Columnist: Toby Webb50
update on ways companies are
6) Pitch it as a governance issue.
Few heads of corporate responsi-
bility do this well. It should be an
easy win. Make it clear to your
board/bosses that badly managed
companies trade at a discount, and
that transparency and engagement
is clearly linked to better manage-
ment by investors.
7) Link it with where they are
going next. Let’s say your CEO isn’t
a lifer. Most are not. It’s quite
helpful to plant a seed that means
wherever they work next, this stuff
is going to matter there too. There’s
not an industry or organisation that
won’t expect some knowledge of
the responsibility agenda.
8) Pick an issue and offer a lead-
ership opportunity. Note how some
CEOs jumped on the UN CEO
water mandate some years ago and
made the issue their own. What
else is moving up the agenda? The
Plastics Disclosure Project is a new
one gaining traction. Why not use
it, or something else?
9) Evoke the competitive spirit.
The idea of keeping up with peers,
and overtaking them, is vital to get
a CEO motivated on corporate
responsibility. Competition should
be framed in ways they can under-
stand: less truck miles per tonne,
lower power costs, better employee
10) Use a bucket of cold water.
This is a serious point. Shock tactics
are risky, but some can work. Bring
in a couple of outside voices (not
consultants) who can tell a business
leaders’ meeting some home truths
about the competition. This must
be followed quickly by a focus on
the opportunity to catch up and
11) Send them into the supply
chain. Back in 2010, I travelled to
Ghana to visit cocoa farms with the
UK CEO of Kraft, Nick Bunker. He
was clearly very affected by what
we saw. There’s nothing like
meeting a smallholder farmer on
two dollars a day to convince a
CEO of the moral and logical case.
12) Put them in front of some
critical stakeholders. CEOs must
understand how others see them.
Middle age male (mostly) delusion
is a big problem. One-on-one
meetings with a conservation NGO
could be followed up with a non-
tame stakeholder meeting where
the CEO must stay quiet(ish).
13) Show them just how the
really unfortunate live. It’s a simple
idea. Take your board or some of
them, and show them the poverty
that exists so close to top financial
centres all over the world. Just
because it’s old school doesn’t mean
it can’t be effective.
14) Demonstrate how moti-
vating responsible business is for
employees. Relying on the employee
annual or quarterly survey is not
enough. Use proper studies, books,
credible sources, and tell stories.
Create annual individual sustain-
ability innovation awards and make
the board judge them.
15) Take out the jargon. CEOs
hate to feel left behind. That may
invoke a reaction of retreat. Take out
the acronyms and talk the language
of simple business improvements. I
Toby Webb is founder of Ethical Corporation and
Stakeholder Intelligence. He blogs daily at
Get the boss on board
Toby Webb has 15 ideas your chief executive won’t be able to resist
Hmm. Sustainability you say…?
is clearly linked
Ethical Corporation • May 2013
Convincing senior leadership
that sustainable business
matters remains a major challenge.
Here’s a few proven ways of doing
so, in no particular order.
1) Get a non-executive/indepen-
dent director on your side. Find the
one most amenable to the agenda,
and have them tabling board
agenda questions and adding some
steel to your corporate responsi-
bility committee meetings. Invest
some personal time and ask them to
mentor you. Flattery works.
2) Lay the breadcrumb trail. Your
ideas don’t matter. Your CEO’s, of
course, do. So find smart ways to
plant seeds that may take a year or
two to take root. Then when your
CEO summons you to hear “their”
idea, put your pre-prepared plan
into action quickly.
3) Map out board roles and
tasks, based on personal interest.
What does your CFO like to do in
his/her spare time? How about your
legal director? This can be
connected to the responsibility
agenda specifically or in general.
Map out roles and tasks/speeches
for the board aligned with their
4) Use the family. As creepy as
this sounds, it can work. Gap’s pres-
ident, Paul Pressler, said in 2004 that
when he joined the company from
Disney, his daughter asked, “don’t
they run sweatshops?” and the
path was set for disclosure leader-
ship. I can’t tell you exactly how to
do this, but kids count.
5) Present your CEO with solid
case studies of opportunity. Yes,
this is blindingly obvious. But too
many heads of corporate responsi-
bility let CEOs find shaky Michael
Porter Harvard Business Review
articles on their own. Why leave it
to chance? Create a quarterly CEO
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