Toward Sustainability vs. Digital Transformation – possible match?

Two weeks ago, we presented the research report « How CSR is Changing Business » to an audience of VP/directors of CSR, HR, HSE, Risks and Transformation – from the Financial, Pharmaceutical, Insurance, Services, Manufacturing sectors and more – my apologies for not quoting each of them, we were over 40 in the room.

Jacob Mayne (New Angles) and myself (Cécile Demailly, Early Strategies)*, presented this research, that kept our team busy over 2017 first semester, i.e. some 9 month work in FTE (Amanda Harding, the third researcher of the team, was in the room; our team was punctually complemented by a research engineer). The research report, which we offer to our customers and sell as a strategic thinking and awareness tool, as well as a vehicle to open discussion on ‘difficult’ topics with the executive committee, is extensively presented on its dedicated website.

What I’d like to discuss here is the potential convergence between digital transformation and transformation toward sustainability in corporations. Halfway through the presentation, I described one of the research learning: some 60%, meaning a large majority of the 130 decision makers in large organizations who participated in our research, thought that the impetus for change should come from everywhere and everyone in the organization. Each and every one must acquaint themselves with CSR and sustainable development, include it in their practice, their daily decisions and their plans. Remaining answers pointed to the executive team responsibility, and for a small group to a bottom-up impulse (disruptors?).

To me, this result, these 60% of respondents seeing the “sustainable transformation” as a holistic and ubiquitous responsibility, confirms that collective intelligence has stepped in corporations. It may not be yet in practice, but it is at least an intent and a motivation. Digital transformation allows giving life to collective intelligence thanks to collaboration and non-hierarchical skills and knowledge sharing; because it is another of my expertise areas, I see this as an important and exciting learning.

How can we explain these 60%? They are probably due to the fact that decision-makers have already get their hands dirty with the digital transformation. This specific question on the impetus of change was not specifically tied to the digital transformation, but another was: we asked our participants what they thought about their company maturity in terms of digital transformation and in terms of sustainability. The majority reported that digital was leading – in other words, digital adoption is ahead of social and environmental responsibility adoption. Our research report gives more keys and examples.

We debated about links between ‘digital’ and ‘sustainable’. Here are some of the questions that were asked:

  • Which domain is leading – digital transformation or transformation toward sustainability? (see above)
  • What are the budgets, how do they compare?
  • What could be the leverage, or synergy between the domains?
  • Are there risks to combine both domains; are there antagonisms?

All interesting topics that might become specific questions in the next issue of the research to be published in 2019.

As for me, I am convinced that a cleverly articulated synergy between ‘digital’ and ‘sustainable’ is not only useful, but is also unavoidable and compelling.

Going digital means improving frameworks, systems and tools: performance and savings objectives are undisputed (even though they sometime make people grind their teeth), yet they are outstandingly down-to-earth, survival oriented, at the bottom of a Maslow Hierarchy of Needs for Business. The corporate vision and mission (which would sit on top of the Maslow Hierarchy) are not nourished by digital transformation. Nowadays, the “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” that James C. Collins and Jerry Porras described in 1994 as the strategic and visionary objective, compelling and making the difference for an organization to become sustainable (cf. their book « Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies ») can be sourced in transformation toward sustainability and in corporate social and environmental responsibility. The companies we admire, whether they are multinationals or startups, which GenY and Millennials want to join, that motivate and inspire their teams, are also those that want to change the world, to make it a better world.

The digital transformation will never be an end in itself. In the report published by Early strategy last year, “How Middle Management copes with Digital Transformation”, ‘giving sense’ was an implied topic throughout many answers. Whether decision makers said they support performance growth objectives was connected to their ultimate role in the transformation, in other words to their responsibility to give meaning to the growing volume of information, which also becomes more granular and pinpoint every day. More, the research unveiled two weak signals: that digitization may negatively impact humanness, and that the reporting appetite from some executive teams may be counterproductive, because too narrow, hence not relevant for assessing the organization health.

Sustainable development might be the extra bit of soul the digital transformation needs to succeed. The CDO** and CSO** being allies would make the most of their complementary stances: one has the money and the other has the juice. One comes with the hard, soft and net, the other with the content.

It deserves a try. What do you think?

Would you have any comments, please post them on the LinkedIn edition here, thank you!

