Organizing (Sustainability) Insurgency

After reading Gregory Unruh’s article on “Leading the Sustainability Insurgency,” I reflected on my own role as Director of Intel’s Corporate Responsibility Office — and if the notion of insurgency matches the reality of my job. I very much appreciated his viewpoints, and it’s good to step back from the issues of the day and reflect on the practice itself.

I completely agree that there has been an insurgency among the ranks of the CSR profession; the way we do our work today is far different from what was expected even just a few years ago. “Social intelligence” is a great way to describe a key asset that we bring to our companies. Feeding social intelligence into the processes of the company ensures that sustainable behaviors extend beyond the passions of an individual CEO or CSR professional.

Garnering social intelligence that truly matters requires one to engage actively outside the company; to listen to all points of view; truly engage stakeholders, and not to be encumbered by the past. It also requires the CSR professional to be networked across the company and to have an understanding of how the intelligence gathered can impact key decisions that need to be made, who is influencing those decisions, and where the decision is ultimately made. If you still spend a majority of your time telling your story externally, I would advise you to flip yourself and spend the majority of your time working across the company to inspire, inform and transform.

Nirvana for me is embedding corporate responsibility into your company’s vision, strategy and management systems, with the recognition that by doing so, value is created for the company, stockholders, customers and society. If you do this correctly, every employee in the company believes CSR is their job – and it doesn’t reside “in that department”. The full potential of a company to create value is unlocked and forever integrated in the very fabric of the company’s being.

Is it an insurgency to get the right people at the right level taking the right actions? Or is it the living, breathing reality of assumed responsibility? At Intel, assumed responsibility has long been a corporate mantra; in other words, finding solutions, not just problems. We pride ourselves on doing the right things, the right way. We have a strongly embedded set of core values that empowers the individual to achieve great success, while binding the organization to a set of common behaviors and principles. Through that value system we have integrated the practice of responsibility into our operations. Leading companies demand this type of responsibility through their organizations – from the engineer who identifies and finds solutions to a software bug, to the supply chain engineer who identifies a problem with sourcing precious metals and then creates a solution to trace conflict minerals at their source.

By integrating sustainability across all levels of the company, providing good social intelligence, connecting a problem to a solution, and recognizing and rewarding performance, you have now moved beyond insurgency (which I fear is disorganized by its nature) to an organized powerhouse of performance.

This blog was first published in response to Gregory Unruh’s article “Leading the Sustainability Insurgency” on MIT Sloan Management Review.

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