Wednesday, 12 February 2014

On sustainability and the feminisation of business

Management fads come and go. Twenty years ago or so, the big business fad was Business Process Reengineering. "Don't automate, obliterate" was the slogan. Men with butch names like Mike Hammer set to work downsizing and outsourcing, slashing the fat from corporations to make them lean, trim and butch. Other business movements such as Total Quality Management or Six Sigma, set out to minimise variability in business processes, were equally masculine in the left-hemisphere way they focused on rigid, mathematical goals.

Yesterday, I was chairing a seminar on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) - or as some management thinkers would like it to be renamed - Embedded Sustainability. After a while, I realised that I was one of just four men in a roomful of women; the three main speakers were all female.

The core of CSR/Embedded Sustainability is the notion that a company can only survive and thrive if it addresses environmental and social concerns, as well financial goals. And what a case study we had in Warsaw yesterday - Adnams Brewery from Suffolk, a company that has survived 142 years in business. Back in 2000, threatened on one side by the globalisation of the big brewers and an explosion of microbreweries on the other, Adnams started a journey (a popular buzzword) in the direction of CSR. Environmentally-friendly measures saved vast amounts of energy, charitable initiatives within the local community were well received, staff became more involved in the way the business was run - and things started to look rosy again.

I must say, I was convinced by the three presenters that this is a way forward - but - and it's a big one - in countries with well-developed institutions, high levels of personal wealth, and well-developed social and environmental awareness. A British supermarket has aisles and aisles of Fair Trade products. In Poland, you mention Fair Trade and the response is "Handel futrami?" And, as I've written here before - the very word 'sustainable' has been badly translated into Polish as 'zrównoważony', which actually only means 'balanced'.

It will take a while for CSR/Embedded Sustainability to seep onto Polish boardroom agendas. But it will. Driven by a new generation of smarter, globally aware young women who impress me for their wisdom as well as for their drive and intelligence.

CSR/Embedded Sustainability is about nurturing a business for the long-term; like bringing up a child, it's not a quick-bang-for-your-bucks operation to slash headcount and boost next quarter's net profits. As an investor looking for a secure, long-term return on investment, I'd be keen to plump my savings with a socially responsible company that's conscious of its environmental responsibilities as well as its need to stay in business. However, I'm aware that there are many investors who simply want to get rich quick, and many consumers who want to buy cheap and not worry too much about where their product came from, or how.

Something tells me that as management fads go, CSR/Embedded Sustainability is built to last. As long as it's not touchy-feely PR greenwash attempting to hide disdain for consumers, employees, suppliers and the environment.

This time last year:
Lent kicks off (somewhat earlier than this year)

This time two years ago:
Feeling at home on the ice

This time five years ago:
Wetlands in (a milder) winter

This time six years ago:
Railway miscellany

1 comment:

AndrzejK said...

It has never ceased to amaze me that people still believe that management can be taught rather than being a set of predispostions honed by EXPERIENCE and mentoring.

All the US theories come and go. We had TQM, we had Six Sigma (the uniform crap standard), the lean management (God knows what that one is actually about apart from the bleeding obvious applied at the micro management level).

The only business guru who ever made any sense to me is Tom Peters who foresaw the feminisation of business at least ten or more years ago. By which I guess we actually mean intuition and which the Americans call gut feel.

Actually what is stagerring is that after all the theories have been tried we have ended up with trans national corporations which treat consumers as total idiots and whose customer care promises are a joke, replaced by a CRM call centre. And unfortunately the CSR and sustainable mantras are just that - a smoke screen to cover disdain of the consumer.

There are a few welcome exceptions but in general customer care has not been so poor for at least 30 years or more.

Poland of course is ripe for rip offs as the consumer does not have any organisation which actually looks after their interests (their of course means ours). Just try to change your energy supplier or return faulty goods...

And to add to the previous blog on cars why do manufacturers insist on making their cars larger and larger so that they do not fit in car parking spaces? Just think on the energy efficiency if cars did not weigh more and more.