is one of the comments Kate Robertson (Co-founder of One Young World), who received a Dr. Honoris Causa from BSL along with Paul, made to Paul and me on Saturday. The idea of cloning Paul Polman has two elements:

  • First, it is a great compliment to Paul who has in the past 4 years risen to be recognized as the most admired “poster boy” of corporate sustainability – a direct result of his relentless drive in not only transforming Unilever but also be co-initiating a long list of coalitions both in front and behind the scenes in a great many domains that were traditionally considered beyond reach for a CEO.
  • And second, it expresses a certain frustration if not desperation of many observers that there are not many in these influential positions who define their responsibility in such a way that what they do truly serve society and the planet while – of course – ensuring the continued success of the organization they are leading.

BSL Swiss Sustainability Hub Forum

Reflecting back on our big BSL day last Saturday, 20th September, I cannot but help realize that our two big events converged into something bigger. Paul Polman was a part of both events in a significant way – maybe this was part of the magic (more here):

  • The Swiss Sustainability Hub: the kick-off session to set up a Coalition to bring Switzerland to assume a leading role in the sustainability movement (short for: all people living well and within the limits of the planet)
  • The annual BSL Graduation with more than 500 participants from more than 40 countries

Mark Drewell, outgoing CEO of GRLI and one of our BSL Academic Advisory Board members, shared his impression of the event as follows: “the change of energy from previous years was palpable. You have now accomplished the shift at BSL – the community is really there and there is a powerful sense that there is not only willingness and desire to contribute to this new world we need, but also competencies, determination and real action.

And indeed, as I observed our graduates receive their diplomas, proudly spending a moment with their classmates and continuing the bond they started to build during their studies, I sense more determination, clarity, courage and passion to find a way to contribute to this world than I have ever picked up before (and it is not that we have lacked high-spirited students in previous years!). Bruno Oberli, the Director of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) commented on it during the Swiss Sustainability Hub panel discussion. We had our audience vote on who should drive the launch of the Swiss Sustainability Hub, government or business, and just about everybody broke the voting rule by holding up both options. Bruno laughed and said: “If you are able to shift beyond either/or to a new paradigm of both/and that easily, then we really don’t have anything to worry about as you understand the key element of what we need in future: a pragmatically new way of considering our options!”

A big part of this sense was also how smoothly and collaboratively our BSL team worked for, during and after this big event. Despite perfect preparations, events like this always require many miracles behind the scene dealing with changes, emergencies, adapting what was planned to the emergent reality. There is nobody I would like to rather work with than the BSL team consisting of Aurea, David, Denitsa, Katarzyna, Mary, Massimo, Olivier, Teresa and Yasmina. If everybody assumes their place and space with the same sense of service, dedication, passion for the common good and spirit of collaboration as our team, then maybe there are alternatives to cloning Paul Polman.

If the BSL team and our graduates have this sense of purpose, then we know that it is possible to create environments that stimulate such alignment of purpose, competency and cooperation. We all know that there are many many teams and individuals who are truly connected to an inner sense of purpose in many places around the world. And maybe rather than waiting for cloning technology to get up to speed, we  simply need to trust in the human capacity and in the emerging leadership that is happening across so many organizations at so many levels. What we can do in the meantime is getting better in building the right environments and capacities to speed this up. Educational institutions are an obvious starting place AND any other organization that has people showing up for work. This reminds me of what Mischa Liatowitsch, who graduated on Saturday from our MBA program, said during his studies (see short 1 minute video here).


