Category Archives: Community and Municipal Outreach

A New Study Examines Engagement of the Entire C-suite in Sustainability Strategy

As a follow-on to my recent article “Why Sustainability isn’t Sticking with the CXO,” Newport Consulting Group colleague Cindy Jennings challenges us to open up to the honest challenge that there is an “engagement gap” with the CXO.  Rather than to simply state the obvious, Cindy calls upon us to ask the brutally honest questions as to why this is so and what can we as both colleagues in the C-suite and as staff members and stakeholders do to change direction.

Many surveys studying the attitudes and leadership of various C-level executives have been conducted over the years. A new CXO Engagement Study conducted by the University of Oregon and Newport Consulting will examine the leadership engagement and influence, motivations and engagement tools of the entire C-suite.  Cindy provides some additional context in her open letter on Sustainable Industries Magazine:

What is driving the CXO “Engagement Gap?” (photo credit:

For years I’ve been reading and quoting surveys about CEOs and chief marketing officers (CMOs) to various clients and those interested enough to listen. More recently, stories and studies about the need for higher-level engagement of chief information officer (CIO) or chief technology officer (CTO) and the chief human resources officer (CHO) are also giving sound reasoning. The Wall Street Journal covered the Deloitte “ReSources 2012” study that outlined opportunities for CIO leadership in energy management systems – one of the most consistently measured performance indicators. Andy Savitz, author of “Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line: How Companies Can Leverage Human Resources to Achieve Sustainable Growth,” makes the connection for companies on how to leverage their employees — and their HR departments — to achieve their sustainability goals.

There is also speculation that we have reached “peak sustainability” in that chief sustainability officer position creation is on the decline. Within that speculation is whether or not sustainability is starting to be adopted as a standard business strategy that no longer needs a specific champion, or if it is being absorbed by the existing c-Suite. Read the “State of Green Business 2013” for more on that subject.

I agree with my colleague William Newman in his article “3 reasons sustainability isn’t sticking” when he writes “Many [CXOs] are able to ‘talk the talk’ but only a minority are able to ‘walk the walk.’ The survey seeks to help leaders better walk the walk by determining which C-level executive or mix of executives are able to effectively lead and influence triple bottom line strategy for their company, and how they do it.

Visit Sustainable Industries Magazine to read Cindy’s full article.  The survey is live and will run through April 26, 2013. The findings will be shared complimentary with those sharing their own viewpoints on the topic.  You may participate in the study by visiting the University of Oregon survey site.


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Filed under Audit and Oversight, Change Management and Leadership, Communication Planning, Community and Municipal Outreach, Compliance, Financial Management, Marketing and Social Business, Operations, Procurement, Risk Management, Strategy, Sustainability

How Analytics Shaped an Obama Win, Romney Defeat

The stories are slowly coming out of the election night landscape where an overly confident Governor and an equally confident incumbent President basked in the glow of a hard fought campaign.  As the election results trickled in one thing was becoming clearer by the hour, one candidate had correlated the demographics of the citizen vote particularly in key battleground states – and the other had not.

If 2008 were the election year that President Obama won with a solid push of social media, 2012 could be the year that the incumbent President had a competitive advantage with clear transparency of the voting population based on his use of advanced, cloud-based analytics.  Hosted largely by Amazon Web Services (AWS) as described in this New York Times piece by Steve Lohr, the AWS platform allowed for canvassing, massive phone poling, and real-time forecast projections which painted a very different view particularly of the ground game than what the GOP was predicting based on 2008 demographics.  A completely different ground attack resulting in a largely unpredictable election outcome that even as the key battleground state of Ohio was being called for the President, few Romney supporters would believe the numbers staring in front of them.

This time, the Obama campaign’s data center was mainly Amazon Web Services, the leading supplier of cloud services. The campaign’s engineers built about 200 different programs that ran on the Amazon service including Dashboard, the remote calling tool, the campaign Web site, donation processing and data analytics applications.