Transformation durable vs. digitale – un possible mariage d’amour ?

An english version of this post is available here

La semaine dernière, nous avons présenté l’étude « Comment la RSE change l’entreprise » à un auditoire de directeurs de la RSE, des RH, HSE, Risques et Transformation – venant des secteurs bancaire, pharmaceutique, assurance, service, industrie, et plus – mes excuses pour ne pouvoir les citer tous – nous étions plus d’un 40aine.

Jacob Mayne (cabinet conseil New Angles) et moi-même (Cécile Demailly, cabinet conseil Early Stratégies)*, avons parlé de cette recherche qui nous a occupés plus de 6 mois, à trois chercheurs (la troisième chercheure de notre trio, Amanda Harding, était dans la salle) plus une ingénieure de recherche – soit environ 9 mois/hommes de travail.

L’étude, vendue comme outil de réflexion stratégique, de sensibilisation et véhicule pour aborder les questions ‘difficiles’ avec le comité exécutif et le management, est largement présentée sur notre site dédié.

J’aimerai ici parler des convergences potentielles entre la transformation digitale et le développement durable en entreprise.

A mi-présentation, j’ai commenté sur l’un des enseignements tirés de la recherche : à 60%, donc une large majorité, les 130 décideurs de grandes entreprises interrogés pensent que l’impulsion du changement doit venir de partout dans l’entreprise. Tout un chacun doit s’approprier la RSE et le développement durable, et l’intégrer dans ses pratiques, ses décisions journalières et ses plans. Le reste des réponses penchent pour une responsabilité de l’équipe de direction, et pour un tout petit groupe (d’avant-gardistes ?) pour une impulsion ascendante (bottom-up).

Pour moi, ce résultat, ces 60% qui voient la « transformation durable » comme une responsabilité holistique et omniprésente, n’est autre que la confirmation que l’intelligence collective entre en vigueur dans les entreprises. Peut-être pas encore dans la pratique, mais en tout cas dans les intentions et dans les motivations. Et comme un autre de mes domaines d’expertise est la transformation digitale, qui permet de donner vie à l’intelligence collective via la collaboration et le partage non-hiérarchisé des expertises et des connaissances, c’est un enseignement à la fois important et mobilisateur.

Comment expliquer ce résultat ? Probablement parce que les décideurs qui ont participé à notre recherche ont adopté la transformation digitale. Si la question posée sur l’impulsion du changement n’était pas ouvertement liée à la transformation digitale, une autre des questions l’était : nous avons demandé à nos décideurs ce qu’il pensaient du niveau de maturité de leurs entreprises en matière de ‘transformation digitale’ et en matière de ‘transformation durable’. La majorité des réponses montraient que une avance pour le digital – en d’autres termes, l’adoption du digital est plus avancée que l’adoption de la responsabilité sociale et environnementale. L’étude donne bien sûr plus de clés, des exemples et bonnes pratiques, et les questions pertinentes à se poser.

Nous avons débattu avec les personnes dans la salle de ces liens entre digital et durable. Voici quelques-unes des remarques et des questions posées :

  • Quel domaine est le plus en avance – digital ou durable ? (voir ci-dessus)
  • Quels sont les budgets, et comment se comparent-ils ?
  • Pourrait-il y avoir un effet levier, ou une synergie entre les deux domaines?
  • Y a-t-il des risques à combiner ces domaines, des antagonismes ?

Autant de questions très intéressantes qui feront probablement l’objet de questions spécifiques dans la mise à jour de la recherche que nous ferons pour 2019.

Pour ma part, je suis convaincue qu’une synergie intelligemment articulée est utile, mais plus, qu’elle est à la fois inévitable et incontournable.

Le digital est un outil : les objectifs de performance et d’économies que personne ne conteste (même s’ils font grincer des dents) sont des objectifs éminemment terre à terre, de survie, tout en bas de la pyramide de Maslow de l’entreprise. La vision et la mission de l’entreprise (qui, dans une pyramide de Maslow de l’entreprise, seraient dans le haut) ne sont pas nourries par la transformation digitale. De nos jours, le « big hairy audacious goal » que James C. Collins et Jerry Porras décrivaient en 1994 comme l’objectif stratégique visionnaire et puissamment motivant qui fait la différence pour qu’une entreprise vive longtemps (cf. leur livre « Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies ») peut venir du développement durable et de la responsabilité sociale et environnementale des entreprises. Ces entreprises que nous admirons, multinationales et startups, que les GenY et les millenials veulent rejoindre, qui motivent leurs troupes, sont aussi celles qui veulent changer le monde, et en faire un monde meilleur.