Questioning the pertinence of the IMD 2014 World Competitiveness Rankings

As every year for two decades, IMD issues their annual World Competitiveness Report comparing a wide range of parameters to establish which country is ahead of the pack. For a number of years now, the United States maintains its pole position, closely followed by much smaller economies such as Switzerland who has been doing very well in this ranking for as long as I remember. I question the pertinence of this report for a number of reasons:

1) the Competitiveness Report is still based on old 20th century “survival of the fittest” fear-based thinking. Today, given the current realities of a resource- and demographic-constrained world, we would be much better advised to highlight and celebrate countries that a) have found alternative ways of dealing with their economic challenge (of no-growth in developed countries and of high-growth in developing countries), b) have found alternative ways to the widely questioned GDP indicator to measure relevant progress  for its citizens and nature (Bhutan with its happiness indicator is a widely cited and respected example), c) have found ways to reduce their negative impact on the identified nine planetary boundary developed by Johan Rockström et al., d) have found ways to significantly increase the relevant dimensions of the eleven social issues identified at the RIO+20 Conference, e) have used their innovation power in the critical domains that develop and critically enhance the “safe operating space for humanity“, the target area for all economic activity as defined by Kate Raworth of OXFAM, f) and have demonstrated an ability to significantly help and support other countries in their transformational journey towards a sustainable and just future.

I could go on! The point here is that I don’t get it why we are still celebrating countries that are significantly unable to manage their own budget, that have debt levels that should have long resulted in a national bankruptcy, and have social policies in place that endanger the current and future well-being of their citizens (examples for the U.S. would include its continuous health care disaster, the absurd income disparity between rich and poor U.S. citizens, a student loan debacle that is likely to cripple not only its future generation of leader, entrepreneurs, inventors and employees of all kind, and a nutritional challenge connected to its obesity problem that may well cripple its economy and societal well-being in serious ways).

I am thus launching a Call for Action to join us at BSL to start collecting data for an alternative World Collaborative Report that will highlight and celebrate countries that serve as role models in their own way of becoming a country with a vision and clear actions to enable all of us global citizens to “live well and within the limits of the planet” to quote the Vision 2050 of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). We are seeking resources and global partners to provide an alternative for old century thinking by embracing the current burning challenges of this 21st century. We are also engaged to help Switzerland embrace its own potential to become such a leading role model. Contact me if you are interested and have means to contribute. Together, we can change the world into a place worth living in for all of us!


1 Comment

50+20 normative leadership model meets behavioural economics

I recently spoke at RECOL Switzerland about our vision for responsible leadership and presented our normative model developed as part of the 50+20 Vision:

Globally responsible leadership is built on a leader’s capacity for reflective awareness and contains three roles in which he acts and makes decisions – entrepreneur, leader and statesman.

Interestingly, my presentation was followed by an in-depth analysis by Gerard Fehr, who together with his Nobel-prize winning brother works on ways to apply behavioural economics to the real world.

He gave examples of their existing research to evaluate if and how our ideal leadership vision is reflected in the current realities of leaders. The discussion that followed couldn’t have been more inspiring: Are we really unable to be empathic? Are sanctions really the only way to maintain employee compliance? Is breaking down of cooperation really the norm and not the exception?

The hand-picked, high calibre audience first experienced their own gaps in their behaviour compared to their intention, through a smart real-time survey game operated by Gerard and his lovely assistant, Katharina Kaiser.

The Human Resources, Sustainability, and Compliance Directors of top Swiss firms contributed to a rich and controversial discussion, about the tension between the somewhat sad, actual state of the elements of responsible leadership and its ideal vision.

In a last segment, as Gerhard and I jointly discussed avenues of action and possibility to move towards the envisaged ideal state, we found insightful new options.

In conclusion, I must say that I was delighted to have been part of such a rich and thought-provoking experience and I hope that normative and quantitative research meet again in such inspiring settings.

Thanks to Joanna Hafenmayer Stefanska & RECOL for having orchestrated such a miraculous event!

Learn more about seeing through the jungle of responsible leadership and other relevant initiatives.


