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.