Happy? “I have FOUR colour Tv’s!!”

22 10 2009

CSR 09 Romania, appears, when you speak with many of the attendees, to have been a great success, yet the conference organisers seem to think otherwise. “Why is it these people keep coming to present to us, ignore our request for practical tools and methodologies on specific topics, and simply give us a 101 in CSR and tell us how great they are?”

I would add to this, many of the presentations were generally one way generic communications, made worse by the invasive use of MP4s. For example; the internal communications (and crisis) manager for DuPont Eastern Europe preceded her homemade video presentation (accompanied by the mandatory rock muzak) showing various internally referenced motivational messages and pictures of community volunteering by saying “you will enjoy this”!

What foreign presenters, to my mind, seem to fail to realise (again and again) is that a great number of Romanians are (and for generations have been) incredibly well educated, and they are also quick to grasp new ideas, highly sceptical, and require a great deal more meaningful engagement and debate around the CSR agenda in order to judge its appropriateness for their national cultural and political context. Alexandra and I have agreed to provide the organisers with some Ashridge Consulting style design ideas for next year’s event to help support such conditions.

One of the highlights of the day was a presentation from presidential candidate Mircea Geoană, a very polished Obama-esque, ex Romanian Ambassador, and a friend of Joe Stiglitz, with four years in the US under his belt. His per-election arguments and rhetoric appeared eminently sensible as did his calls for more transparency in Government in response to a question from the money channel news anchor Eli Roman around the social responsibility of central government. At this point faint sniggers could be heard though from an all Romanian table close by. They evidently didn’t believe a word of what he is saying. The word “transparency” in Romania cuts little sway nowadays it seems, standing for more corruption, more exploitation and more self-serving. The presentation ends with a crowd pleasing plea for us help him to develop a framework for CSR for Romanian operating companies if he gets elected (highly likely from what I understand). I worry the word “CSR” is going the same way as “transparency” before it.

I continue to be curious about happiness and included elements of positive psychology in my own presentation on social innovation and business model intimacy (let me know if you would like a copy!). In the cab to the airport, I asked the taxi driver:

“Are you happier now under capitalism than you were under communism?”

He replies “Back then if I wanted a colour tv I had to wait for six months. I got my first colour tv in 1988 and it was made in Romania. If I wanted a car I had to wait two years. Now I have four tvs and a foreign car”.

I repeat “You didn’t answer my question. Are you happier?”

He changes his tone “Nicolae Ceauşescu was a great man, he did everything for the people, he paid off the country’s debts completely so we could become the World Bank to the Arab Nations. In those days I had no debt; I worked less, had long holidays and went to lots of parties. Now we are stressed and struggling to pay our personal debts and have no time. This morning I awoke at two o’clock worrying and stressed before starting my work at four.”

“Would you prefer to turn the clock back?” I ask

“No, not really, but capitalism is not working for us. Something in the middle is what we need.” He said. “I think China have a far better model”

“Funny” I say, “Your presidential candidate said that too!”


CSR Catholicism and the Legacy of Communism – Romania CSR 09

21 10 2009

Dear Ashridge,

Hello from CSR 09 Bucharest

I am here for day two of the event which appears to me to be leagues ahead of the similar event held this time last year. Bucharest itself is having a tough time having gone through a hugely dramatic boom and bust cycle over the last two years with little Government stewardship to provide confidence for further inward investment. Despite this the stunning SAS Radisson shelters all signs of the struggle and we begin day two with a discussion around “Ecological Intelligence”.

The title for this post relates to a dinner conversation I had last night with two local Romanian’s, both highly educated, and both hugely sceptical of CSR and more than that human nature itself.  “Fundamentally we are weak and selfish and CSR is something large companies need do in order to continue to pursue these selfish ends”.

As you might imagine the conversation was quite challenging. If you assume that all people are inherently selfish and individualistic (reinforced here by religious and communist influences) any argument for CSR or sustainable business, unless clearly delivering to this selfish need is a little futile. Yet despite this we continue to find great examples of companies that are doing otherwise. Not in Romania perhaps!

Fortunately a meeting with the Head of Sustainability for Acciona provided a little salvation. In just 15 years (partly driven by the need to diversify into counter cyclical markets) Acciona has structurally transformed itself from a road building construction company to the second biggest producer of wind turbines in the world. Of course, whilst this could also be seen as selfish I would imagine that in 1994, betting this much on renewable energy was a somewhat corageous move!

I look forward to Juan describing this in more detail later today. Perhaps a case for the Leading Organisations of Tomorrow Research Matt??