Le digital n’a jamais été, et ne sera jamais une fin. Dans l’étude publiée par Early Strategies l’année dernière, « Management Intermédiaire versus Transformation Digitale », la question du sens ressortait en filigrane dans beaucoup des réponses. L’adhésion les décideurs aux objectifs de performance et d’accélération était facilité par la finalité de leur rôle dans ce changement, à savoir donner du sens à l’information, de plus en plus granulaire, volumineuse et sibylline. De plus, l’étude a mis en lumière deux signaux faibles : la possible perte d’humanité, et l’inutilité du reporting ponctuel d’indicateurs, demandé parfois à outrance par les comités exécutifs, car non pertinent sur la santé de l’entreprise et du marché.

Le développement durable peut être le supplément d’âme dont la transformation digitale a besoin. Une alliance CDO/CSO (Chief Digital Officer, Chief Sustainability Officer) est très complémentaire, quand on y pense : l’un a le budget, l’autre a le sens. L’un a la mécanique, l’autre a le carburant. L’un amène le lien, l’autre le contenu.

Ça mérite d’être exploré en profondeur. Qu’en pensez-vous ?

Si vous avez des commentaires, merci de les poster sur LinkedIn ici.

 

* Encore merci à Turningpoint qui nous a accueilli pour ce petit déjeuner dans un cadre lumineux, et à Olivier Pelleau et Nicolas Riom pour leur témoignages. 

Crédits photos : Turningpoint , @amandaharding @CSRexecs @emmlulu 

 

Corporate sustainability: changing from the inside is the next trend

This article was originally published on LinkedIn here

No one can deny that corporate sustainability and its structured sibling CSR are taking more and more space in our information age. Most companies now publish a sustainability report and a sustainability page on their websites, with announced goals and success stories.

The specialized media, conferences and green marketing businesses are rocketing, and if you are ready to buy your place on the stage, you will get seen and heard.

For the most advanced, the stamp of compliance has recently evolved into an activism tag, as for the top multinational companies involved in the COP21 and some of those based in the US who later opposed the American president’s decision to leave Paris Agreement.

When it comes to sustainability matters, are companies really changing, has green washing become an archaic behavior, or is it still essentially about investing in communication and brand image? What is going on inside companies, are they transforming deeply and investing for the long term?

Picture David Drexler  [businessmen]  2007 Flickr CC-BY
Who can tell if companies are (really) (deeply) changing?

We (Early Strategies & New Angles) just published a research report called ‘Managers Speak Out on Sustainability – How CSR is Changing Business’ giving the inside story from middle management on how sustainability policy and activity have reached a tipping point in the last 5 years.

We worked with middle and senior managers, as they are the ones having positions and power (hopefully) to perform change in their organizations. They know best how their companies are doing, how healthy and sustainable they really are; they are vision-mission-strategy ambassadors, and at the same time get their hands dirty in daily operations and decisions.

We asked them, via 36 questions including 25 open-ended ones, to describe us how they make decisions, consider responsibility and ethics, if leadership is evolving and how, what noticeable impacts have CSR and sustainability programs, and how positive change can be scaled.

The sustainability business case gets clearer and wealthier

75% of our respondents think the business case for sustainability is clearer than 5 years ago (this was our question 12).

Respondents were 130 middle and senior managers from 107 organizations of over 2000 employees, in 25 countries; we confirmed each individual identity and position. Half of them had sustainability or CSR responsibilities – full or part time – and the other half didn’t have.

We asked (Q13) participants to choose the dominant business case driver among 10 propositions, and the brand image still comes first, but only for ¼ of respondents. 75% mentioned other dominant drivers, competitive advantage coming just next with preference from 18% of the respondents. It is a sign that sustainability benefits are seen more engrained than before, and the business case is becoming more granular.

We also asked participants (Q16) how non-financial value creation gets its way in management decisions. A big third – 38% – said they always consider non-financial value creation to be an important factor in their management decisions, and additional 46% said they often do.

Beyond these statements, the topic was extensively commented, giving us a very rich feedback on what non-financial value creation means in a real world – I’ll share more insights on the 6 categories we identified in another post.

