Monday, January 23, 2017

People powering trust

As a consultant, my work is most often behind the scenes of business and most of my job satisfaction derives from helping others make a difference. One of my favorite things about my work is when clients tell me they gained a new insight, or when I see the contribution I have made creating ripples in an organization or helping empower people. And in the field of CSR and Sustainability, pretty much everything I work on supports a mission of  advancing positive-impact, ethical, values-driven business which I believe is a key stepping stone to a sustainable society and planet. 

Transparency is the cornerstone of responsible business, and my geeky fascination with and love of Sustainability Reporting has become a purposeful occupation, a hobby and a vocation all rolled into one. I couldn't have imagined that this is what I'd end up doing when I started out 30+ years ago as a Distribution Manager with Procter and Gamble in England, and today, I can't imagine doing anything else. As a consultant, I think we are wired not to seek recognition for ourselves, but for our clients. As consultants, we take pride in our professional work, but we are more proud of what our clients achieve. As consultants, our success is possible because of the trust our clients place in us. And trust is what brings me to share these non-typical personal ramblings on what is usually a fairly on-topic blog. 

In the Winter 2017 Issue of Trust! Magazine,  I am quoted on the topic of trust.  

"Trust defines relationships – personal and professional. It’s the most basic currency of our interactions. When trust exists, relationships thrive and positive outcomes are possible. When trust is eroded, relationships are eroded too. In a business context, the value of trust is often underestimated. Because we can’t count trust in the same way as we can count money, products and other tangible outputs of business, we are often unappreciative of the role trust plays in making it all possible. But we must never forget that business is built on relationships… we may think business is about profit but it’s really about people… so when trust is present, relationships work and business has a good chance of success. As an optimist, I believe, we are predisposed to trust. Retaining trust is the longer-term challenge and that is done by consistently demonstrating integrity, empathy and openness (in business, that includes transparency)."

But you may notice that the Magazine cover carries a special announcement - it's from Trust Across America - Trust Around the World (TAA-TAW) honoring  global leaders in organizational trust. The TAA-TAW awards program, now in its 7th year, celebrates professionals who are transforming the way organizations do business. This year a diverse group of 84 global professionals from different backgrounds operating in different countries and sectors are honored. This list includes seven honorees who have  maintained Top Thought Leader status for five years and are presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The Press Release from TAA-TAW notes: "We congratulate all of our honorees whose work is shining a spotlight on the importance of trust and providing a roadmap for others to follow. They inspire organizations to look more closely at their higher purpose…to create greater value for, and trust from all of their stakeholders, and understand trust is a “hard currency” with real returns."

So it's not by accident that I am writing about all of this here. I am genuinely humbled and delighted to be among the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honorees. More humbled, I guess, as the list of Top Thought Leaders in Trust (which you can view in the Winter Issue of Trust! Magazine) includes so many accomplished individuals that inspire me with all they have done to change the world and the world of business.

With this post, I applaud each and every one of the Top Thought Leaders in Trust 👏👏👏👏
I encourage you to notice and appreciate the difference they make and recognize them, as I do, as a source of inspiration and optimism. This recognition by TAA-TAW is a breath of fresh air in a world in which trust is evidently more necessary than it ever has been. 

Trust Across America - Trust Around the World (TAA-TAW) is the product of the vision and focused action of Barbara Brooks Kimmel, the CEO and Cofounder of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World, whose mission is to help organizations build trust. Now in its seventh year, the program's proprietary FACTS® Framework ranks and measures the trustworthiness of over 1,500 US public companies on five quantitative indicators of trust. Barbara also runs the world largest global Trust Alliance, and is the editor of the award winning TRUST INC. book series and a Managing Member at FACTS® Asset Management, a NJ registered investment advisor. Barbara has made trust her agenda in quite a unique way. I was keen to find out why and learn more about her work: 

Me: When was your a-ha moment that trust was a pivotal factor for healthy business and society?
Barbara: That moment came at the height of the financial crisis in 2008 when CEOs would announce on a Friday that their balance sheets were strong and then declare bankruptcy over the weekend. I started thinking about what trust meant at the organizational level and started searching the internet for resources. I quickly realized that there was no central "clearinghouse" or website where one could go to find information on organizational trust and trustworthiness. Inherently I knew that trust played a very large role in the health of business and society, but frankly, was unaware at the time just how large that role was.

