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Podcast Transcript: Shining a light on corporate social responsibility

Is your business in danger of having a corporate integrity crisis? Corporate social responsibility is something many Canadian companies have to grapple with. Today you'll hear from an expert on corporate social responsibility who says that simply complying with the rules is not enough.

Hear why she says companies have to go beyond compliance and listen for some valuable advice that can help you do business—and do the right thing.

I'm Michael Mancini, Editor-in-Chief of CanadExport Magazine, the flagship trade publication of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service.

Before we go any further, I have a favour to ask our listeners. Please take some time to write a review of our podcasts on iTunes.com. Use the searchword CanadExport. Tell us what you think and how we can improve. If you have story ideas, or business questions you want answered by our worldwide network of trade commissioners, let me know. Just send me an email at canad.export@international.gc.ca.

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Now back to corporate integrity. Before you hire another auditor to comply with the ever increasing rules and regulations that businesses face as they venture abroad, you'll want to listen to what my next guest has to say about corporate social responsibility.

Michael Mancini: I'd like to welcome Donna Kennedy-Glans to our podcast. She is the President of Integrity Bridges and author of Corporate Integrity. Thanks for speaking with me today.

Donna Kennedy-Glans: You're welcome, Michael. Thanks for having me.

Michael Mancini: What three pieces of advice would you have for Canadian companies as they look to being more socially responsible as they do business abroad?

Donna Kennedy-Glans: Okay. I have 10 actually!

Michael Mancini: Okay, we have time.

Donna Kennedy-Glans: The first one is looking at how you define corporate responsibility or corporate integrity. There are a lot of advocacy groups who will tell you as a company, they'll tell you as a corporate manager, how to define integrity. And I turn it right around and I say you know what, you're a corporate manager, you're a company, you get to define what corporate responsibility means to you. That's part of your management responsibility. This is about management. This isn't fluffy, this isn't morality, this is managing company stuff.

So sit down and think about why you make a statement that your company acts responsibly. You better figure out your motivation. I've got this ladder that helps people through that. But people don't talk about the "why." Company people never talk about why. It's a tough question.

Then, look at your commitments…and they've got loads of commitments…inconsistent commitments. Then look at your actions. Corporate integrity to me is the alignment of your intention, your commitments and your actions.

Now you pretty much have to be God to do that and so nobody's perfect, but I think you need to strip the definition of corporate integrity of all language that has rhetoric and has judgement in it. Companies decide. Now you may decide you never want to work for a company based on how they define integrity. That's your choice. And they have to act legally. That's part of the parameters. But I think that clears the space for a better engagement.

Oh, two other suggestions. Dilemmas. Dilemmas are inevitable. If you think you can sit down and figure out how you're going to react in any given situation and turn everything into black and white and right and wrong, it'll never work. Every time you make a decision, especially on the ground, there are things that are going to be positive and there are things that are going to be negative and you've got to figure out how to reconcile those. Integrity dilemmas are absolutely inevitable. And so I think that helps allow for the constructive engagement.

Finally, the third recommendation would be to have the courage - and it takes a lot of courage - to allow your people to create space for new ideas. It means inviting people who you aren't comfortable with to your table to ask them "How can I do this better? I am really struggling."

That takes a lot of humility. But magic happens at those points in time. I've seen it so many times. It is totally magical. But you need executive teams that will allow that, teams that won't condemn it, and you need people who have enough space in their jobs and enough inner courage to be able to do that. I'm totally confident that's where we're heading.

Michael Mancini: Obviously corporate social responsibility is a huge issue and it's becoming an even bigger one, especially in the extractive sector. How difficult is it for Canadian companies to become socially responsible?

Donna Kennedy-Glans: It's very difficult. I was in the corporate sector for 20 years. I was an executive in an oil company, an internationally-invested oil company. The issues that people face on the ground every single day are big. Often, even with good proactive planning, these issues hit them by surprise. There are real struggles.

You've got head office with one vision and one message going out to shareholders and to advocacy groups in the West and you've got the reality on the ground, and it's a very, very difficult job trying to correlate the reality on the ground with the vision at head office. It's kind of like government. It's just really hard work to keep that aligned and I have a lot of empathy for corporate leaders, and I mean the managers or the person on the ground trying to do the project. Some of these people are absolutely incredible but they're invisible and I just have a lot of empathy for what they're trying to do.

Michael Mancini: Well, tell me about these companies. What Canadian companies today are doing it right abroad and what sorts of things are they doing?

Donna Kennedy-Glans: They're starting to understand what they need in their own people. They're looking at their people and they're looking at their commitments…and they have piles of commitments to corporate responsibility. It's actually quite nauseating, and I call them on that all the time. You know, what does it all mean? I mean please let's have a conversation in your company about what it means when you say "I am a company that acts responsibly." What does that mean? "I am an equal opportunity employer." What does that mean? I mean really have the conversations.

A lot of companies that succeed that actually have the agility and the resilience to manage through these really tough places have been able to figure out ways to hire people and reward people based on those skill sets. I'll give you an example.

There's a company I do some work for. It's a British company, not a Canadian company, and it's wanting to invest in Congo. Both Congos, in fact. The Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. These are really tough places for different reasons.

And they said to me "We're really concerned about our on-the-ground people, our local national staff. We're worried that they don't understand bribery and corruption and we're worried that they will confer benefits on their own communities. And maybe they're a little bit like the governments there. There's an insensitivity to poverty because they've lived in it." I thought, well, that's an interesting perception.

So they asked me to actually go and find out what my sense of their national staff was. But when I got to the national staff, there was one fellow in particular who pretty much went to every meeting I went to for two weeks. He's an operations guy, so I know that's a huge cut into his time. He was committed to it. And what I was trying to understand was, can this company really do the work the way it wants to responsibly in an environment that's corrupt, a community that's beaten down? It's a really harsh place.