The business case is recognized more widely and many companies are including sustainability issues in their core strategies. At the same time, short-termism is also pointed, holding back progress. Short-term pressure is often mentioned all along the study, for example when pointing barriers to change (Q28): 48% mangers see the pressure for short-term results, versus long-term thinking, as a major corporate hindrance.

Middle managers willing to change their organizations

Q14 was about producing a real shift toward sustainability: answers show a discrepancy between what is needed according to the participants vs. according to their companies, and what is underway. For them, transforming the vision should be the priority: it comes first from our 12 proposals. But they see it coming 5th in their company’s plans, and 9th in the list of actions underway and already producing visible results. Differences in the rankings are a goldmine for grasping what is considered as successful, what is awaited from middle management, as opposed to what the companies are prioritizing in their plans.

We also asked the impact of CSR on participants’ job (Q30): 83% of managers report that CSR has changed their jobs in the last 5 years. Participants not in a CSR job give examples of transformation from different view points: decision making and sense giving, along with a better understanding of the issues at stake, and of course many practical examples, such as zero policy paper.

Asked where the impetus of change should come from (Q33), 60% managers answer it should come from everywhere – and not just from a specialist team or from the executive management.

Corporate awareness: burden or bonanza?

In link with this statement that everyone should be involved, managers point needs for improving awareness:

  • To get the companies transformed, the need for more training comes second need after budget in general (but who does not need money?) far before incentives, experts, and other ‘tools’ proposed
  • Involving employees comes high as a source of success stories – 28% of the examples quoted by the participants (Q34)

Awareness and involvement are definitely priorities. A CSR director I talked to recently had this nice sentence: “Having employees understand sustainability issues and willing to give a hand is really what we need now. We know how to communicate externally, but we have a long way to go to convince internally and transform the business”.

This is why we started this research: in order to give executives a tool to reflect, but also to grow awareness, push learning & thinking and support the implementation of change.

There is more information on the dedicated website www.is-csr-changing-business.com.

 

Research “Is CSR Changing Business?” – latest news

We published our Press Release through CSRWire service see here: http://www.csrwire.com/press_releases/39698-Is-CSR-Changing-Business-; and we continue to reach our personal contacts and pass the news to networks. Participation in our research is growing well. I cannot disclose findings yet, but below is some information on our progress.

Who are our respondents so far?

The research has already attracted participants from a wide range of companies. To mention some of their organizations: Allianz, Alstom, Arriva Group, Arup, at&t, Axa, Axway, Barilla, Bombardier, China Ting Group, Commerzbank AG, Conduent, Dentsu Aegis, Diageo, Genpact, HSBC, La-Z-Boy, Lagardère, Lowe’s, Merial, Mosanto, O2, Omya, Oxy, Pepsico, Philips Lightning, PwC, Royal Canin, Saint Gobain, Sealed Air Corporation, Smithfield, UTC Aerospace Systems and Vale. Participants respond in their names, not as representatives of their organizations – but this list witnesses the relevance of our questions.

A little less than half of the participants so far (48%) spend less than 25% of their working time on CSR issues: this will definitely inform our goal of understanding how CSR permeates organizations – as a reminder, the questionnaire is open to non-experts, and we look forward to receiving answers from sustainability non-specialists in particular.

Why do respondents fill the survey?

Responses will help find how to foster sustainability within business. The questionnaire is also a good way to nurture thinking, as you can see from the participants’ comments mentioned below. Last but not least, they will receive a personal copy of the research report free of charge in May, and they look forward to it.

Will we find if corporate social responsibility is now mainstream and non-financial value creation part of most decisions? Or will we find there is still a lot to do and be able to gather some good practices? What I am sure is that many (maybe most) senior and middle managers have sustainability in mind, but it is a big mountain to climb: they would appreciate insights on how to incorporate its challenges in their strategies and everyday business lives – so that BAU becomes SBAU.

Interested? If you are into the topic of sustainability or CSR, whatever your degree of expertise is, and if you are a senior or middle manager in an organization of more than 2000 employees, come join and fill the survey http://bit.ly/CSRvsBusiness ! It takes 25 minutes to complete, and has 4 main sections: Decision-making Path and Processes, Human Rights & Ethics, Leadership of CSR, and CSR Impacts. It is open until March 19th.