Me: What are the key challenges facing organizations that are trying to build trust ? 
Barbara: Most of the work we do at TAA-TAW focuses on public companies, although all organizations regardless of the type, tend to have similar issues. The biggest challenge is leadership. Trust is usually taken for granted. It's certainly not something that proactively comes up in meetings of Boards of Directors or CEOs, unless they are faced with a crisis, and there is certainly no budget. Trust is built over time and in incremental steps. There are so many competing forces in public companies- quarterly earnings, analysts expectations, CEO compensation and tenure, etc. That's why we have focused on building the Business Case for Trust via our FACTS® Framework. FACTS is a holistic quantitative measurement of the trustworthiness of public companies, compiled from independent third party data providers. In other words, companies do not know they are being evaluated nor do they pay us any fee. With 8 years of data, we see strong correlations between the most trustworthy public companies and long-term profitability. My message to Boards and CEOs is that without organizational trust decisions take longer, employee turnover is high, innovation slows and profits erode. Place trust on your agenda. Start meeting the needs of all your stakeholders, not just your shareholders, and your profits will increase.

Me: What was your prime motivation in developing the Top Thought Leaders in Trust Awards program?
Barbara: There are people who have devoted their entire careers to building organizational trust across every functional area of an organization. These same people should be hailed as heroes and be celebrated. Seven years ago there was no mechanism for doing this. Now there is. Perhaps the recognition opens doors for these folks to make a greater impact.

Me: Tell us a little more about the Trust Alliance? What does the Alliance achieve? 
Barbara: I started the Alliance 5 years ago to bring like minded professionals together to build tools and resources that would enhance both our website and society at large. Very little existed before the Alliance was formed. Now when visitors come to our website, there is an almost endless supply of organizational trust resources and tools. I love to connect members that have complimentary interests and watch new relationships flourish that already have a head start on trust. Understanding that trust is both holistic and global, so is our membership. We don't actively solicit new members but welcome them when they find us. It's a global group.

Me: What's top of your agenda in advancing trust in the coming year or two?
Barbara: Within the next several months we will have the ability to issue "flash reports" to public companies who have an interest in elevating organizational trustworthiness but don't know where to start. The reports will provide a good overview of where the company stands in relation to its peers. These will be driven by our FACTS ® data and provide a mechanism to get companies on the right road, at least those that want to be there! Imagine if every company published their FACTS score in their annual report! With so many years of data there is also quite a bit of interest building both in and outside the financial community. We are discussing licensing with many organizations. This is good for business and for society over the long term and will remain our focus over the next few years.

Thank you Barbara for making trust your thing and for your contribution to making trust our thing. Thank you to all the Top Thought Leaders in Trust for making our world better. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

GRI's great start to 2017!

With the start of a new year, I decided to clear the decks and make way for all the good things that are going to happen in 2017. In a year when BrexiTrump did nothing to advance a positive vision of a shared, collaborative, inclusive, optimistic path forward, anything that might indicate that the future will get a little brighter is worth supporting. One of those things is the appointment of a promising new Chief Executive at GRI. Tim Mohin, Corporate Responsibility veteran, author, former regulator, ex Intel, Apple and soon AMD CSR exec, former Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) Board Chairman, Tim has a passion that's easy to recognize - it's about making the world a better place. He also has a proven track record in sustainability reporting, a singularly relevant ingredient for anyone planning to take the helm in Amsterdam.

I met Tim in person, after years of mutual retweeting, in Berlin earlier this year at Humboldt University's 7th International Conference on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility. We shared a stage together in a panel on CSR and Digitization. Tim talked about what being a CSR practitioner means in the age of digitization. Tim explained that, while there is a lot that companies do to be "less bad", especially in the supply chain, there are many ways that companies can create "more good", including through digital technology. One of the most important aspects of all of this is designing these activities right from the outset - good by design to deliver sustainability at scale.

I chatted with Tim just before the holidays. Here's how it went: 

GRI Chief Exec is going to mean a lot of changes for you, right?
Absolutely. New job, new city, new home. new issues - it's a lot to take in. Especially with the holidays just around the corner. I am very excited.

What drew you to this job?  
I have been working in the sustainability arena for more than 20 years with different companies, and 10 years in government before that. My experience with transparency as a tool for sustainability is a good one. There is a great deal of power in transparency - think of the old phrase: sunshine is the best disinfectant! When you look back at my career, I have worked on sustainability reporting for Intel, Apple and now AMD (AMD has 21 consecutive years of sustainability reporting, well before there was a GRI). I can tell you from first-hand experience, transparency works!  But, it has to be done right. That's what I am interested in with this role.

What does "transparency works" mean?
The point of transparency - publishing information - is to advance sustainability and advance performance. That has almost gotten lost in the debate we have been having about this standard or other. We should be able to answer the question: Has it helped? Some of that clarity has gotten lost and I would very much like to see it come back.

