Why radical transparency is your future...

I wrote recently about how cleverly Greenpeace had manipulated Nestle for change by so offending Nestle management that they overplayed their hand and tried to shut down any negative comments about the firm.

Greenpeace created the conditions for a good story.  But Nestle created the story.  And shot itself neatly in each foot.

Which tells us that people are more interested in being able to see what you’re doing, than they are in the impacts of what you’re actually doing.  More importantly, you don't decide what people know about your company - they can find out themselves, and usually pretty easily.


Making Radical Transparency your friend. 

Try to control the subject as they might, Nestle couldn’t.  And the speed with which the internet, twitter, facebook and e-mail spread the word, meant that the situation escalated faster and with greater fury than the company could manage.

Getting it Right.

Let's contrast that with 7th Generation - an all natural eco-groovy brand of green cleaners and hygiene products in North America.

Some years ago Jeffrey Hollander, 7th Generation’s CEO, took a gamble. He told his sales manager:  I want to put everything that is bad about our products on the internet.

The Sales Manager was aghast.  Surely you must be joking? He said.  Next time I go to a customer they’ll be all over me about this negative information.  And sure enough, competitors made sure that buyers had all the information about what was wrong about 7th Generation’s products.

And a funny thing happened. 

The buyers said to the competitors, “yeah, thanks for this..  Now show us the same for your products.”  Some of the competitors scrambled to get the information, provided it, and looked worse.  And the rest didn’t, and started to lose sales.

Trust builds sales

Transparency built trust with the buyers – and kept the bar high for competitors.

The point is that for transparency to work FOR you, you have to lead.  If you’re number two, or three, or ten, you have to do all the work anyway – but you don’t get the credit.  It’s the difference between making CSR costly, or making CSR profitable.

Your call.


How Greenpeace beat Nestle - globally


So Greenpeace went after Nestle to stop using palm oil from Sinar Mas, a company in Indonesia.  They made a revolting take-off on the Kitkat advertisement in which you see a guy taking a Kitkat, breaking off a row and starting to eat it.  Except that it’s an orangutan’s finger, and blood spurts out and drips down his chin and… you get the picture.  It was too gross to pass on, and most who saw it clicked away.

But Nestle was outraged.

They contacted Google (YouTube) and requested the film be removed as it infringed on their trademark.  Google complied, and Greenpeace had their moment.  They immediately requested that people complain on Nestle’s facebook page.

…and the complaints poured in

Nestle’s facebook page was besieged by complaints.  This got the press interested internationally (CNN, Daily Telegraph, Cnet, the Globe & Mail, Forbes, etc.) fanning the flames further.   Nestle’s facebook manager got peeved, and started to answer back. 

“Thanks for the lesson in manners. Consider yourself embraced. But it’s our page, we set the rules, it was ever thus."

And after deleting posts:

“Oh please… it’s like we’re censoring everything to allow only positive comments.”

Which outraged the public further.  Viewings of the film soared – from thousands to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands to millions.

The orangutan flipped Nestle’s purchasing practices

Remember Unilever?  The single largest buyer of palm oil in the world?  As soon as the campaign went live for them, they made commitments – and the story never broke.  So their reputation is intact, and their public relations strong. Nestle, which is a much smaller user of palm oil, has now “established Responsible Sourcing Guidelines and has committed to ensuring that its products do not have a deforestation footprint” - for all their products, not just palm oil and not just KitKat. 

To guarantee progress, they have signed up with The Forest Trust (TFT), an independent NGO, and note that they are building further partnerships “to build a global movement to support the development, implementation and disclosure of sustainable forestry practices. We have joined a coalition calling for a moratorium on rainforest destruction for palm oil in Indonesia and have become an active member of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).”. 

The right thing to do.  But at what a cost… 

Get me some sustainability!

”Get me some sustainability!" 
That’s what the CEO asked when I recently worked with Nourit, a mid-size company in the European food industry. Nourit’s customers wanted them to ‘be more sustainable’. So the CEO wanted a sustainability programme – “but nothing complicated” he said.

To keep buy-in high, the Environment manager pulled together a small cross-functional team. We identified the key areas, the easiest-to-handle actions. And we developed a plan.

Coming out of the meeting the energy was high.

But at the next meeting several months later, nothing had happened.

When nothing happens
It's usually not absolutely nothing: In this case the environment manager kept working with the team to explain the programme, and request information.

And after the requests came the reminders. And reminders after that... 
But nothing came back.


Same thing a few months after that.

What was up?

We had hit the four phases of adolescence.

Phase 1: The Silent Treatment
It starts with the Silent Treatment: Ignore requests, wait things out, and hope "it" will go away. Nobody says no.

They just don't do it.

The team pulled in the heavy guns. Senior management sent out memos.

The functions grudgingly took note.

Phase 2: Argue every detail
But that didn't really help because now we met the "dissect every request" phase. And every dissection was sent back to the team, but with every one the sender could think of on copy e.g.

