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Book Review -The Responsible Business by Carol Sanford

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Published by Jossey Bass, a Wiley Imprint, ISBN: 978-0-470-64868-1

Theory and Practice: Strategy, Dialogue, Inquiry

Discipline: Leadership, Sustainability, Innovation, Accelerated Action Research

Audience:  Leaders who discern and view sustainability and change as an opportunity to innovate business change by convening a group of people to learn something that had never been done.

Overview:   Carol Sanford describes her years of experience working with leaders in a variety of businesses from the local caterer to the global consumer products Fortune 500.  Her message is clear.  Shaping a responsible sustainable business is not really anything new.

A responsible business takes form out of a well defined leadership vision and mission. Just as important the leader who is committed to building a responsible business holds a strong value for  “doing no harm” across the entire social network in which this leader draws resources to distributes product/services.

Carol illustrates through her story telling, how she works with leaders to lead  mission and vision of innovation into concrete action.  Within each case study Carol authored, she describes how an extraordinary leadership commitment translates into operation and activity carried out by a team or community of stakeholders. Individually, none of these stakeholders could perceive a means to carrying out something they could not imagine on their own.

Carol Sanford has brilliantly crafted  stories about these social, product and sustainable innovations  innovations  translated into real time results by leaders at Colgate, Kingsford, Clorox, Dupont and Seventh Generation.

Why read this book?

September 2010, the #csrdebate in its conclusion represented over 50 years of efforts tracing back to the 1950’s, when individual leaders began to foster the sustainable marketplace that has been created by the early stage leaders of “responsible business.”   Mass media perpetuates the stories that comprise, “inconvenient truths.”

Art Kleiner, author of  The Age of Heretic profiled the heroes and heroines that led much of the change that we now describe as CSR or Sustainability.  Kleiner described pointed out these people to be heretics. A heretic implies a person of passion who will lead an innovation into practice no matter the cost and learns how to inspire a conversation that invites people to learn and apply that learning for the good of the cause.

Sue Flowers and Joe Jaworski as participants and authors, captured the story of how Joe convened with other global leaders the first scenario planning sessions for Royal Dutch Shell in The Synchronicity of Leadership.   This was the research study and discipline that united researchers of inquiry e.g Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Adam Kahane, Bill Isaacs along with the valuable contribution of Kleiner.

Carol Sanford’s story capture and reports outlines something apart from what has been investigated in these schools of thought. It is a rationale, I strongly identify with in my work and thinking.  The basis for the logic is that “responsible business leaders” have for decades been doing good work and in some instances these stories have been reported thousands of times.

Early in her career, Carol had opportunity to work with line leaders and engineers, e.g. Charlie Krone who understood the business patterns and product production that manufacturers grapple with on a daily basis and what made any change difficult.  In fact, Carol early on in the book introduces the story of the an initiative to rid phosphates in detergent at the P&G manufacturing plant over 50 years ago. Bob Sykes, the manufacturing leader for this innovation identified over 1200 case studies and books that reported between 1970 and 2000 on this radical new method of doing business.

No one was talking about carbon impacts, safe chemical, global warming in the 1960’s. This project which proved significant sustainable value for the health of people, environment and economy had great social impact.  Leveraging from this leadership approach, Carol reports on an groundbreaking activity by Colgate, when she personally worked with Stelios Tsezos, a Fullbright Scholar who worked for Colgate after Nelson Mandela resumed leadership in So. Africa ending apartheid in 1994. Stelios selected to work with Carol as a consultant to move the Colgate to restructure manufacturing operations and improve profitability at a time when white males workers were being pushed to move beyond racist practices and welcome So Africans to the work place.

For many years, I have investigated in follow up to any corporate education program that I associate with, whether or not a people educated to methods of organizational learning, whole systems thinking and/or corporate social responsibility are able to apply what they learn in the classroom on the job. A number of researchers including myself have found consistently classroom or retreat educational events do not result in applied learning on the job 85% of the time. This implies only 15% of new learning is applied on the job to benefit a business.

This leads to what is unique about Carol Sanford and how she works in the context of what is now described as Responsible Business Methodology.  Carol like Bob Sykes at P&G and many others I have worked for engage a group of people to learn in the context of a business need and create an environment in which people grapple with frameworks like Carol’s Responsible Business Infrastructure to learn to discern to act.   This means the consultant like Carol or myself is not brought in for the purpose of constructing a learning event.

We are engaged in everything we do to build a learning activity that fosters real change in real time by people learning from each other, with each other and building a conversation that authors a new business patterns that innovate new kinds of results.

To select to read The Responsible Business: Reimagining Sustainability and Success its entirety is about being serious about innovating change that can sustain and assuming a role of leadership that empower people to learn and apply that learning.

This book is not for a reader who wants to learn “how” so they can replicate the “task” to produce the same outcome. This book is for people who wish to be inspired to carry out from their imagination that which they feel most passionate about as a win for all stakeholders beyond anything they could design on paper. It is about learning what makes others tick and lining up their participation in service of a much great mission and vision.

And the best part, Carol is a woman who has partnered with male leaders to model what is possible in a partnership between men and women in the Fortune 500 while finding time to enjoy her family that now includes 5 grandchildren.

Buy this book now! The Responsible Business: Reimagining Sustainability and Success""


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[…] The Responsible Business by Carol Sanford […]

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