Some respondents’ comments

As you may see from some of the nice comments received from participants after they responded, it seems we are on the right track to help companies’ progress in the sustainability area:

I was pleased to respond. Unfortunately I missed to respond the previous research and regretted it. I found the questions insightful and I hope this kind of research can help move things forward. (VP HR MEA)

I enjoyed the survey (Head of Sustainability Leadership)

Thank you for the survey invite. Happy to help you! (Global CSR Senior Manager)

Thanks for the invitation to participate – I just did. I found the questionnaire interesting and look forward to the results. (VP Corporate Responsibility)

Thanks for the note and completed the CSR survey. Interesting area of work… (GM EMEA)

Thanks for including me in this survey. Glad to contribute. (Head of Sustainability)

Interested? come join and fill the survey and/or share the news with your contacts http://bit.ly/CSRvsBusiness – thank you !

(this post was originally published on LinkedIn here)

Do digital adopters endorse sustainable development?

These last years I worked mainly on digital transformation issues: researching how change happens, what resistance hinders progress, strategy pitfalls to avoid. I published on how middle management copes with this trend, I did consulting, coaching and speeches about it. I am now reverting to another leading-edge area in organizational change: corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability.

I just launched with partners at New Angles a new research entitled “Is CSR Changing Business?”.

Is this a split from what I was doing before? Not really, rather a return to my roots. I am an organizational change practitioner who takes a chance to work on her passions: digital transformation and sustainability. I do consider these issues related: to me, they are both about reinventing organizations.

Faith in a better organization

Those interested in digital transformation and those interested in corporate sustainability have something in common: they think organizations can be improved, and can be changed into something better.

In an ideal world, digital transformation allows collaboration, which fosters collective intelligence, which in turn makes the organization agile and innovative. In an ideal world, CSR & sustainability allow organizations to care about people and the environment, to focus on creating value other than just financial and to make the future more livable.

Transparency and ethics are intertwined concepts: digital transformation increases transparency, which is good for ethics, and vice versa. Both domains are also testing new business models: circular economy, collaborative economy. Last but not least, for both domains, thinking is holistic and global, not linear or hierarchical.

A continuous challenge

Those interested in digital transformation and those interested in corporate sustainability have something else in common: they are conscious of the hazards of a difficult economy. Their organizations may decide to protect short-term profit, and expose themselves to downstream depleting effects: loss of agility, and negative impacts on sustainability. “Consolidate achievements” is a watchword for both communities.

Another mantra is “rejuvenate motivation”, as efforts have already been heavy, and we are not yet in sight of the journey’s end. Digital transformation brings uncertainty in the future of some professions, and technology evolves at light speed. Transformation toward sustainability may question business basics. Because discoveries are made, innovation is needed and new markets must be invested in, we must constantly reinvent ourselves.

Is there a synergy between both domains?

Many organizations reached a milestone on sustainability, as they enabled reporting and complied with regulations. They wonder, “What’s next?” If they decide for pushing beyond legal requirements, how can they generate enough creativity and innovation, other than through relying on collaboration?

One of the questions of the survey “Is CSR Changing Business?” pertains to digital maturity, and I hope to find what kind of correlation, if any, exists between digital adoption stage and CSR maturity. Another work I am doing is to look for structured communities inside multinational corporations – communities of practice (CoP) on sustainability – and research how they are using digital tools and enterprise social network to ameliorate their actions toward sustainability.

I would happily read your comments – whether you are from the digital transformation community, or from the CSR and sustainability family, or having interest in both worlds like me -, do digital adopters endorse sustainable development?

 

(this post was originally published in LinkedIn here)

Data privacy

In accordance with the Data Protection Act of 6 January 1978, all the computer data concerning research participants are treated with the strictest confidentiality. The personal data collected during this research through the online questionnaire will only be used by the researcher Cecile Demailly, and only for the purpose of this current research; other research team members Jacob Mayne, Amanda Harding and Camden Brown, will work from an anonymized data file.

Personal Data will not be held for longer than required for the research, and hence will be deleted at the time of the report publication (both from SurveyMonkey platform we used for the questionnaire, and from spreadsheet held by Cécile Demailly).

You may exercise rights of access and rectification, with respect to the personal information filed, by sending a request in writing to CSRsurvey@earlystrategies.com.