These data analytics applications gave the Obama team a clearer vision of the ground game which became painfully obvious in the key state of Ohio:

  • The Obama team had a higher number of voters in their turnout model in the key metropolitan areas surrounding Cleveland, Cincinnati, and the college city of Columbus.  GOP models accounted for a lower overall turnout particularly with historically minority groups.  In short, the Romney camp had too small a denominator for their projections.
  • GOP models also incorrectly accounted for the Libertarian candidate, Governor Gary Johnson, who took most of the 1.6% “other” vote in the Buckeye state.  Conventional thinking in the Romney camp was that these conservatives would “come home” on election night.  They didn’t. Advanced voter forecasting particularly in rural counties where the Governor won overwhelmingly would have showed that the GOP didn’t win “enough” to take the state.

By and large the final embarrassment came on Fox news when a disbelieving election night crew went to confront their own projections room for a final answer on Ohio.  The analysts – realizing they were the messengers about to be shot – sheepishly stood by their projections with “99.95% accuracy” in calling Ohio for the President.  At that point even the Fox News projection room was apparently working with more sophisticated analytics tools than even the Romney campaign had available.

Even national trends escaped the GOP which is cause for much needed reflection.  While the GOP took a larger percentage of the Caucasian vote in 2012 by 2% over 2008, the overall electorate had shifted by nearly 5% of population swing to minority groups, particularly Latinos.  While the Obama camp likely saw this trend emerging, the Romney camp was completely oblivious to the fact that by achieving their own campaign objectives it would cost them 2 million votes.

In the end one could argue that the campaign outcome in the final days would be changed much differently. However the Romney camp, bouyed by its own inaccurate portrayal of the ground game, believed that states like Pennsylvania and Michigan might be in play and diverted much needed funds for advertising and events into those markets.  Romney played the safe “incumbent” role in both Ohio and Virginia since their forecast models showed victories in those states – as well as Florida.  In each case the suburban and urban vote came out strong for the President.  Again, Team Romney was simply working with the wrong denominator.

Much can be said about the candidate profiles and the Republican party will spend months dissecting what went wrong and what should have been.  In the end though, their strategies and ground tactics were flawed due to an inadequate use of available data analytics and forecasting technology which cast a very unrealistic image of what was actually happening in the nation.


Filed under Business Analytics, Change Management and Leadership, Cloud Computing, Cloud Readiness, Communication Planning, Community and Municipal Outreach, Marketing and Social Business, Operations, Technology

Strategic Intent for Green Marketing and Disclosure Using Social Media

In part 2 of my exclusive series on social media use for sustainability programs for Sustainable Business Forum, we look at the strategic outbound communications mode of the information life cycle presented in part 1.  In this mode, organizations “declare to the world” their findings and intent regarding their sustainability program in an attempt to engage stakeholders (citizens, investors, partners, customers, and other external actors to the organization).  I offer examples from City of Beaverton, County of Oakland (Michigan), IKEA, SAP, and Starbucks Coffee.

Disclosure forms can range from simple to very complex

In my work with the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accounts (MACPA, I have briefed hundreds of accountants and financial managers on the two purposes of sustainability reporting.  The first is a strategic intent to communicate to the public at large – shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders – the good things that the organization is pursuing across a triple bottom-line (3BL) scorecard. The second is a responsive measure based on the need to report on business performance to this same audience. These differences suggest as well the nature of the information to be presented as well as the different social media approaches – called channels – that would best be used to reach the target audience to best accomplish communications objectives in sustainability programs.

What a company or organization decides to promote is just as if not more important than how a company or organization decides to communicate the message across social media.  There are a number of basic to very complex reporting disclosures, each ranging from very formal to informal basis.  Simple disclosures might involve sharing information – from statements of direction, to activities and accomplishments – across simple social media such as websites, podcasts, and YouTube channels.  More complex disclosures, such as the Dow Jones Sustainability IndexIntegrated Reporting with financial statements, or Global Reporting Initiative (G3) filings can be demanding and elaborate, with multiple interactive layers of drill-down click-through metrics, requiring dedicated sites or pages.

