Over the last couple of decades we have seen corporate social responsibility (CSR) and business ethics move from being a ‘nice to have’ to something that is at the very core of many organisations. There is a good reason for this – it’s that, increasingly, being able to demonstrate sound ethical credentials is critical to the success of any business. It’s also a strong indicator of a company’s culture and values. Which is why I recently proposed the ‘ethical ranking’ of your business as one of the top four KPI areas on thedashboard of a world-class CFO.
Today, new clients will often do ethical due diligence on you before they sign on the line (we do this with our own suppliers too, for that matter). The thinking behind this is obvious. The public and the media don’t see separate entities when subcontractors behave unethically: all they see is the big brand that went for the cheap option. Added to that, more stringent regulation and enforcement on the government side means the cost of non-compliance is higher than ever. In many industries, potential CSR failings are included as a risk measurement on the CEO’s radar, such is their impact.
It’s not just about reluctantly playing by the rules, though. Running an ethical organisation has great internal benefits. Your staff feel good about working for you: increasingly, prospective employees, especially graduates, will take into account factors such as your CSR and environmental record when choosing an employer. People want to work for companies whose values fit with their own. In this kind of environment, the organisation becomes self-regulating and that can significantly mitigate business risk.
The practicalities of doing ethical business
Where do you focus your efforts and how can you demonstrate progress? The question of ethics and sustainability can be applied to so many areas of business that it can be difficult to know where to start. These are all measured and compared in quite different ways: contrast the intricate calculations of climate impact assessments and carbon emissions with the more subjective (but no less important) debates about the treatment of workers and businesses further down the supply chain.
To ensure your efforts are focused and measureable, there are four main areas you can focus on.
- Leadership – creating and empowering CSR leaders in the business. These should be senior people who have the right experience and are able to influence the business at the right level. In our case, we have a global Group Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Board, chaired by Christine Hodgson, who has a very strong background in this field and is also Capgemini’s UK chairwoman.
- Governance – putting the right structure and reporting in place. We’ve developed clear, enforceable policies, and we run an annual CSR audit, documenting the work we’re doing, how it has progressed and performed. We’re also working to improve our ethical dashboard that allows us to see how ‘good’ our business performance is in real time.
- Culture – creating clear codes of behaviour, to complement the policies above, and putting training in place to ensure these are well communicated and universally embraced across the organisation. This is a particularly powerful tool for compliance, as people with the right values tend to do the right thing and ‘police’ themselves and their colleagues.
- Awards and accreditation – this is one of the most effective ways of focusing effort, reinforcing culture and raising awareness. We’ve just been included in Ethisphere’s list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies for the third year in a row, which is a huge boost for all of us. Their scoring methodology gives you an idea of the kind of areas being judged. We’re also recognised as a Climate Performance Leader on the CDP ‘A list’, and you can see more on CDP’s scorecard here.
Because it’s worth it
I believe this will always be a work in progress, given the diversity of objectives and measures of success. It’s true that sometimes the line between pragmatic risk and reputation management and a genuine desire to ‘do good’ can be blurred. However, I believe that most business leaders today do want to think beyond the more conventional definitions of business success – and their customers and investors do too.
Operating at the international scale we do at Capgemini BPO, we’re in a rare position to improve the world we live in and make substantive changes to peoples’ lives. Personally speaking, I take great pride in the work our people do to achieve such excellent results and I’m also keenly aware of the importance of good stewardship at the top of our organisation in ensuring we continue this strong performance.