October 25, 2013
On yet another foggy day in Vancouver, 500 people are crowded into the convention centre to hear Mark Lee speak. And there’s a good reason he can draw such a crowd: after more than two decades inspiring and leading international companies down the sustainability path, he’s got some helpful insights on system transformation.
Part of the secret to his success is his unwavering commitment to collaboration. And lest you think the desire to share is unique to the tree-hugger types, even Warren Buffett credits his achievements to knowing his “circle of competence,” inviting talent where and when he needs it. At first glance, the idea of working with others (sometimes referred to as sharing the toys in the sandbox) may seem impossible if you have been entirely focused on beating your competition. When Lee talks about collaboration, he means between public and private sector organizations, and even within a single industry.
Lee and his team at SustainAbility have been studying the performance and public perception of top brands for years, and they have discovered some critical factors that set leading companies apart. All of them have established Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) targets and are actively working towards them. And the winners are: Unilever, GE, Patagonia, and Marks and Spencer.
In recessions, collaborative companies are proven to be the most resilient to changing conditions. They build their CSR strategy with the intention of having it support their businesses succeed in the long term, rather than seeing it as a short term marketing ploy.
Not sure where to start? Think about your own business and incorporate as many collaborative principles as you can, such as your:
Offer: demonstrate how your service or product directly connects to sustainability goals in very practical ways; embed CSR into the lifeblood of your business.
Brand: connect with your target audience by inviting them to participate in shaping and meeting CSR goals; give people a chance to voice their opinions and take action, and watch brand loyalty soar.
Vision: focus on why your organization exists beyond what you do. People are increasingly interested in the foundational values of the companies they support, and they can tell if it’s the real deal or not.
Goals: motivate your staff and other business stakeholders to continually strive to meet ambitious targets that not only improve the bottom line but also local communities.
Transparency: influence industry peers to get beyond compliance culture and change the status quo to make the collective business context more sustainable; the economy exists within ecological constraints (thank you, Dr. Suzuki).
Advocacy: mobilize government leaders to implement policies that make CSR the norm, not the exception.
Products: improve what you sell to be better and different; better meaning higher efficiency (think hybrid), and different meaning alternative model (think Car2Go)
Aside from the prestige of being known as an innovative company, not to mention the legacy you’ll leave for your children, there are bottom line benefits to increasing collaboration:
Add expertise, because really, do you have all the skills needed make your company as successful as it can be?
Share risk when implementing new systems or policies by working with others to level the playing field
Increase value through increased operational efficiencies and enhanced brand reputation
If your “circle of competence” doesn’t include a future-proof collaborative communications strategy, give me a call.