"To achieve the financial benefits of honesty, one must be committed to honesty, which means viewing truth as something intrinsically good and not subject to reevaluation on a case-by-case basis."

Lynn Sharpe Paine
Harvard Business School

SmithOBrien consultants work with clients to build business systems, practices and corporate culture for the long-term success of corporate responsibility and sustainability. As a result, some of our engagements have extended over a period of several years, working at our clients pace, not ours. In addition to quantifying the business case, our custom consulting services also include:

Strategy Development and Operational Practices

Adopting a companywide strategy on corporate responsibility and sustainability, which is integral to responsible corporate behavior, can only occur after the senior leadership team has defined what CR/sustainability means to its businesses and key markets. With input and ensuring consensus across all levels of the company and adoption by the board of directors, a company is then prepared to develop a coherent CR/sustainability strategy that’s aligned with its business strategy and goals. Our work at facilitating these processes is never without a lot of debate and input from people at the top and bottom of the organization. The result represents a firm commitment and ownership by everyone to a realistic strategy and multi-year, integrated implementation plan that’s actionable.

At operational and functional levels, adhering to applicable legal and regulatory requirements is obviously essential. However, our approach to advising clients on operational changes is not compliance-driven. While we can assess a client’s adherence to local, national and international laws and regulations, our skills and industry experience lie in moving clients to adopt operational practices that go beyond compliance to, for example:

  • Reduce or eliminate the use of toxics
  • Reduce or eliminate materials’ waste
  • Reduce water and energy consumption
  • Understand and eliminate the root cause of often subtle discrimination in the workplace
  • Develop sourcing strategies that not only improve employee working conditions and environmental impacts, but also lead to improved local economies
  • Expand and profit in emerging companies while still being true to the core values
  • Adapt measurement systems that can regularly track and monitor company performance

Our experience at cross-functional responsibility auditing has left us particularly skilled at “connecting the dots,” to ensure operational changes that begin on one area are aligned carefully and systematically with subsequent changes that will occur in the practices of other functions.

Culture Change

Leading an organization that’s often structural complex, global in reach and accountable to an increasing number of stakeholder groups is not easy. Operating with integrity and sustainably, however, can be easier if the leadership, which sets the tone for how the company will do business, has the mind-set and skill-set to lead a responsible and sustainable organization.

Our assessment of the culture examines influences on employee behavior, how things get done or not, and the achievement of strategic goals. These influences may include:

  • Leadership’s capability to lead others
  • Political dimension and power relationships within the company
  • Symbolic dimensions, (e.g., company history and myths, heroes and brand)
  • Social and psychological dynamics such as cultural and social factors
  • Organizational behavior, including attitudes toward people—different personal and professional experiences, generational differences, and cross-functional relationships within the company

In conducting a culture assessment, we often find that companies need to:

  • Develop individual and team leadership skills to effectively communicate and lead organizational change globally
  • Tap and leverage the knowledge and the social networks of employees from diverse backgrounds to accelerate problem solving, innovation, and CR/sustainability
  • Integrate core values into decision making
  • Develop key performance indicators and accountability systems
  • Update policies and educate employees in their implementation

Inclusive, Collaborative Culture

In most companies, new initiatives go through a lengthy review to assess the business case and management buy-in. Corporate responsibility and sustainability are no exception. Too often, however, progressive practices are seen as either too expensive or lead to answers like, “That’s not apt to happen to us.” Or, “We’re already doing that.”

Like you, our thinking on CR/sustainability has evolved over the years—starting in ’92 with our experience at quantifying the financial effects across functions and at shifting clients from compliance-driven to exceeding legal/regulatory requirements. As a result our focus today is less on corporate responsibility per se, and more devoted to helping clients tap into and leverage the collective knowledge of the people in whom they are already invested--a diverse network of stakeholder groups.

In 30-60 days, our innovation, measurement 21st century (im21) methodology goes beneath the bureaucratic layers to uncover, map and engage the social/professional networks of customer, business partners, employees—who don’t show up on the org. chart—with the right knowledge and experience to accelerate innovation or solve costly, recurring operational issues.

Im21 turns to the people, not to technology, to get them talking to one another and sharing what and who they know immediately. And, by bringing together employees with diverse backgrounds to collaborate, across functions, businesses or geographies, more responsible practices, such as inclusion, occur automatically.

For our clients im21 has resulted in immediate performance improvements and increased cash flow.

Emerging Issues

The business case for corporate responsibility may not derive from what you know, but from what you don't know. While most corporations have staff who monitor what is known to impact business conditions, few have the resources to track the development of issues that may become major impediments to growth or new markets opportunities three to five years out.

For this reason, SmithOBrien's Emerging Issues Advisory Service (EIAS) offers clients early warning of critical CSR issues that could affect a company's license to operate or its competitive position in specific countries.

EIAS focuses on five industry sectors: advanced technology, resource extraction, consumer goods, agriculture, and chemicals. Drawing upon the knowledge of leading economists, political leaders, academics, regional experts, CSR activists in China, Africa, and Latin America, and our own analysts, EIAS identifies, tracks and reports on select legal, regulatory, cultural, social, environmental and political issues as they are happening -- often "under the radar" of even the most vigilant companies.

Current topics include:

  • Financial accountability, liability and transparency
  • Shareholder action and stakeholder engagement
  • Human rights and labor relations, including indigenous peoples

Corporate members of the EIAS program benefit from:

  • In-depth research reports and analysis of emerging global CSR business issues
  • "Issues Alerts," sent monthly on pre-selected research topics in targeted local markets
  • Executive Briefings with thought-leaders and our research teams on the ground
  • Confidential Advisory Services on how best to respond and prepare for what lies ahead.