Sunday, July 22, 2012

Your Transparency Is Showing

Whether you know it or not, your actions and motivations are more transparent today than ever before.  Those around you observe and note, not just how you respond to things you are directly responsible for, but for those you have a less defined but still important relationship to as well.  Stakeholders, both internal and external are observing, forming perceptions and opinions, and acting. 

In today’s era of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) we are held to a different standard of engagement.  Co-workers, leadership, and customers expect us to take a broader view of our responsibilities and the wider reach of decisions and actions.  They expect us to be accountable not just for the details and bottom line of our job, but for the effect of our efforts beyond the parameters of this year’s performance goals.  They expect us to care about the effects of what we do.  This is not a new phenomenon.  None other than Peter Drucker connected the dots between our actions and our responsibility for them on a broader scale.

“One is responsible for one’s impacts, whether they are intended or not.  This is the first rule.  There is no doubt regarding management’s responsibility for the social impacts of its organization.”

Sometimes knowing what we should feel responsible for and how to act are not always easy.  The old adage “do the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons” is a good place to start.  Adopting that principle as a foundation simplifies what can become a complicated equation at times.  When individuals and organizations operate from this perspective transparency illuminates motivations and increases acceptance and support for good efforts.

In today’s world increased visibility and instant communication platforms foster instant judgment making and perception decisions, often without the benefit of the full story or proper diligence.  Society generally expects us to be aware and accountable.  The degree to which we are perceived as being good or bad actors on the societal stage is important to us as individuals and organizations.

Parallel development of increased awareness of actions, improved access to large amounts of data and the ability to analyze it, and enhanced sensitivity of stakeholder communities combine to increase transparency.  The question is not “Am I transparent?”  The real question is, “How will I act to assure my transparency is a positive force?”

Many companies today are actively engaged in CSR efforts.  Some are large scale and visible, and get press because of the corporate logo they are associated with.  Some are small but no less important, undertaken in a “everyone do what they can” spirit. Some of these are important and beneficial, changing the lives and future of workers in distant parts of the world we never thought of or cared about before.  I wonder, however, how many CSR programs amount to little more than “CSR-washing” (to borrow a phrase from the Green world).  As is often the case in life, I suspect that the difference between substantive programs and those which seek primarily to bolster marketing efforts is one of motivation.

In the HBR article “Leadership in the Age of Transparency,” Christopher Meyer and Julia Kirby set out guiding principles for acting responsibly.

Take ownership of the things you are directly responsible for.  With increased communication, measurement and analytic systems we can today understand the effects of our decisions and actions in ways we could not before.  That fact alone brings accountability for the extended impacts we create. 

Take action even when the impact cannot be precisely measured.  When we understand or learn that harm is occurring on our behalf we have a responsibility to act even if we are not directly causing the harm.  A good example of this would be taking the initiative to train supply chain partners producing products in a way that is detrimental to workers or the environment. 

Take interest in those things that we may not be directly or indirectly involved in but which have a connection to our activities.  In the article Meyer and Kirby use the example of an oil company that is helping to develop an affordable and clean-burning alternative to cookstoves uses widely in undeveloped regions of the world.

The issue of responsibility, whether corporate or personal, is really an issue of integrity.  I am not suggesting that each of us is responsible for everything we see and know.  I am suggesting that we are responsible for those things that we are involved in and for which we have the capability to affect or influence.

Transparency, responsibility, and integrity are linked in a way that cannot be broken.  It is not about an agenda or cause.  It is not about a current trend or market share.  It is about....

Doing the right thing        The right way       For the right reasons

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