Companies that are successful at embedding corporate sustainability and responsibility are learning organisations. They work out how to do things better, faster, cheaper. They make that knowledge widely available; and they make sure that everyone who needs that knowledge knows it is there and how to get hold of it–and is trained to make effective use of it. In this, success incorporate sustainability and responsibility is no different from any other aspect of successful business. In the old days, organisations used to talk of new recruits ‘learning from Nellie’–watching how experienced staff did things. Even then, that approach could be slow, inefficient, and had the potential for codifying mediocrity. Today, advances in information and communications technologies make it easier to access both the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ and proven experts.
When it comes to capturing and deploying knowledge about embedding corporate sustainability and responsibility, companies can harness many sources inside and outside their organisations. Internal and external awards schemes for sustainability can encourage good practice, as can harnessing employees’ private involvement in NGOs, sustainability studies and the like. Clever, proactive involvement in the right CR and sustainability networks (i.e. not just paying a subscription) and professional and trade bodies–and extracting expertise from these–is another source. Some companies such as Honda and GE use annual peer reviews of their factories to spread good practice and learning.
However, as this latest Doughty Centre How-to guide makes clear, storytelling is a critical skill and device for knowledge management of corporate sustainability and responsibility. Effective storytelling helps employees to understand what it is all about, what it means for different parts of the business–and, therefore, where expertise is already available and where more is needed. A good corporate story–one that is coherent, authentic, relevant, dynamic and sustainable–provides both a framework for documenting responsible business as well as inspiration for those throughout the business to improve sustainability performance. Our thanks to Melody McLaren, the Centre associate, who has researched and written this guide, and to practitioner colleagues who were interviewed and have read and provided valuable feedback on earlier drafts.