I have to be honest. I don't read self-help books. And the reasoning is simple: they all tout the same advice differently. However, when I heard about Jeffrey Hollender's latest book (co-authored with Bill Breen, co-founder of Fast Company and editorial director at Seventh Generation), I was more than a little curious. The title The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win didn't sermonize and instead, conveyed the conviction of the authors on the future of business, sounding almost too smug to me. This absolute confidence made me want to challenge their audaciousness, and so I dived in.
But as I got closer to finishing it, I realized I no longer could challenge them. And that their smugness had a basis, a practiced confidence that has built on the accomplishments of companies that are relevant to modern business, keep the bottom line intact and are realistic enough to be encompassed regardless of product or client. Most importantly, the authors keep all the stakeholders in mind as they discuss different business models, i.e., shareholders, consumers, employees, the community, and the environment, a challenge for the most transparent and socialist of companies.
Whether you are a strategist, a senior executive or simply an informed professional, there are several reasons why this book stands out and deserves to be on everyone's reading list. One, it is a quick read. At a conservative 180-odd pages, the book doesn't drown you in corporate lingo and meaningless, unrealistic sermons. Second, it doesn't preach. It discusses companies who have practiced responsible business practices and lets you make your own deductions.
Third, the authors have—fortunately for the reader—allowed corporate leaders to discuss their initiatives in their own words. These perspectives, in first person, help paint a realistic picture and allow practical imagination. And finally, the book doesn't focus on advising and giving you a top-10 guide to leadership. It's a simple, yet revolutionary attempt to exemplify the growing need for businesses to become accountable for their models and products.
For an area like corporate responsibility, which remains hard to define in one succinct sentence, it remains a struggle to identify one rich source of information that covers all its aspects. In fact, a recent survey conducted by McKinsey indicated that over half of the surveyed CEOs said the lack of a clear definition of sustainability has kept them from making it a priority and for most others the very definition hugely varies. For instance, "Overall, 20% of executives say their companies don't [have a clear definition of sustainability]. Among those that do, the definition varies: 55% define sustainability as the management of issues related to the environment (for example, greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, waste management, green-product development, and water conservation). Another 48% say it includes the management of governance issues (such as complying with regulations, maintaining ethical practices, and meeting accepted industry standards), and 41% say it includes the management of social issues (for instance, working conditions and labor standards)."
This book then will serve as a useful guide of quick reference. While some would say seeking accountability is hardly a new concept, CSR's growth from concept to strategy represents a typical evolution. Think diversity and you recognize a parallel. From being an awkward conversation-stopper, diversity initiatives have grown to become a matter of prestige for companies, with their initiatives and efforts plastered across company websites and campus recruitment.
As the field of Corporate Social Responsibility continues to engage more corporate leaders, weaves its way to the boardroom, and becomes a way of our work culture, this book will present practical and relevant pointers for executives. These tales of toil from hugely successful companies like Ebay, Patagonia, Timberland and Nike, who willingly address failed ideas—and give us tried and tested, almost formulaic theories that work—will ensure that you remain a step ahead as you begin thinking of business strategy in responsible terms. Whether the push comes internally, externally, from subordinates or from someone amongst you, reading this book will ensure you stand out and maybe even take lead.
And for those of you who continue to believe in the bottom line as the only thing that matters in business, I'll leave you with this excerpt. I would consider it a warning. "We fully concede that many companies, perhaps even most companies, won't willingly alter their behavior. But they will change nonetheless, and it won't be because they've suddenly seen the light. It will be because massive numbers of consumers, a growing horde of competitors, and even the laggard indicator, the federal government, makes them change. Change is under way."*
Other lessons from The Responsibility Revolution, featured on CNBC.com:
Evaluating the CEO: Time to Go or Stay?
Do you have the courage to ask your employees for a performance review
When Going Rogue is the Only Way Out
Sometimes bringing change to your company requires going off the radar. It's easier to ask for forgiveness if you fail than presenting a power point of the substantive positive social impact of your idea.
*Excerpted with permission of the publisher Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win. Copyright (c) 2010 by Jeffrey Hollender and Bill Breen.