Read the full article here.  In the next article in our series we will look at how companies translate the strategic messaging from outward to the public audience now inward to the enterprise in order to motivate, engage and excite employees and executives to execute sustainability program activities. This is a process deeply rooted in organization change management techniques, where messaging channel and content is an important key ingredient to change personal behavior.


Filed under Change Management and Leadership, Community and Municipal Outreach, Compliance, Mobile Society, Operations, Program Management, Risk Management, Strategy, Sustainability, Technology

A Framework for Social Media in Sustainability Programs

Over the next several months I will be contributing to the Sustainable Business Forum and Social Media Today on the topic of social business (aka “SocBiz”) and how these tools, methods and approaches can be used to address sustainability programs.  The first article in the series outlines a framework – a cycle – of how private and public sector organizations typically adopt these approaches through four phases of the information life cycle of sustainability efforts.

In my work with companies looking to promote their outbound market and internal communications messages, I have looked at a number of “socialbiz” tools and methods that seem to be resonating in the workplace particularly with those that are members of the Millennial Generation who find messaging platforms are more preferable than corporate or personal email systems. In addition there has been an explosion over the past three years in the use of business analytic platforms and how these platforms render real-time information related to business performance against key targets and metrics. Combine this with the need for greater and more detailed communication regarding sustainability initiatives – including the bounce that mobility and social tools bring to program funding – and you find the convergence point.

Use of Social Media tools during sustainability effort should support the information life cycle.

As I pointed out recently in an Institute of Management Consulting webinar series on the topic, using social business tools is not child’s play. In fact one of the key success factors in using socialbiz platforms is to keep it relevant, timely and focused. I use the expression SAFTK (“stay away from the kids”) for business leaders and IT managers to know that there is a deep well of lost productivity if the tools are used for the wrong purposes across the wrong channels of communication. For example while news and media streams are helpful to keep general knowledge current and to see what the marketplace is communicating about your products and services, the use of socialbiz tools should be business-driven. For sustainability efforts, this means driving market objectives, internal consensus, and developing the requisite information to show the world you really are doing what you say you are.

In the framework I have developed to illustrate this life-cycle for sustainability programs, the axes are based on both the outbound and inbound direction of the communication as well as the strategic or operational context of the messaging. Based on this framework, organizations typically begin in the northeast (upper-right hand) quadrant and work counter-clockwise in their use of social media and socialbiz tools to address the activities of each stage of the life cycle.

For more information on this approach, including a discussion on the four phases of information use in sustainability programs, please read the entire post on Sustainable Business Forum.  Many thanks to editor Carissa Wodehouse  (twitter @CWhoa and Google+ Carissa Wodehouse) for her work on bringing this article series to light.


Filed under Change Management and Leadership, Community and Municipal Outreach, Compliance, Operations, Supply Chain Management, Sustainability

A Tale of Two States: Implementing a Sustainability Program Using the Carrot or the Stick

This past week at the Sustainability Leadership Program (SLP) at the University of Oregon, we focused on a number of topics including best practices on the implementation of sustainability programs.  One of the key points regarding sustainability programs is the need to lead through the change cycle of adoption so that, when the end arrives, sustainability is embedded in the everyday tasks of what organizations do, whether they are a small not for profit organization or a large corporation.  So says Marsha Willard of Axis Performance Advisors and executive director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP).

“It really is about winning the hearts and minds of the people,” claims Willard a veteran of scores of sustainability efforts based largely in associations, public agencies and universities in the Pacific Northwest.  “There are always two ways to go about things, the hard way and the soft way.  But at the end of the day you need to end up in the same place.”

At some point programs need to just choose which way to engage.

