In this article, which followed the Business and Society project, Bolko von Oetinger and Martin Reeves discuss why size obliges and how management can learn to take on social responsibility by making the following considerations:
Adapting Self-Conception. Key drivers for regaining trust and ensuring future economic success include anticipating the regulator by applying self-restrictions, developing codes of conduct, having the clearest foresight for taking on environmental problems, and taking charge in modernizing training systems and work structures.
Responding Faster-Strategically. The more companies are in the limelight, the more difficult it is for boards-especially in Europe-to correct errors that have a strong social impact, without being criticized publicly. For this reason alone, low-key (early) changes are always more cost effective than noisy (later) ones.
Understanding Problems of Trust-in Detail. Problems of trust are complex, elusive, and emotional phenomena. To defuse them, managers have to fractionalize them. In the food industry, for example, what in particular is being criticized? Can parts of that problem be solved? Such questions require responsible managers to respond specifically and individually on behalf of their companies.
Setting Standards. Many solutions do not depend solely on an individual company's good will: solutions must be industrywide, all companies cooperating together. A top manager has to support not only a global agreement process in the industry. He can also influence industry opinion and the general public, getting them to move slowly in the right direction.
Developing Measurement Methods. There are not yet appropriate metrics for the role of a company in civil society. Companies are measured by criteria that are different from what they should be. Success is not only economic success. Success has to incorporate social parameters. Is it not necessary for market leaders to set these standards and metrics too? Initial strategies-for example, the triple bottom line-unite economic, ecological, and social parameters in a type of consolidated balance sheet of the company.
Adapting Organization. In the last ten years, global corporations have cared more about their global strategy than the cultural differences of the countries and cultures in which they operate. To be a respected (and successful) player in today's world economy, a company's focus has to shift from a global approach to a regional approach.
Bolko von Oetinger and Martin Reeves, "Größe Verpflichtet" ("Size Obliges"), Harvard Businessmanager (January 2007): pp. 60-66.
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