The world faces an environmental crisis. As we move into the 21st century, environmental issues will become paramount. If we are to resolve them, we need to transform our world view from an exploitative mode to a regenerative one in relation to people and the planet. The sustainability approach to change requires:
- A simple shift in metaphor. We need a shift away from bureaucracy’s machine metaphor and corporate strategy’s military metaphor. Such a shift can have profound consequences for action. Arie de Geus, who coined the term learning organisation, distinguishes between an economic company and a living company, to indicate that organisations must pursue a broader set of goals than the purely financial if they are to develop in a sustained way. This shift to a living system metaphor (such as a rainforest or a coral reef) is of profound importance if we are to think of organisations as an integral part of the biosphere.
- A diagnostic system to strategically analyse the organisation’s total environment, focusing on the ecological regeneration that will support continuous development.
- Innovation strategies, including environmental scanning (economic, political, technological and ecological); development of relevant corporate capabilities; development of communities of practice around these capabilities.
- Three change-agent roles: the executive role (to manage overall strategic change, including stewardship of human capabilities and ecological resources); the human-resource manager role (to build and maintain corporate capabilities and sustain communities of practice); the change-practitioner role (to work with managers and employees at all levels to facilitate the implementation of strategic change).
There is also a need to broaden the idea of stakeholders. Traditionally, and by law, public companies must consider the needs of shareholders as paramount. The Organisational Renewal Movement influenced an extension of the shareholder concept to the stakeholder concept. Shareholders were investing capital, but the workforce members were investing their lives.
Since then the concept of stakeholder has been extended to other key groups with an interest in the company’s future, such as consumers and suppliers. The key change needed now is to add future generations to the list of of stakeholders so that each strategic decision is evaluated in terms of its potential effect on succeeding generations. In one organisation the chief executive keeps an empty chair at the boardroom table as a reminder of the generations unborn.
The challenge is to develop differentiated strategies for incremental and transformational change that can be applied to creating ecologically sustainable organisations. Although these strategies have been refined for other kinds of organisational changes, they now need to be adapted specifically for programs focused on ecological sustainability.
When we build organisations that act upon this world we must do so not with the intent to exploit, pollute and plunder but to renew the life of the planet.
From The Sustainable Corporation by Dexter Dunphy and Andrew Griffiths; Allen & Unwin, 1998.
How not to
of mouses and men
Forecasts, personal and global, can be wide of the mark, as automated payments, through the computer or through the nose, can go awry
Who Not To Hire
In response to what not to put into a CV, I was reminded of an application I once received for the position of property overseer. We all get asked to write them, and at times there is a juggling act between an honest assessment and helping someone out. This applicant enclosed a referee’s report from his old headmaster. The reference in part said: XXX was a student at my school for three years. I consider that, with maturity, he may turn into a decent citizen. If nothing else it should teach one to carefully read a reference.
The mismanagement of consultants
The US telecommunications company AT&T has excelled at giving consultancies multimillion-dollar budgets, according to authors James O Shea and Charles Madigan, in Dangerous Company.
It was not until a new chief executive, John Walter, arrived that AT&T nibbled at total quality management, business process re-engineering, right sizing, and a long menu of other favored management consulting philosophies and fads, only to find itself trying desperately to swat away its hungry, aggressive competitors and impose some sense of order and mission on its 125,000 employees.
One former insider of AT&T commented: I know of various projects. I have to make a judgment based on the level of performance of the corporation, and that is not impressive. Maybe much of the advice was never taken seriously, but you would think with consistent outlays of many millions of dollars, some of it must have been. And the end of it all, what happened? Nothing much.
In his book, The Great Depression of 1990, Ravi Batra warned that we were moving towards a worldwide depression in which millions of people will suffer catastrophic financial reversals; a disaster of the same severity [as the Great Depression], if not greater, is in the making. It will occur in 1990 and plague the world at least until 1996.
Batra showed admirable concern when he said: I have written this book not to scare you, but to warn you of the impending cataclysm. I am an economist, trained in scientific analysis, not a sensationalist or a Jeremiah [but], unless we take immediate remedial action the price we pay in the 1990s is catastrophic.
Batra warned businesses not to begin any projects in the 1990s. Those that followed his advice would have missed the longest period of sustained economic growth in the US sharemarket since the Second World War.
E-mail has become the latest weapon of choice for inter-office whingeing, all at the click of a button. Just be sure you hit the right button.
A middle manager had some explaining to do when 500 local and overseas employees received the message What a bloody wanker in response to an e-mail sent by a senior executive of the organisation wishing everybody a Merry Christmas. The problem was that the send and send to all buttons were next to each other. Minutes later the 500 employees received a second e-mail offering a public apology to the executive.
A computer installed in 1975 by a British council to pay staff wages found entirely new meanings for the phrase rubbish in, rubbish out. The early signs came when a school caretaker was paid 75 an hour instead of 75 pence. Then, buoyed by its success, the computer’s ambitious grew and it failed to pay a canteen worker at all for seven weeks. Unchecked, the computer’s virtuoso nature appeared. It confidently paid a janitor 2,600 for a week’s work. The honest worker sent the cheque back only to receive the same amount by return mail. By now, the computer had gone feral. A deputy headmistress received her year’s salary once a month, heads of departments were paid less than assistants, and others had more in deducted in tax in a week than they earned in a year.
Eventually, the humans caught up. 280 employees on the council payroll attended a protest meeting at which it was revealed that only eight had been paid correctly.
Everyone went on strike.