"What if a technical service representative from another company comes and discards their newspaper at our plant - does that count as manufacturing waste?"

cc heads of operations; manufacturing; procurement...

The discussion in the company started to be about "why is the team so demanding" and there were rumblings about how burdensome sustainability was.

The team redoubled its efforts to keep management on board, and staff informed.

Phase 3: Make you provide all the energy 
But now managers felt more threatened because change felt closer. So they implemented their variants on Work to Rule - the strategy used by organised labour to bring companies to their knees: do only what they are explicitly told to do.

The team persisted. They gave good stories high visibility, including the company magazine. It became more fun to join than resist.

The final phase - 4: Take the credit
And then suddenly - all the people who had been blocking the programme now claimed it was their idea. And they even asked why there needed to be a sustainability team when they were the ones doing the work...

When you're responsible for CSR or sustainability or environment, however your company calls it, each of these phases can feel difficult. But the last one can feel the most difficult of all. Shouldn't this be the moment where somebody thanks you - for driving this forward, helping the company overcome every hurdle, spending so much energy, and for listening to them and trying to meet their needs?

It should be.

But it may not be.

What does this have to do with making sustainability profitable? 

If you let yourself get down, feeling it's unfair, you'll burn out - and nothing more will happen. Worse - you'll have let the forces of resistance and inertia win.

On the other hand, if you manage yourself effectively, you can use others' success to boost your morale, and boost your standing in the company.

What should you do? 
Share the Halo: Make their success your success – and your success their success. When they do something good, make sure it gets publicised. Get quoted about the good work they’ve done, and name them. They’ll love you for it – and you’ll still be seen as having ownership.

Get Exposure: Raise your profile internally and externally – use the learnings from your projects by submitting articles, giving presentations at conferences, and making your company look good. The better the company looks, the brighter your star will shine.

That’s what Nourit’s environmental manager did – work not only on performance, but on image and exposure too. His company started to get good press, which helped him get more done. And it also put him in touch with other environmental managers – so he could share experiences.

You are not alone
There are many in your shoes and many who find it a lonely and thankless task. Just remember, you’re taking your company through adolescence. Over 4 billion parents know exactly how you feel...

** Nourit is a fictitious name I made up to protect the innocent, and the others.

Suffering from Not-Invented-Here?

I was thrilled.  As manager of the customer satisfaction programme, I was always looking for solutions to problems that customers hated, and our teams struggled to manage. Our Italian engineers had figured out how to increase the reliability of a seal using the materials and know-how our whole company had in-house.

Flush with pride they wrote it up, I posted it on our knowledge management forum, we sent out an e-mail highlighting this excellent discovery, and I waited expectantly to see the problem resolved more broadly - and our customer satisfaction scores go up as a consequence.

The scores didn't budge.

We expected the take up on this great discover to be so fast it would be audible - a great revving of our technical engines as this thorny problem got licked, country by country.

But nothing happened.

How could this be?  This was a really critical problem, expensive for our customers, and the source of untold headaches in the company.  We were having countless meetings about this in the devleopment group, the customer satisfaction team, the operations and technical service teams.  Frankly, this issue was costing us a lot of money and a lot of time.  

NIHS (re)discovered

I had hit "Not Invented Here Syndrome" head on. 

"You don't understand", our colleagues around the world said.  "Our customers / machines / products / .... are different, unique and not at all like the ones in Italy."

Actually, that wasn't true.  The customers (mostly multinational), machines (uniform), and packaged products (dairy) were largely the same.  I was frustrated, and went to a senior manager.

The Kiss of Death

He sent out memo saying "Nobody is adopting the excellent technique developed in italy to resolve the sealing problem.  Please ensure that where applicable, this technique is adopted."

Is there less than nothing?

All the air that might have existed for this programme was sucked out at once.  Because everybody who was necessary to implement the changes knew that doing nothing was safe:  they had now been informed that nobody was using this technique!   All the social proof you could need that doing nothing was normal.

The Ninja response 

The Ninja's were covert agents who specialised in unorthodox arts of war.  It was time for a Ninja approach since the traditional ways weren't working. 

While most technical service engineers had not adopted the new technique, a few had.  I interviewed them about their experience - and interviewed the customers too.  A new memo went out from the same manager who had sent the original "Nobody's using this technique..." memo- but now quite different:  "Customers X&Y thrilled with sealing improvements."  He congratulated the engineers and managers involved.

We sent out a video team to interview customers who were unhappy with the existing sealing system.  And, we filmed the new process - and the customer reactions. 

Building consensus for change

We posted these on the Knowledge Management website.  I called up a few people who I knew around the company, and I asked them to comment a) on the film; b) on somebody else's comment.  

Now I could send around an interesting note to the customer satisfaction network:  Have you seen the debate between Carlos and Fritz?  Who do youthink is right? 

They discussed - and they got some of the engineers involved to take sides too.  Not only did discussion increase - so did take-up.  Now we had more stories, and more results to report on.  

Which led to more discussion.  And greater take-up.

It's how our brains are wired.