According to Willard, two approaches exist to move organizations to change in the area of sustainability adoption akin to the proverbial “stick versus carrot” methods.  The first approach is to change the processes by which the organization operates and the mechanics by which people execute their day-to-day tasks.  While this has merit this is basically the “stick” approach which is behaviorally driven by compliance to a new set of expectations inside the organization, whereby if you don’t comply there is a penalty for improperly executing business tasks and practices.  This can be effective in moving some people, or large groups of people who might be more comfortably taking baby steps if there are compelling business benefits to quick implementation.  A good example of this is the expansion of “lean to green” programs where waste reduction can reduce costs, or even create new revenue streams by selling waste produced by an organization.  Paint supply company Purdy created a new revenue stream by sweeping up the filaments left on the manufacturing floor and selling these bailed filaments to a North Carolina company who produces floor cleaning discs for industrial and hospitality use.  In this case, by changing the corporate practice a benefit was achieved by following a new set of business processes.

The second approach is the kinder and gentler “carrot” approach to implementing sustainability initiatives.  This involves changing the belief system of the organization through education and awareness, sometimes moving at a much slower pace.  However according to Willard this can be a very effective approach for organizations ingrained in institutions without a compelling timetable to follow. “Sometimes organizations move too fast, running the risk of not reaching the expected end result at all due to organization resistance,” observes Willard.  Institutions, public sector, and union-affiliated organizations have a longer journey to change how they go about their business on a day-to-day basis, so moving more predictably even at a slower pace reduces the immediate resistance that can stifle a sustainability program before it ever really gets out of the starting gate.

A good example of how these two approaches can be used differently and in tandem is the state implementation models of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Better Buildings initiative.  This program allocated a population-indexed grant across major metropolitan areas as part of the ARRA stimulus focused on creating energy efficiency of both residential and commercial buildings.  States were then allowed to apply for additional grant funds as part of Better Buildings to then engage and accelerate their programs.  Some 20 states received grants, Oregon and my home state of Michigan being two recipients.  The approaches both states used to implement the grant programs is another example of the dual-approach “carrot versus stick” method illustrated by Willard in the SLP presentation.

Michigan established its Michigan Saves program in conjunction with the Better Buildings of Michigan programs.  Since funding was directed primarily through several of the utilities including Detroit Edison and underwritten by banks working with the utilities, an extensive application process was developed.  Education is a key part of not only awareness surrounding the program but also the approach to apply for loans, grants and other subsidies under the Michigan Saves program.  In addition, due in large part to several concentrations of population across the state, the Michigan program simultaneously serves 27 different communities throughout the upper and lower peninsulas, with a focused program for the City of Detroit.  Each municipality has its own focus for the program, in many cases with slightly different implementation processes and requirements for both residential and commercial improvements throughout the state.  Different commercial programs exist depending on whether a company is a restaurant, grocer, retailer, or small manufacturer.  While over 1,100 homes and 130 businesses are targeted for the Michigan Saves program, to date no results have been published on a statewide basis.

In stark contrast, the Clean Energy Works Oregon program started in Portland and has remained largely focused in that particular geography, even as rural areas are beginning to come on-board in the statewide program.  “Focus and defragmentation is key to our success,” Clean Energy Works Oregon CFO Aaron Berg noted this past week at the University of Oregon program.  “We wanted to keep a focus on Portland and the surrounding metro area where the large concentration of our state population is located so we could make a targeted impact.”  While the program has expanded through a number of funding sources and partners, it is very customer focused and nimble, modeled after many public-private partnerships found in the state and supported by state policies and regulations.  Rather than direct consumers to process steps, participants are coached on what programs and funding sources will work best for them and then they are enabled to access program funds.  To date the Clean Energy Works Oregon program has serviced over 700 residential homes and commercial businesses are beginning to participate.

Regardless of the eventual relative success of the two programs in Michigan and Oregon, both serve as vital not-for-profit organizations bonded with a common purpose to reduce the overall environmental impact and energy use of both residential and commercial buildings.  However it can be noted that at least at the mid-way point of the program funding that implementing a sustainability program based on cultural adaptation using the “carrot” is showing better results than a sustainability program based on more rigid mechanics using the “stick.”  Time will tell which approach yields the greater outcome for each group of citizens.

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