Latest Role News
Oct 5, 2021
The Role of Corporate Integrity, Authenticity in a Polarized World As governments and public entities remain slow-moving, companies backing their values with action matters more than ever. But for those unsure how to respond to shifting expectations, how do they know they’re leading in a responsible way? Ahead of their panels next month at SB’21 SanDiego , we spokewith Elizabeth Doty and TerryNelidov — bothsustainability experts at the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute —about the role Corporate America needs to play in our volatile social climate.Some of their most pertinent work includes helping companies identify and manageintegrated Corporate PoliticalResponsibility (CPR) strategies in a world where acknowledging any political influence (orlack of it) can polarize potential customer bases. Doty is Director of the Erb Institute’s new Corporate Political ResponsibilityTaskforce(CPRT) ;Nelidov is the institute’s Managing Director. Why does the Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce (CPRT) matter at a time like this? Elizabeth Doty: At a time when companies are increasingly being heldaccountable and scrutinized, the CPRT is an applied, high-engagement opportunityfor companies to explore how to use their influence on civic, political andsocietal issues. Our systems and institutions need to respond to enormouschallenges; and there’s an increasing need for companies to play this positiverole in everything from climate to economic opportunities to AI, jobs and more.We provide the forums, foresight and framework so companies can come out ofthese conversations with actionable items. Terry Nelidov: Companies are expertlobbyists ;and the challenge that we’re talking about here is how to align companies’political influence with their big, bold public sustainability goals. This goesdeep within companies — within some businesses, even the chief sustainabilityofficer doesn’t talk to the main policy person; and that’s a huge missedopportunity (and a major source of risk). At the Erb Institute, we explore thisrole of business in society and CPRT is at the core of it. The goal is toactivate purpose within the company and use political influence to help furtherthat. One of the tenets of the CPRT’s mission is to help companies act on responsible political influence without being political. Let’s explore that further. First, what makes a type of political influence 'responsible,' and how do you even begin to do that without a perception of politics? The next frontiers in corporate responsibility Hear more from Erb Institute's Elizabeth Doty and Terry Nelidov on corporate political responsibility and measuring social impacts at SB'21 San Diego — Oct. 18-21. Transparency: to disclose its actions to relevant stakeholders Accountability: having an integrated point of view, where different functions are speaking and acting with one voice; and the company's actions align with commitments to values, purpose, sustainability and stakeholders Responsibility: making sure a company’s political influences support and do not undermine the systems we all depend on — such as markets that reward free enterprise and real value creation; strong, just, representative civic institutions; and life-sustaining environmental systems. Microsoft is a really good example of the current environment, where we areseeing breakdowns in many of those systems — pushing companies to respond to andsupport those foundational systems and institutions. The tech company wascriticized for supporting election objectors; and through the dialogue, they ended up hearing a need for a democratic forum. This led to theestablishment of DemocracyForward in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 events. TN: Climate denial is also an interesting case. A couple of years ago, we(Erb) moved beyond that: We don’t talk about climate as a question — it’s nowscience; it just is. The Erb Institute is a partnership between Michigan’sRoss Business School and the School for Environment and Sustainability,so we believe in climate change. Whether someone believes or doesn’tbelieve in human-driven climate change, it doesn’t matter. The world has changed,employees have changed, consumers have changed … and they’re all demanding aresponse fromcompanies . It could be argued that private business can make more meaningful change now than governments, and faster. What is the role of private enterprise going forward? How do companies large and small ascend to that responsibility? ED: One would be that you want real value creation to be rewarded. In somecases, the most powerful lobbyists are powerful trade associations; and you wantto create an environment where business has a common interest in those —responding proactively to the systemic challenges that will affect business andsociety, with a holistic view. Ironically, this is a bit of a back-to-the-future moment. Drawing on the work ofMichigan professor Mark Mizruchi, in the 1960s and ‘70s, businesses andtheir trade associations used to collaborate more to ensure incentives rewardedcreating real value. In the 1980s, businesses began "fracturing" their politicalinfluence — advocating for more narrow interests — and trade associations becamemore of a "bodyguard" to protect firms. Unfortunately, this led to dysfunctionalincentives. Now, there's a need and opportunity for businesses to come togetherto advocate for fixing those incentives, so markets reward those that are trulysustainable. What are the CPRT’s plans moving forward? ED: We’re focusing on two work streams. The first are public programs tobuild awareness and engage a diverse ecosystem in sharing research, bestpractices and tools related to corporate political responsibility. Second are private programs with Taskforce members to go more in-depth indefining tailored principles, practices, policy evaluation guidelines andprocesses for practicing CPR. We’re excited to have a diverse set of inauguralmembers (and are accepting more). The beauty of this is that companies can sharewith peers and develop more integrated, proactive CPR strategies; and we will beable to publish frameworks and learnings next year. TN: What we may learn in a year is that millennial and post-millennialworkers are more agile in changing, and have this new expectation of CPR fromtheircompanies .Our hypothesis is that consumer-facing brands and those with younger workforcesmay be wired to be quicker and more responsive to employee and consumer demands.We’re wondering if “older” companies, in more traditional industries with moreconservative company cultures, will be able to change quickly enough to keep upwith society!