We're social animals, wired to want and need to work together.  When something feel foreign and unusual, we're likely to reject it.  We're most likely to accept it when we feel it secures our place in our team / company / society.  So everything you can do to make new feel normal will get your colleagues to implement the changes you would like to see - faster.

So to "Diss NIHS" you have to make new feel more "in" than old:

   * Manufacture the discussion

   * Feed it with controversy

   * Highlight and reward all the behaviours you're looking for

   * Invite more people in to the discussion

   * Repeat

A Brand's Soft Underbelly

In 1999 Ben & Jerry's, the eco-groovy, socially active, in-your-face, counter-culture ice cream company was booming.  They had expanded internationally from Japan to Holland, and had a reputation as being one of the most reputable companies in the US.  One of the most reputable companies in the US?!?   (A Harris Poll published in that year ranked Ben & Jerry's #5 overall, and #1 in "Social Responsibility" among leading US companies.  The poll measured a company's reputation in areas such as social responsibility, emotional appeal, and innovation  ).  This was a tiny Vermont-based ice cream company founded in 1978 by two college dropouts with beards and weird clothes.  A company literally run out of a garage.  

But they knew how to connect.  And they did it, as the picture shows, by playing their ecogroovy card right on their labels.

So then Unilever buys them in 2000.  And stays pretty hands off in many ways.  Even today, the Ben & Jerry's website is standalone, the style has remained consistent, and the flavours have stayed largely the same.  The biggest change is that my college mainstay in the US - Chunky Monkey - is now available at my small grocery store in Switzerland.  So Unilever got a profitable enterprise, a nice feather in it's sustainability cap, and a whole new audience for it's other products.

When only some of your customers are 'green'
But Unilever also sells Axe.   Targeted to late 20-something boys on the make.  And Ponds, for older women.  And Omo - with it's "dirt is good" campaign .   And of course many, many more brands of products from ice cream to face cream to soup and soap.  Not all of these have a social conscience, nor have many of them had to.   

Until Unilever ran the "Campaign for Real Beauty" - wildly successful in boosting sales seven-fold for Dove.  The campaign and it's ads on YouTube promote 'real beauty' and warn parents to "get to your daughter before the beauty industry does".  And end with the statement: Talk to your daughter before it's too late.  

Which served as the perfect platform for a Greenpeace takeoff which asked the question - How can you stand for real beauty on the back of the ecological havoc wrought by your palm oil suppliers?  And ends saying "Talk to Dove before it's too late".

Going all the way?

As it happens, Unilever is the largest single buyer of palm oil in the world.  Not just because of Dove products, but because they use palm oil in food, creams, and cleaning products...  So they faced the choice:  provide certified palm-oil from sustainably managed plantations to the brands that 'needed' it (to sustain their brand values)?   Or, engage as Unilever, rather than as Dove or Ben & Jerry's, in ensuring that all the palm oil they purchased was responsibly harvested? 

Well, Unilever is a smart company, with a lot to gain from engagement, and relatively little fear.  Years earlier, when they were involved in fishing as the world's largest fisherman, they understood that the world was running out of fish.  Bad for business if your mainstay is fishfingers.  So they founded MSC - the Marine Stewardship Council - a broad collection of stakeholders who came together to find ways to promote sustainable fisheries.  Too slowly for Unilever which got out of fishing.  But the learnings have stayed, and prepared them brilliantly to appeal to a public that increasingly notices and rewards the mission (per the Ben & Jerry's label above).

Going ALL the way
So now if you go to the Unilever website, you find that sustainability and sustainable initiatives are woven throughout their brand stories - from Lipton to Dove to Becel to Knorr... But not just as anecdotes.  They make commitments (e.g. "To purchase all our palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015."); they tell you the process (how they engage suppliers and how they work with stakeholders); they describe the actual situation (deforestation, palm oil, and Unilever's role and importance in palm oil purchasing); and they give you progress reports - as well as telling you who is auditing their actions.  They give us all the proof to believe they are working effectively to be a sustainable business.

Does that work?
Well those of you who clicked through to the Greenpeace ad may have noticed the pop-up in the lower left-hand corner which says - You talked to Dove.  Now talk to Nestle.

Which takes us to Nestle and their disastrous reaction to Greenpeace.  
(But that's for another day.)

When you don't connect
For now cast your mind back to the early 90s.  Ecover was a tiny soap company, struggling to establish demand, production and distribution for its ecogroovy products.  Frans Bogaert, the founder,  would give an impassioned speech which he would highlight by eating his detergent on stage.  A riveting demonstration of their safety.  A senior executive from Unilever was asked about whether Ecover didn't pose a threat.  "The day my customers tell me they want to eat my soap, I'll give them soap to eat." he said.  And with that attitude, allowed Ecover to become a global company and dominate the 'green cleaning' market.  

Getting Smart
Unilever learnt:  instead of protecting their soft underbelly by fighting, they disarm their adversaries.  

It worked for Ben & Jerry's.  Apparently, it scales up too.

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