So I got to some conclusions on that and some of them aren't pretty and I'm very candid about that. But what was intriguing was this guy. He was a pretty senior manager in the company and finally after two weeks... he spoke French and my French isn't so great so we were always having this conversation in a very... you know, it didn't sound pretty but it was very meaningful. I said to him "Why are you coming with me to every meeting? Are you nervous about what I'm going to find out or what's going on? I need to understand you a little more." And so we spent time together.

And he looked at me and he said "You know, Donna, my family depends on my paycheque. I have something like 78 people dependent on my paycheque. I really care that we do this responsibly. I want to leave a message that companies can invest in my country and they can give back to the communities and they can act with transparency."

I was really startled by it. I mean this guy was the champion. He wasn't the problem. And head office had labelled him the problem when in fact he was probably their greatest ally. It's finding those people, empowering those people, putting a light on what they're doing, getting deeper. It took me two weeks with this guy, hip to hip for two weeks trying to figure out what was going on there.

Michael Mancini: So the desire is there in these markets. It's a question of Canadian companies being able to tap into this expertise.

Donna Kennedy-Glans: Exactly. It's about not looking at national staff as the enemy. A lot of national staff are really, really motivated to do it right. I remember when a company I used to work for went into Nigeria. When you went into the country and talked to people on the ground, advocacy groups, people in government, other people and companies, people up and down your supply chain and we'd ask "How do you manage this stuff. What do you care about?"

They cared about exactly the same things that we did and certainly there were lots of bad guys and rogues, bad girls too, but you could sort that all out and you could figure out who's going to work with me to be part of the solution and who is going to stand in the way.

But those are discernments that you have to make and that requires judgment, and those companies that can figure that out and have the guts to figure it out will succeed, they'll flourish because they'll do a far better job than their competitors.

Now how do you describe that in a job description? I haven't figured that out but it's really... and it's not about age and it's not about experience. It's a disposition, it's a personality style, and it becomes a corporate style.

Michael Mancini: So you think tapping into those people is the biggest challenge?

Donna Kennedy-Glans: And opportunity. Yeah, finding those people in your organization and encouraging them, giving them the space to take that risk. I mean if you define risk so crisply and put everybody in little pigeon holes and say "Your job is this, don't ever, ever leave those boundaries," maybe it's safe.

And in a compliance environment which we've got right now...though I think we're finally seeing the end of it I hope…that kind of putting people in pigeon holes even within companies is very attractive, but if we can get past that mindset of compliance and very prescriptive rules-based— "These are the rules, this is what you can do and this is what you can't do" if we can get past that I think we've got upside. In fact, that's what the book is about.

I really wanted to talk about why a company would manage beyond compliance. I think managing to compliance only takes you so far and it's a safe game. Maybe you can build a building in North America with that kind of strategy. Can you manage to compliance in a place like Africa? I'd say no. You can't do it. You've got to go beyond compliance.

And what I'm trying to do with this book and with the tools in this book is to give companies tools and confidence to do that because it's not about just making money, it's about actually letting Canadian companies be who they're capable of being. Because that's the way we've run our businesses for a long time. I have created these tools and they're all on the Website, they're downloadable for free...

Michael Mancini: What is the website?

Donna Kennedy-Glans: www.integritybridges.com. That's one word, integritybridges.com. It's to work with companies on making the business case for managing beyond compliance so they can quantitatively and, more importantly, qualitatively identify why they would manage beyond compliance and what's in it for them to do it and what's in it for their shareholders and their community and their stakeholders including the Canadian government. So I feel pretty strongly about it.

Michael Mancini: Well, how are Canadian companies doing?

Donna Kennedy-Glans: There's a lot of concern, and rightly so, about some of the extractive companies. There are a lot of horror stories and some of them are exploited, some of them are manipulated by advocacy groups and some of them are real and they need to be addressed.

I don't think Canadians should sit here and say "Whatever happens, dual standards are okay, whatever happens overseas is okay." I think it's right that we ask questions about dual standards because we have a Canadian flag on every one of those companies. I mean we're all lumped together. We share a common reputation and I think it behooves all of us to care about that. I care about it a lot.

Are companies as bad as some people would suggest? No. Are they as good as some people would suggest? No. I think there's a lot of public relations information out there that's just... it's surreal and I think we need to get a little more authentic in how we communicate and report on what's going on. I think a little more authenticity on every front wouldn't be a bad thing.

Michael Mancini: Donna Kennedy-Glans, thanks for taking the time.

Donna Kennedy-Glans: You're welcome Michael, thanks for having me.

Well, I hope you found this show interesting. As Donna mentioned in the podcast, she has tools you can download for free on her website that can help you manage integrity commitments and actions within your company. They're easy to use and very useful so check them out. The website is www.integritybridges.com. Just click on "Tools" in the navigation bar.

Now Canadian trade commissioners can also help you manage integrity dilemmas. So go to tradecommissioner.gc.ca and get the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service working for you. In 160 offices in more than 50 countries, we're everywhere you do business.

And please, like I said in my opening, tell us what you think of our podcasts. Write a review on iTunes, where you can also download ten other CanadExport podcasts on topics like branding, commercializing your products, and the importance of patents to name just a few.

Also, don't forget to subscribe to CanadExport, our free twice-monthly magazine, at canadexport.gc.ca. By the way, all these links are on the CanadExport website.

Stay tuned for my next podcast when I ask: Why did the Canadian bison cross the Pacific?

You won't want to miss that one.

I'm Michael Mancini, signing off for now.

To download our other episodes, just go to www.canadexport.gc.ca or go to iTunes and use the searchword “CanadExport.”

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