Book review by Toni Muzi Falconi
Disclosure: Paolo D’Anselmi is an old friend of mine. I am grateful to the current leaders of PR Conversations for allowing me to introduce to its many visitors and readers Paolo’s most recent book—his first in the English language—which reveals a number of unique arguments adding much “food for thought” for every public relations and/or corporate social responsibility (CSR) professional.
The book is called, Values and Stakeholders in an Era of Responsibility. It has just been released from Palgrave Macmillan. “All work must be accounted for,” is the author’s mantra (see this YouTube video to get a better sense of what is in the book).
Some key points in Values and Stakeholders in an Era of Responsibility
Below are a few of the many, well-argued points from Paolo D’Anselmi (a public policy analyst, graduate from the Kennedy School of Government, electrical engineer and member of Ferpi, Italy’s public relations association):
- Most sustainability reports, rather than balance sheets, are bull sheets.
- Vertical as well as horizontal competition is the utmost values for today’s organizational sustainability.
- The first step in preparing a reporting process is to prove the many ways the organization acts irresponsibly.
To the first point D’Anselmi indicates that while Linux is not even mentioned in Microsoft’s 2004 report, a careful reader would equally be disappointed by not finding any reference to neighborhood air filters and smells in the McDonalds’ 2004 report…plus many other organizational examples.
To the second point, he underlines that only a truly competitive environment can drive public, private, social, small, medium and large organizations in acting and reporting responsibly. Specifically, D’Anselmi claims this opens a huge opportunity for horizontal organizations (i.e. trade and professional associations) of vertical sector competitors (whether in commerce, business to business, consumer product, non profits or public sector).
For example, if small- or medium-sized enterprise (SME) associations lobbied for a fully competitive environment for all public, social sector as well as oligopolistic and monopolistic organizations, this would not only make SME associations more powerful—after all, they represent the backbone of many economies—but also contribute to level the playing field at a societal, political and economic level.
To the third point, he says that in preparing a CSR report the traditional act of listing of all the responsible behaviours is misguiding and only self serving (with the intent to fool), while it is much more challenging and useful to list all the irresponsible behaviours:
- those that create unexpected and, in some cases, conscious consequences on others
These are three somewhat original observations, but there are many more equally compelling ones in Paolo D’Anselmi’s new offering, Values and Stakeholders in an Era of Responsibility. It’s in no way a “politically correct” book…and therefore a useful companion for all of us in such dire need of critical thinking as we do our jobs that revolve around PR and/or CSR, day in and day out.
I should mention that Paolo D’Anselmi consulted with McKinsey in writing this book—very good for one’s CV, but not so good for one’s flexibility!
To be sure he claims, with much wishful thinking (and somewhat using a hatchet):
“To speak about what is not good is much more relevant because when you speak about yourself, it is safer to say the things you think are not good: let other people say good things about the organization.”
One other small criticism: in giving operational advice, D’Anselmi suggests a process to identify issues of social irresponsibility is also a heuristic one for which all sources are good:
- research and debate within the company
- the vocal busybodies outside the company
- the media
…apparently not realizing that he is describing Chase’s 1976 issues management process.
Clearly, this is a strongly opinionated work, but it’s also well researched. The book reflects a highly curious viewpoint, yet always with an engineer’s underlying mentality of structural form.
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Paolo D’Anselmi will be discussing his book’s contents in London (England) on the evening of Tuesday December 6, 2011, at the Italian Institute of Culture; soon after he leaves on a tour to discuss his book in various locations in the USA in the early months of 2012.