Thursday, August 30, 2007

Business, ready and willing (almost)

Following up on my recent post on the Edelman Survey that found that people trusted business more than government, let’s look at the role of business from a different angle. The most recent issue of McKinsey Quarterly adds to the thought that consumers look to business to help make the world a better place with the suggestion that business executives are eager to step up to the task.

In a survey of 721 U.S. executives, McKinsey found that 84 per cent agreed that the role of corporations went beyond just meeting their obligations to shareholders. In a show of acute self knowledge, only 100 individuals agreed that they were playing active leadership roles in addressing public issues. By public issues we’re talking the big four: health care, education, poverty and climate change. Of the 100, 56 were board members and 14 of them also CEOs. 5 were CEOs but not on a board.

So what influenced the active 100 to take a leadership role in shaping public issues? The most important factor was a strong network of peers who shared their interest in public issues alongside a strong personal knowledge and understanding of those issues. And the biggest barrier? No surprises there – a lack of time.

Some of you might think 100 out of a 721 survey is not at all impressive, but I believe it represents a groundswell of change. There may be major gaps between what business people think they ought to be doing and what they actually do, but articulating that gap is a powerful motivator. One thing is for certain, with the challenges facing our world today, the inspiration, leadership skills and acumen of senior business leaders have never been so important.


Susan Plunkett said...

The 100/721 is actually a good rate and better than what one may have expected. Certainly I consider this number is relatively optimistic as you indicate Kevin.

I would be interested to know how 'leadership role' is defined and what political influences may exist around that. For example, I have observed business leaders influencing environmental or health issues but for the ultimate advantage of their companies (shareholders). If active along these lines this has often been in opposition to general community sentiment. Gore has been one of the unique players to defy this pattern but he is not seen as a business leader per se is he?

The questions I ask are also:

Who advises and educates the CEO's?
Who provides them with researched pro and con views on these matters?
Who ensures they receive both government and public commentary et al?

Now, these questions should NOT be assumed to imply CEO's are not intelligent, analytical people. Of course they are. However, as Kevin indicates, their time is short. Thus, they often need to rely on summations of themes and issues presented to them.

If a CEO genuinely wants to develop either a personal or corporate platform of activity on public issues and desires these to be relatively or totally apolitical, then I would strongly urge them to seek people who can offer them information that holds no fear nor favour about perspective, that summates polar or opposing views and that offers recommendations on both sides of the fence and discusses potential outcomes of those choices.

Kevin spoke the other day about knife in the back. If your CEO wants to be apolitical you don't knife them by skewing a presentation along the lines of your own belief system on the issues. Don't make decisions on their behalf as such. Offer both sides and offer well and let them decide. I have strong feelings about poverty and education et al but I would not allow these to skew a presentation.

I agree that this is a significant period for business leaders and leadership. We're watching you. :)

miss mimi said...

1/7 isn't so shabby. Also, let's face it, Corporate social Responsibility is a pretty hot topic these days.

However, I wonder how accurate it is to presume that _all_ CEOs are personally interested in addressing public issues (the term public issues is, afterall, fairly widely defined).

It's not too surprising that people truat corporations more than government. As consumers, we lead high touch point lives with corporations vs government. There is a higher liklihood that the interactions with corporations lends to a positive emotion (if not, we try to avoid going back). Also, there is the hope that the people behind the brand are "people like us", and as a result, increased trust. Edelman's Trust Barometer talks of this.

Then it's worth asking, how frequently do we interact with government? Furthermore, when we do interact with government, how frequently is it a positive experience that builds trust? I can count my personal governmental interactions on one hand in the past year. It was about 4 times more than desired. At best, it was not too negative. Usually, there was a long queue, grumpy governmental workers, and nothing shiny to take home. A little politeness, a smile, and the genuine desire to help would go a long way.