‘Tis the season of goodwill and glad tidings

walmartLet’s looks back at some of the better news stories of 2016.

The year usually ends with a concerted effort to be jolly, even if most readers of this blog will feel glad tidings have been in rather short supply recently. As I write, news that Italy is now staring into the unknown – with a possible banking crisis threatening the wider Euro zone following its referendum upset – will do little to lighten the mood.

So this month in seasonal mood I’ll try to find some positive news, even if I end up reinforcing my long-running theme that it’s all ’bout the money (with apologies to Meja).  My sense that it isn’t all bad was fuelled by a recent round trip to the southern hemisphere including Australia, which involved nearly 50 hours sitting in planes and plenty of time to reflect.

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Trump: Déjà vu, all over again

The polls may not have predicted it, but the underlying causes of the upset outcome are evident. So what do we do now?

Donald Trump

Many in Britain will have had the same sinking feeling on waking up to hear the outcome of the US presidential election as they did in June after the Brexit referendum. At time of writing, the final tally is awaited, and Hillary Clinton may even be slightly ahead on the popular vote, but the picture is clear (and remarkably similar to UK):  a nation dramatically divided 50/50 with the former industrial ‘rust belt’ states (read northern Labour heartlands) swinging decisively against the so-called establishment elite.

Back in the summer, this is what I said here in Briefing about the outcome of the UK vote:

“The major corporations need to wake up to the fact that trickle-down globalisation isn’t working.… Simply put, owners of capital have done just fine since the global financial crash, and that includes many Western baby-boomers; but middle wage earners have not. Our great corporations like to present themselves as a much-misunderstood force for good. Western voters clearly disagree.”

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Signs of hope

Amid continuing concern about the hard economic consequences of Brexit, there’s cause for optimism from good progress on the Paris climate agreement and the roll-out of the Global Goals.

Martin Schulz signs Climate Agreement

Martin Schulz signs Climate Agreement

Mark Carney, the softly-spoken Canadian governor of the Bank of England, provides a rare focus for optimism right now. Indeed he has been dubbed by one pundit  ‘the only adult in the room’ while politicians play children’s games.

He can’t do much about the remorseless logic of the UK government putting border controls and immigration limits ahead of staying in the world’s largest trading block and what that will do for economic prospects; still less about the possible global consequences of Brexit’s American cousin, Trump, should that come to pass next month.

But he is intervening vigorously in the debate about opportunities arising from the move to a low carbon economy. His timing is excellent, with the EU Parliament fast-tracking its approval of the Paris Climate Agreement, meaning we are now over the threshold of 55 countries equating to 55% of global emissions needed for ratification. Continue reading

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Time for new thinking on corporate purpose

Mission ledAn opportunity to kick-start a move towards more mission-led companies is getting caught up in Brexit fall-out.

A little reported but potentially momentous bit of thinking is going on in the depths of the UK government. Earlier this summer the Cabinet Office started a consultation on ways to strengthen so-called ‘mission-led’ businesses. One question arising is whether we need a new form of corporate structure to encourage them.

The consultation set the scene like this: The traditional roles of civil society and business are changing for the better. The social sector is becoming more business-like and businesses are keen to demonstrate their social impact. Continue reading

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Business action on the SDGs: Why business still needs to make the big next step

globalgoalsToo many companies are trapped by the ‘curse of materiality’ and aren’t accepting the challenge of change.

When the Global Goals were agreed last September, I hailed them as setting “the new, de-facto global standard for businesses to design, measure and account for their contribution to sustainable development”.

I said they present a unique opportunity for businesses to align their programmes and purpose to the needs of society – and in so doing, grow the business, reach new customers and markets, develop new products and boost the bottom line. Since the SDGs set out the issues the world has agreed are THE global priorities, business can’t succeed in the long run unless these aims are met.

That’s why I described them as providing the gateway for any business to shift from Continue reading

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Big shift towards a new consensus

As the fallout from Brexit continues, there’s growing agreement about the causes but a lack of clarity about what comes next.

US President Theodore Roosevelt

A clear consensus is emerging around the underlying cause of the Brexit vote. It was less about the specifics of the EU or unique to the UK and more a reaction to wider trends, notably economic – open border globalisation, economic slowdown, growing inequality and mounting mistrust of most institutions including big business and now ‘experts’ too. My initial comment last month holds largely true.

John Lanchester, author of How to Speak Money, puts it well when he says “whole swathes of the UK have spent the last decades feeling that things are being taken away from them: their jobs, their sense that they are heard, their understanding of how the world worksand their place in it”. His full analysis Continue reading

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Brexit – don’t panic, start reforming

Britain’s referendum result has its roots in long-standing economic unfairness, and it will get worse unless business learns some lessonseurope-1456245_1280

The shockwaves from the UK’s vote to leave the European Union continue to reverberate around the world. Economists speculate on the implications. Politicians with elections looming in Europe and America worry what it means for them. Individual citizens in Britain – well, about half of them – ask profound questions about their country and the divisions so starkly revealed.

The sense of shock and the search for meaning is palpable. I will resist adding lots to the Continue reading

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What a waste of business resource!

Corporations spend billions eveHard-Outcomes-or-Hollow-Promises-2ry year on causes and in communities around the world. But a shocking new survey shows they actually know little about the difference it makes.

Nowadays everyone agrees that spending shareholder funds in scattergun philanthropy doesn’t make sense: it’s not good for people in need, nor for companies trying to justify and sustain a community investment (CCI) programme.

So Corporate Citizenship asked corporate responsibility and sustainability practitioners how they set objectives and whether they measure outcomes. Over 130 practitioners from around the world replied. A massive three quarters said they aspire to achieve long-term Continue reading

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The numbers speak for themselves

Where does good decision-making in business come from? Let’s look at the role of data, seek inspiration from Plato, and consider if companies are potentially wasting billions in their community investment.


The power of numbers is embedded in modern management…. The numbers speak for themselves. What’s the bottom line? If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. We use phrases like these all the time, albeit often with a heavy heart.

Comments from my colleagues in this month’s CCBriefing help us come to terms with this. Mary Ellen Smith calls for quality in KPIs, while Charlie Ashford says radical transparency is both inevitable and an opportunity for companies. I’d add my own plea for us to rediscover the power of balanced scorecards. First popularised in 1992 by Robert Kaplanand David Norton at Harvard Business School, they broaden the focus from historic profit to non-financial and forward-looking aspects. Crucially, they harness the numbers into a decision-making format. Continue reading

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The pink pound points the way

Short-termism in the boardroom doesn’t just damage investors, it hurts us all. Thankfully, the evidence – sometimes from surprising places – shows that doing the right thing does pPink pound sign transparent imageay off.

Here in London, voters are choosing a new mayor as I write. By the time you read this, we’ll know the outcome. During the campaign, the one issue all the candidates have agreed on is the lack of affordable homes – or rather the imbalance between restricted supply and escalating demand which is driving up the price of all forms of housing, whether purchased or rented.

The think-tank New Economics Foundation (where I’ve just joined the board of trustees) used the occasion of the Queen’s 90th birthday to show how the rise in UK house prices have outstripped average earnings twice over during her lifetime. There’s not much point in being 21,839% better off (yes really, in money terms) if you still can’t afford to put a roof over your head. In London, the trends are even more acute. Continue reading

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