What does the new GRI tag-line, Empowering Sustainable Decisions, mean to you?
I do subscribe to the vision of empowering - it goes back to what I was saying before - by putting information out to the world, information found its way into the hands of investors and others. That information matters, and its users create the pressure or leverage on a company to improve. You can track trends and you can do comparisons with other companies in the sector. But ultimately, someone in the company has to take action. That sounds like empowering sustainable decisions to me.

Who reads reports? How are reports are being used to generate action?
I have written on this topic a few times, for example, one piece I published a few years ago was called: "Is your report a window or a mirror?" We often think reports are a window - everyone can look in. More often they are a mirror and often the main readership is employees. The very act of reporting holds up a mirror to what's happening in the company, asking the question: How are you doing? It creates an opportunity for employees to think about their performance and contributions. Corporations are just a bunch of people. My experience of reporting at companies for many years is that it creates opportunities. Suddenly people light up with the realization that their job can actually help people and the planet. Well, yes, it can. It’s true there are issues - I've been around a long enough to know that. These issues were outside the mainstream for a long time. Now they are more inside the mainstream and it is uplifting to see how you can get a very positive response from different people in different functions in organizations.

Role of GRI to date? 
I'll share my perspective as the incoming Chief Executive. To start with, if you are running CSR department, the first thing I would say is go look at GRI. For the past 17 years, GRI has defined what CSR means in a very real and practical sense. GRI has created a sort of road-map for CSR and sustainability. You could call it the "installed base" of sustainability information and standards. That has been incredibly valuable and GRI has established a powerful leadership position. The future, on the other hand, is still full of challenges. When GRI started out, sustainability reporting was new and novel - today, most of the Fortune500 are doing it and most are using GRI.  But there is some confusion, some fatigue, both on the data provider side and on the data consumer side. If you are the installed base of that market, the question is how do you respond to those challenges. That's what I hope to get into in January. As a long-time practitioner and reporter, I can see those problems quite clearly. 

Initial areas of focus? 
It's a bit early to say! But one thing I will say is that expansion into emerging markets is an important priority for the organization. I spent a lot of my career at Apple in China and other parts of Asia. That area of the world is just booming and presents some of the most egregious and challenging CSR issues I have ever seen. Looking at those issues coupled with extreme growth, one of the things I believe is that the role of CSR is very important and much of this stems from globalization. Some corporations are bigger than nation states in terms of annual revenues and their operations can have an effect in every corner of the globe. We need to harness that incredible economic activity towards good - then all of a sudden, you are not waiting for this or that jurisdiction, you have created a broad scope of sustainability action and that's what I want to see GRI do more of.  

Let's get personal......
Born in: The U.S., into a military family, so I moved around often and that includes 3 years in London (British accent now a little faded!)
Married: Happily

Kids: Two children, both married, my daughter, who has a beautiful little baby, is an attorney and my son just gained his PhD in Chemistry. They won't be joining us in Amsterdam but I hope they will come to visit.    

Top hobby: I am a cyclist. I have clocked up a lot of miles this year -  around 3,100, averaging 60 miles per week.
Fave movie: Captain Fantastic
Fave book: I am now re-reading several leadership books and I audio-read about 3- 4 books a month. I just finished Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, Born to Run and that's pretty good. I wouldn't say I have a favorite book but the leadership book I am reading now is one I would recommend to anyone. It's called It's Your Ship written by a former navy captain, and its message is essentially: take care of your people and they will do a great job for you. 
Fave music: I listen to Slacker, which doesn't work in Europe so I am going to switch to Spotify. I stream music constantly. I love the classic rock genre and also Indie style and jazz.

Fave ice cream: Rocky Road, of course.

Favorite GRI Performance indicator:  They are all good 😏

Last word from Tim: For me, all the positions I have selected in my career have been about making the world better. It's my cause and I want it to be my legacy. We often get mired in a lot of details and debates and argue about things, but ultimately we all want to move the world forward. It doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. I see my new role at GRI as a wonderful way to pursue my cause. 

And the last last word from me: 
I was inspired by my chat with Tim (as I have been from his writings and talks) and believe he will bring a new discipline to GRI. I am sure he is not a Slacker and though he might have a Rocky Road ahead, I expect he will make the GRI his Ship and end up being Captain Fantastic. I am looking forward to hearing more from Tim and supporting his progress in the new year. 

Wishing all the CSR-Reporting Blog readers an equally fantastic year ahead.... where the Rocky Roads are only the kind you eat.  


elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 
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