CCO’s from major global corporations discuss the path from sustainability to durability. A blind report from a secret summit…

Last week I participated to an exclusive and ‘secret’ summit of CCO’s from 15 major global corporations during which they discussed some of the major challenges facing their increasingly relevant organizational function assisted by a handful of ‘sparring partners’ from academia, ngo’s and consultants.

I will mention no names nor location as per agreement, but will instead relate a few of the primary issues and how they were discussed.

No intention here to ‘scoop’ anyone, but only to make others (scholars, professionals and associations) aware of the level of debate today in the upper circles of our community. Just a few points:

1. We have by now learned that sustainability is an integral part of corporate governance and also how to prioritize this awareness in all our communication activities. Thus, it is our responsibility to make sure that:

a) each of the activities that our function implements directly must face a thorough test of responsible communication indicators and full coherence with corporate strategic or tactical objectives…no more frills or nice to haves….

b) our next step is to engage other primary management functions (marketing, finance, human resources, procurement, production, r&d…..) in governing relationship systems with their respective stakeholders along similar lines. This implies we must develop and deliver policies, processes and resources and facilitate/stimulate this to happen as quickly as possible.

Enough with internal turf wars. Our function is now fully embedded in the upper management cycle of our corporations and we need to concentrate on delivering demonstrable added value to our internal and external stakeholders;

2. This awareness has been over the years pushed on us mostly through external and environmental pressures, but it has now become embedded in our professional and managerial genes.

It is now time to become more proactive and move the game forward from sustainability to durability, i.e., the ability of the organization to adapt and thrive over a long period of time, particularly given the challenges of the current economic climate;

3. Participants, representing many diverse economic sectors, had no doubts on the seriousness of the current economic downturn but clearly expressed different perceptions about the length of the crisis and its actual and possible consequences.

None however doubted that the major challenge for the profession today is to substantially and quickly review the ‘business as usual’ approach of this decade, and adequately stimulate the development of their own competencies as well and most importantly those of their collaborators by ensuring life long on-and-off site professional and business knowledge opportunities by mixing inputs from, and dialogue with, leading figures representing academic, civil society and consultancy communities.

And now my question to you: if these senior professionals are aware of not being sufficiently adequate to meeting these challenges, do you think that we–scholars, educators, professional associations–are up to it? How should we interpret this indirect message?

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2 Replies to “CCO’s from major global corporations discuss the path from sustainability to durability. A blind report from a secret summit…

  1. Toni, as regular readers of my comments know, I express confusion regarding lots of the kinds of words academics and non-English speakers choose to use.

    Today, sustainability and durability come to mind. In regard to >i.e., the ability of the organization to adapt and thrive over a long period of time, particularly given the challenges of the current economic climate;<

    And I sit here and wonder if we’re talking about Michelin still making tires and selling them, thirty years from now, or whether Royal Bank of Scotland disappears. In either case, someone will be making tires, and someone else will be cashing paycheques for the men and women making tires.

    Tonight — it’s 10:30 pm here as I type — we’re working on some questions for a tv business show host to ask my partner on Tuesday evening when she and a woman from a B2B Marketing Agency appear on the show.

    We get to write the qustions the host will ask. We’re writing questins that ask “what is PR and what is marketing and how do they differ.”

    If your group of 15 want to nail the problem, it’s simple. “Shareholder Value” is a menance, as is the whole concept of “meeting analysts expectations.”

    The first guarantees no long term planning and the second pretty much guarantees fraud, from stuffing the inventory pipeline to buying and selling subsidiaries or otherwise manuipulting the financials (including firing employees)to manipulate earnings every three months.

    More, later.


  2. Hi Toni,

    Interesting lead. From sustainability to durability? I think sustainability has within itself the concept of long term adjustment and adaptation. But reading your comment I wonder if the context that we prepare to face / are already facing might impel many organizations to a “fight for survival” and thus represent a threat to sustainability as we know it.(?)

    This comes in a week in which I attended a workshop with financial analysts responsible for the evaluation of companies with the purpose of including them in sustainability indexes. I learned that they seek for a mathematical algorithm to explain business success over the long term within some sustainable principles. I was surprised by many of the criteria they use, specially regarding the “stakeholder engagement”, a part of the Social Dimension (in the classic vision including also Economic and Environmental dimensions). I might express my feeling by saying that a company’s capability of “governing relationship systems” is not yet recognized as a sustainability indicator in this context.

    I do believe we have to demonstrate that we can track relationships over time, that we can design strategies and tactics to influence those relationships and that those relationships add (quantitative and measurable) value to the organizations. Obviously we do not relate with the “empty” and those with whom we relate (our publics) are the fundamental part when we try to perform any of the above mentioned tasks. With this in place, and if we can consistently counsel organizations to manage their relationship system, we will definitely become a management core function. And perhaps then we will also be able to convince analysts like these to change their way of evaluating companies, thus introducing a very powerful force for change in all major organizations.

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