Leadership for tomorrow’s organisation

20 10 2009


Leadership for tomorrow’s organisation

I am preparing the literature search element of a research project on “leadership and tomorrow’s organisations”. This research will be particularly related to sustainability. At this stage I am looking at writings which seek to define leadership from a wide range of perspectives, including

  • Henry Mintzberg’s new book “Management” says that managers lead some of the time and leaders manage some of the time. Leading is a relatively small part of how they spend their time, not the whole of the job for anyone.
  • Ron Heifetz of Harvard, Kennedy School of Government, writes or co-writes three books, which, with another by Sharon Parks illustrating his approach of creating situations where participants experience what is involved in leadership, discovering what it means in terms of attitudes relationships and activities. He distinguishes between the purely technical means of management and the adaptive leadership which has to deal with situations in areas where there is no ready answer. Leaders should not impose their own solutions but enable people to own the problems and develop their own solutions.
  • The University of Hertfordshire under the “leadership” of Ralph Stacey, denies that an organisation has any kind of living existence, such as that propounded by Arie de Geus in “The Living Company”. Organisations are not run by leaders top down, but develop out of local conversations by all employees at all levels, so that the organisation is self developed at the edge of chaos, as nature is said to be by complexity theory. Individuals on their own don’t change things – it is the power of these conversations and relationships; they are somehow the energy for change. The question remains whether some individual leaders are needed to avoid descent into chaos. I have been unable to understand why Stacey et al are so hostile to systems thinking as presented by Michael C Jackson, Russell Ackoff and Peter Senge.
  • Bill Tate in “the Search for leadership”, just out, says, in effect that we don’t need leaders, but leadership, which can emerge in all sorts of situations at all kinds of level in an organisation. This could fit with the Stacey view, except that Tate roots it in systems thinking, which Stacey belittles. I haven’t finished Tate yet. It promises to be a good book, which I will review on the VLRC (Some of the Stacey stable is being reviewed and Mintzberg’s latest. Heifetz has already been reviewed.)

Other books and articles being considered include those by Adair, such as “Leaders not bosses”,  Kotter’s best book in my view is his parable of the Penguins whose iceberg was melting and whose problem was solved by one who was seen as a non leader, with the blessing of one of the formal leaders. This could be quite relevant. Some of Kotter’s books are somewhat mechanistic revolving around his seven or eight points.


One question that frequently emerges is the doubt whether one can put manager and leader into different categories.  Organisational learning expounded by Senge and others is not favoured by Stacey, because as organisations don’t exist as entities they can’t learn, according to him, though individuals don’t learn either, other than in relationship.


Also relevant to everyone being involved in leadership is the approach of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Environmentalists tend to seek to influence organisations to change course or persuade people to take small carbon reduction steps which will make them feel good. The best way according to the WWF is to work on changing people’s central values, so that they in turn will insist on action being taken by government. Hearts and minds being involved are stronger than mere checklists. They are working on changing the quality of the thinking of the population, so that they will insist that Governments act. Thus the whole population has a share in leading governments to do something. Leadership is enshrined in the people, which is the essence of democracy. Government of the people, for the people, by the people.


This has certain similarities with Stacey’s leadership stemming from the relationship between the mass of people almost mystically having an effect. But probably the media has a greater effect, and the basis of its work is not the instilling of the highest values, but the supporting of a favoured party to win elections. Perhaps the WWF is being highly idealistic and has a high view of human identity that is not generally borne out in practice. However  perhaps the only answer to environmental concerns is when we, the people, are led to lead our government to take uncomfortable but needed action  


Most of the authors agree that we can’t predict the future; a mistake that market systems often make is to think they can. And one of the qualities expected by those who look for it in hero leaders is such a capacity for foretelling the future. Is the distributed leadership we have been considering with some of the writings, capable of learning that if we continue as at present then disaster is certain? We can’t go on as we are. Thus we do know something about the future, sufficient to create scenarios about possible situations and how to handle them if they arise. If we actively lead our fellow citizens into Stacey like conversations about the future needed for a life of reasonable quality, we can start together in that direction, even if where we arrive is not quite what we expected.


When we, the people, provide such leadership and force the government people who think they are the leaders, to face up to realities, which are more significant than election winning, we may arrive at Robert Greenleaf’s, “Servant Leadership”.


Is it too much to expect research to be taken seriously if it considers such issues and possibilities, so far removed from current cynicism and starts talking about trust and courage, giving and not just taking, and seeing business as having a responsibility to Society, in spite of denials from the Friedman school. Positive results can stem from a different perspective on leadership.


Comment, including rigorous opposition, is welcome. My thoughts are only partly formed as yet.


Edgar Wille

20 October 2009

Watch for an installment on Leadership

20 10 2009

In a day to two I intend to send some thoughts on leadership in relation to Sustainability.  So watch for it and let me have your views.