1 Comment

Deep “new” change vs. changing the titans – a comment on George Monbiot opinion on Unilever

Let me be honest – I love Monbiot’s columns: they are sharp, edgy, provocative and to the point. They challenge present thinking and strive for more. I also think that Unilever is one of the way to few examples of a multinational working honestly on making the world a better place. I think we should clone Paul Polman – he is that good! So Monbiot’s critic on Unilever certainly got my attention – if you haven’t read it, here it is: http://www.monbiot.com/2014/04/08/loved-to-death/. As usual a real Monbiot piece of work. And I think he makes the point well in many ways of challenging Unilever for not yet having managed to be as coherent as they probably wish across all brands and divisions. I can think of a bunch of examples that would greatly support Monbiot’s case. Yet, I also think that Unilever more than any other similarly large multinational has initiated significant change both inside their organization and in their markets including consumers and investors. But, or better, and, there are still dark and blind spots. Look at Nestle and you see more dark than bright spots, despite their Creating Shared Value (CSV) claim – what they do with their water strategy and what they claim outrages me! It is tough for a large multinational to change course – maybe impossible. Just a few degrees of change, however, brings significant leverage and change due to the sheer size and relative impact of such large organizations.

Of course a few degrees is totally insufficient – we need radical, deep change. And we need it now. But, much like in any other industry or field of practice – business schools included – such radical and deep change does not happen in the established, large organizations with the famous brand names. Transformational change happens in the fringes, with small, relatively unknown players who have little to lose and much to gain. Such organizations are still lean, agile, fast and thus innovative. Like sailing boats compared to streamliners! I am in favor of supporting those streamliners who dare to embrace change, even if its just a few degrees and I am willing to celebrate those who are ahead of the pack and are undertaking radical big change that from the outlet looks impossible, yet inspires others to follow (and Paul Polman at Unilever is leading such radical big change). I believe we should focus our criticism on those who are fast asleep and have not yet woken up to the new realities of a resource-constrained, climate-changed world. Our criticism should tear them out of their sleep and their comfort zone, shake them up and get them to sit up straight and think – fast. Our students have created a consumer opinion poll to show companies in the food sector what consumers think of their sustainability initiatives – vote here to express your opinion, share the link and we will ensure the world hears about the results!

Monbiot talks about a critical issue: the lack of healthy food. Lets take a look at it. Indeed, since food has become a processed and heavily industrialized item, “healthy food” has become an oxymoron. To get the nutritious value an apple had in the 1950s, we would today need to eat 25 apples we buy in our supermarkets – “an apple a day” won’t keep the doctor away anymore! Sugar, salt and fat are our top 3 societal enemies that are and will be costing us not only unimaginably big health bills but are also ruining us as healthy, capable and caring human beings. Just take the combination of stress and sugar – it will turn anybody in a monster, unable to breathe, care and slow down. I recently wrote about this in the Transatlantic Blog. The pharmaceutical industry must love all of this, the number of emerging new conical deceases  are sky-rocketing, assuring life-long medical dependencies and revenues. Read what Michael Moss (salt, sugar, fat) has to say about it! I believe that the single biggest opportunity for food companies today is to turn their practices upside-down and to step back from feeding the world junk. To remove all the unhealthy, addictive ingredients and to serve us healthy, nurtious food that supports our well-being, happiness and health. There is chocolate without added sugar (thanks to Villars in Switzerland, a hugely innovative, small chocolate producer at the fringes!). It is possible! It is also unacceptable – I agree with Monbiot – that food companies including Unilever boycott and prevent proper “traffic-light” labelling of our enemies sugar, fat and salt. They managed to prevent a law to pass in Switzerland and I am sure in many other countries – scandalous! It feels like back in the days when tobacco companies tried to manipulate research that proved that smoking was bad. Unilevers of this world: embrace the challenge and return healthy food to us with your great distribution and brand power that you have. You can not only save the world, but build the foundation of a society that can start to heal itself and become well again. BSL is a place to help make it possible: we are a platform where engaged citizens work on burning societal issues. Our food-waste collaboratory on May 6th is such an example: we are committed to reduce consumer food-waste by 50% by 2018. What could you do in your space and what are you going to do to make a difference?

 


Otto Scharmer on a Global Action Leadership School (the “u-school”)

Read this inspirational personal account of one of our key thought leaders of today, Otto Scharmer, and how he is finding courage and will within him to drive towards a dream he has had for a long time. More on Otto’s blog.