Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Business in the Community’s new CEO needs to be a change agent

March 2008

The 25th anniversary of Business in the Community is a cause for celebration. It is also an appropriate milestone to review where the UK-based membership organization is heading, particularly at a time when Julia Cleverdon, who has been its inspirational chief executive for 16 years, is bowing out (see page three).

That change is needed is not in doubt. Bitc’s Impact review and commentary for its 2007 jubilee year is somewhat schizophrenic, praising Bitc for doing a fantastic job while admitting that the organization is no longer delivering in many areas. In the spirit of that commentary, here are five recommendations for incoming chief Stephen Howard.

One: re-examine how Bitc spends its money. As the recipient of more than £23.3million ($46m), including £6m of public money, it is no longer a poverty-stricken worthy cause. Critics in smaller non-governmental organizations complain that Bitc has evolved from change agent to middleman, gobbling up scarce funding. In some respects they are right.

Two: play more to undoubted strengths. In bringing senior business figures together and persuading them to work with voluntary bodies and even competitors, Bitc has no peers. But you do not need 350 staff for that, and, when aided by Royal connections, it can slip into hobnobbing. CEOs are in any case largely convinced of the need for action. The challenge now lies in middle management and below.

Three: forge partnerships with others to address social and environmental challenges. The days are past when Bitc had to go it alone because no partner existed. A strategy in this area is now an urgent priority.

Four: tone down the awards side. Cleverdon’s ‘lollipops for everyone’ approach was brilliantly effective. But with 800 members on board, and CSR and community awards in their legions, it has lost value. Instead, Bitc should challenge its members to meet their commitments. The UN Global Compact has raised the bar; Bitc should do the same. So less backslapping, please.

Five: heed members’ grumbling and give them more value for money, particularly on charging for ‘extras’. This might prompt more companies to volunteer for the Corporate Responsibility Index, where the number of participants has fallen three years in a row.

Were Bitc a public company, shareholders would be pressing for a break-up. But such pressure is absent. Still, in this field, size can be a disadvantage. ‘Scaling up’ to international level, now being discussed, is likely to make the organization less nimble, not more.

Bitc started life as a small, hard-pressed charity. It is now the largest CSR body in the world, in terms of staff numbers. Having grown this big, it needs to reinvent itself.

Peter Mason | UK & NI Ireland | Corporate Strategy

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