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  • Writer's pictureKeith Wells

"Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle..."


.and the life of the candle will not be shortened". I haven't discovered Buddhism, but this thought occurred to me while listening to a panel discussion earlier this week. The topic was ESG, but the principle is universal - and the mistakes alluded to seemingly eternally repetitive.

"Joined-up thinking" might be another way to frame the thought. The point being made was that ESG can't be allowed to become the latest in a series of unfortunate vertically-separated initiatives in an organisation. But the signs are that it might already be happening, that far from learning from history, business leaders are repeating them.

I know of one global CEO of a business who, on a recent Teams call with the leadership team to discuss their need for "an ESG strategy" asked "Are we sure this is not just another fad?" There's commitment for you (not to mention motivation for the person charged with developing said strategy).

Back in the early days of CSR reporting, we worked with a number of people with that specialist knowledge and those initials in their job title. And who were finding that their closest relationships were with their counterparts in other - sometimes competing - businesses. The obvious inference from that was that 'CSR' thinking had not been allowed to inform the entire business: it was vertically separated, when it should have been horizontally integrated.

It's been happening with 'values' for as long as they've been around. Organisations put them on their meeting room walls and on their website, but not into their day-to-day decisions and reporting.

We can see the same with 'purpose' now. Someone in that panel discussion declared that "purpose has been hijacked by marketing departments", which made a few audience members bristle. I disagree with that thought: if purpose has been hijacked by anyone, it's by poor leaders who view it in much the same way as businesses used to think about Yellow Pages. "My competitors are in there, so I'd better be in there too." And they allow it to become seen as another marketing tactic. Which undermines it, and creates a downward spiral of perceived value.

Let's not torture the analogy, but those leaders who understand ESG/their strategy/values/purpose fully demonstrate that by using that candle to light everything else within their organisation. Those who don't tend to find themselves in the darkness.

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