What drives change?

Gandhi is not a good role model for corporate responsibility managers if they want to see sustainable change

“Be the change you wish to see in the world” Mahatma Gandhi famously said. Managers charged with achieving their companies’ commitments to sustainability can be forgiven for saying that in practice change isn’t quite so simple. If only.

In our analysis this month we present four differing ways of achieving change. Coca-Cola director, Ed Potter, shows how following government-led guidelines can at least get you started. But my colleague, Thomas Milburn, warns about the dangers of following the pack, and says that a reliance on benchmarks makes mediocrity the norm.

Another colleague, Megan De Young, stresses the importance of an empowering corporate culture, one that does indeed allow people to be the change. Finally lawyer, Rita Sheth, wants to harness a strong business trend – outsourcing of basic legal processes to new markets like India – and add a principle-based commitment to improve its social impact.

Meanwhile the UK government consultation on what it can do to drive change in responsible business practices closed this month. It has promised an action plan by the end of the year. Sceptics will doubt what governments can achieve, although that hasn’t stopped legislators in jurisdictions as diverse as Nigeria, the Philippines, the European Union and most recently India trying to mandate corporate social responsibility.

My own view, as I’ve argued before (here and here), is that governments do have a role to play. However the strongest drivers of change in any business are those related to commercial success.

Corporate managers in search of inspiration are better off quoting not Ghandi but Charles Darwin, who said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

And for urgency, a more contemporary business viewpoint: “The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.” Words of wisdom from Rupert Murdoch.

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