People & Strategy Journal, 46.1 (Winter 2023): ESG 2.0
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Corporations, which were often derided as evil empires in the greed-is-good era of Gordon Gekko, are now widely viewed as the most trusted drivers of social change. They have embraced the language of stakeholder capitalism and serving multiple constituencies. They are touting their purpose statements and describing themselves as mission-driven at every turn. They have launched diversity, equity and inclusion programs to help address some of the persistent problems of society—inequality and systemic racism—and are issuing regular reports to hold themselves accountable. BlackRock and other big institutional investors are using their powerful platforms to keep the conversation around ESG front and center as part of an emphasis on sustainability and long-termism.
But these initiatives face a growing array of crucial questions. Are they moments or movements? Is ESG moving from a function to the fabric of organizations? Are corporations embracing the idea of long-termism, or engaging in what right-wing critics are calling "woke capitalism?" Will the skeptics who believe that ESG efforts are little more than a form of "green-washing" be proven right? Will economic challenges push CEOs to abandon their kinder approach since the start of the pandemic in favor of more hard-hearted "it's-called-work-for-a-reason" directives? And, if sustainability is taking a more central role in our thinking as leaders, employees and stakeholders—what bedrock assumptions must we revisit about what "good performance" looks like?
For this issue, we want to explore these challenges—both timely and universal—facing all organizations and their leadership teams. We want to provide practical approaches, use cases and thinking frameworks. Topics for exploration may include, but are not limited to:
The Future of Capitalism: Many prominent authors are publishing books that make the case for longer-termism, as a counterweight to the predominant short-term, quarter-to-quarter focus at many companies. Is it possible to resolve that tension, and make decisions that are good for the company and the planet in both shorter-term and longer-term time horizons? Will all stakeholders, including investors, be willing to sacrifice some profits in the name of building sustainable ecosystems?
Culture-Building in the WFH era: The pandemic helped shatter the myth that people could not be as productive working at home as at the office. In fact, many companies found a new and faster gear during the crisis as people stepped up to deliver innovative answers to unprecedented challenges. The crisis in fact strengthened many company cultures, even though people were working from home. But work-from-home policies remain a point of tension between employers and employees, and companies are struggling to create a sense of cohesion when people are no longer working shoulder-to-shoulder every day. Adding to the challenge is the fact that many people are revisiting the role that work plays in their lives and seeking out tribes elsewhere to give them a sense of belonging.
Resolving the push-pull of employee-employer leverage: For decades, even centuries, the relationship between employer and employee has been framed as oppositional. Who has the greater leverage? Unions were formed to strengthen the hand of workers, of course. And with the pendulum swings of the economy and the employment market, there are times when one side or the other—companies or employees—seem to have the upper hand. More recently, with the Great Resignation, workers seemed to be in the driver's seat, with companies bending over backward to accommodate their wishes and needs. Is a different paradigm possible? Can the conversation be reframed around a different paradigm, rather than power dynamics?
Decision-making in a VUCA world: While the future raises existential questions about the role of companies and even capitalism itself, it also forces a re-examination of some of the foundational disciplines of leadership. A core skill of senior executives is being able to work through analytical frameworks, including weighing different options, to arrive at a decision. In effect, that meant closing doors to arrive at the chosen path. But in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, does the skill of decision-making need to shift to creating more options, rather than eliminating them?
Managing what gets measured, and incentivized: Total compensation and reward systems are a clear signal of what companies value. They have tended to reward short-term performance on a strictly numerical basis. That has started to change, as executives are being rewarded increasingly on how they deliver results—including building a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion—rather than just on hitting financial targets. How might compensation programs evolve in the future?
Articles should be strategic, impactful, actionable, grounded in research or practice, offer another point of view, and be readable with minimal jargon.
We encourage submissions of article ideas first to the editors prior to submitting the completed article. All proposals will be reviewed by the editors and returned with comments. If accepted, we will then guide you on the development of your article. Criteria for evaluation include significance of contribution to the field of human resource, timeliness of content, originality, provocative nature of content and quality of supporting data.
Writing Guidelines: Articles should range from 1,800 to 2,500 words. Please include high-resolution graphics or charts to help present any complex information in a visual format. Limit references to no more than 10.
Submission Information: All proposals are due by Oct. 10, 2022, and should be sent to ENEditor@shrm.org. Please designate in the subject line that the submission is for the Winter 2022 issue.
Copyright Policy: The SHRM Executive Network retains the copyright to all material published in the People + Strategy Journal.
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