ACCSR Conf Tackles Practice of Responsible Leadership
20 February 2013 at 10:25 am
It is the goal of sustainability practitioners to establish corporate social responsibility (CSR) to provide the company with processes and responsibilities to respond resiliently to both everyday interactions and to the extraordinary situations that test operations and reputation, writes Rachel Alembakis. This post was originally published on The Sustainability Report website.
For sustainability practitioners, who aim to improve an organisation’s resilience to and create opportunity from ESG concerns, one of the perennial concerns that their internal CSR processes require work and top-level buy-in to build internal understanding and support for CSR/sustainability approaches.
The Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility’s (ACCSR) annual conference into the state of corporate social responsibility (CSR) took up the issue of responsible leadership in Australian organisations with a series of practitioner presentations that ranged from discussing how organisations have attempted to mitigate risks and create opportunities by introducing sustainability programs, to a speech from a commissioner of the Australian Football League, which is currently embroiled in a controversial series of allegations that clubs and athletes are implicated in use of performance enhancing drugs.
If responsible leadership is about establishing the governance processes that can support an organisation when tested by events that hit at its reputation and operations then the Australian Football League’s Commission is putting their arrangements to the test in the most public way possible.
Samantha Moystn, AFL commissioner, had been asked to months ago to speak at the conference on her experience as part of the governance structure of the game of Australian Rules Football. However, in early February, the Essendon Football Club announced it had asked the AFL and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority to conduct an investigation into possibly banned substances in supplements given to their players during the 2012 season. Subsequent to that, the Australian Crime Commission released a landmark report covering a 12-month investigation into drugs and organised crime links across sporting codes, including the AFL, in Australia.
“The AFL does have a unique place in Australian cultural and sporting and economic life, and it just so happens that the topic we chose several months ago collides with a series of events that we’re seeing unfold very publicly at the moment,” Moystn told the conference. “Rather than be the kind of industry or commission that would walk away from discussing this with you, I’m really happy to be here.
“I think it’s a really interesting point that we discuss responsible leadership in a professional sporting body while it’s going through this extraordinary and chaotic and volatile assessment of its reputation. If you think about things like the Edelman global report that’s been recently released about where most of us put our trust, most of us are not trusting our corporate leaders, CEOs, and our political leaders, so called. We don’t trust them anymore. We do trust companies to do good things, and we do trust our peers relationships …
“But we also want to keep trusting in the great things we love to do in our communities – our schools, our sports our cultural activities. So I think what’s particularly upsetting at the moment, is we’re living in a time when many people have lost faith in the traditional structures of leadership and forms of leadership and they were really hoping that the ones they really love and admire were going to hold strong. I’m very saddened at the moment we’re seeing some fairly strong comments that we can no longer have faith in the sport or no longer have faith in the AFL.”
Moystn told the audience that in the immediate aftermath of the ACC report’s publication and the briefing that AFL leaders received from the government, the full commission met to discuss the implications, and that the commission agreed to increase funding to its integrity unit, among other moves. She asked audience members to let the processes of the Essendon investigation and the issues raised in the ACC report go forward and to let the AFL do its work before judging the quality of its leadership.
However Moystn did say that she felt the commission was acting to the tenets of responsible leadership. She cited a speech by IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde to the World Economic Forum in which Lagarde said that responsible leadership was about “embracing the values of the new generation” – greater openness, stronger inclusion and better accountability.
“I was pleased when I look at the AFL and the work it does, I was pretty satisfied against those values of a generation that will determine much of the future, that we do have a greater openness, we are much stronger in inclusion, and we have much better accountability,” she said. “We are moving to be much more accountable to our stakeholders.”
In addition to coincidental brushes with controversy, the ACCSR conference also addressed the ongoing, quotidian work of Australian organisations to improve its responsible leadership.
In one panel discussion with Nancie-Lee Robinson, general manager, governance, integration and reporting, at Telstra, Janette O’Neill, head of corporate responsibility strategy at NAB, Mike Chapman, manager, environment and community, Xstrata Coal and Sarah Marshall, national environment and sustainability manager, Abigroup Contractors, the participants spoke to each organisation’s differing approaches, their relative material risks and opportunities and what initiatives they chose to illustrate their CSR commitments.
Robinson spoke to Telstra’s work to organise the company’s varying corporate responsibility activities under one department and align those activities with strategy. Under the previous approach to corporate responsibility, the company had a decentralised approach.
“Somehow, the whole seemed to be less than the sum of its parts,” Robinson said.
“What we really had was a fragmented approach to sustainability that resulted in the duplication of effort and activities, unclear reporting lines, and unclear decision lines and also unclear accountability. This made it difficult to get things done and importantly, it made it really difficult to get the right things done and there were gaps in our performance and missed opportunities as well.”
O’Neill spoke to aligning NAB’s corporate responsibility structure to its central strategy of customer service, demonstrated by a relatively simple circle-shaped diagram that put the customer in the circle. Chapman and Marshall both spoke to initiatives addressing employee health – Chapman of Xtrata, which has mining operations in South Africa, pointed to an HIV/AIDS health initiative. Chapman said that when Xtrata began operating in South Africa ten years ago, one in five employees out of a workforce of 23,000 were HIV positive. Xtrata partnered with a group called Re-Action!, and subsequently developed a program that has seen 17,000 employees and members of the immediate community receive “some form of treatment” for HIV/AIDS, he said.
Marshall spoke of a partnership with beyondblue, a Not for Profit mental health organisation. Abigroup wanted to target mental health as it related to the construction industry, and Marshall noted that suicide was six times as likely to be the cause of death to a worker in the construction industry as workplace accidents and also noting that the stigma surrounding mental health meant it is challenging for construction workers to discuss their problems and seek help.
Although each of the panelists took a different approach to explaining their organisational processes, they all agreed that when it comes to embedding corporate responsibility, it seems as though leadership must come from the top to have a higher likelihood of success. The four panelists who discussed their companies’ experience all referenced strong support and drive from the head of the business, be that a CEO or a managing director.