Bob Garratt’s ‘The fish rots from the head’, justly ties organizational performance to the board’s, but the c-suite equally counts for corporate sustainability performance

51yArGo1VAL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_‘The fish rots from the head’ is a phrase widely used to depict organisational failure as the failure of top echelon leadership. While its origin has been a subject of dispute, there is no controversy about its essence. Hence, it forms the basis for the title of Bob Garratt’s bestselling book: The Fish Rots from the Head: The Crisis in Our Boardrooms: Developing the Crucial Skills of the Competent Director.

To underscore the relevance of this book, Sir Adrian Cadbury, one of the apostles of effective corporate governance, described it as one which no director must overlook. Garratt affirmed that “An organisation’s success or failure depends on the performance of its board…” Over the years, a lot of evidence has been amassed to validate Garratt’s declaration.

However, without demeaning the value of corporate performance at large, I regard corporate sustainability performance as a similarly pressing concern. All the more because the increasingly widespread concern sustainability creates among organisations worldwide makes management exercise of leadership in organisations, to boost corporate sustainability performance a major real-world, contemporary problem. Likewise, leadership and top management have been identified as vital in embedding sustainability and advancing corporate sustainability performance.  As Morsing and Oswald (2009:96) put it, “The challenges facing any organization in ensuring sustainability provide a number of issues for senior managers to contend with in their leadership of their organization.”

The importance of corporate sustainability performance is interwoven with that of sustainability.. Today, sustainability has become a front-line worldwide issue of increasing importance to academics as well as executives in the C-suite (a term we use interchangeably with “top management team”). The increasing importance of sustainability as a core corporate issue is further buttressed by the results of a recent survey of more than 3,795 executive and manager respondents from 113 countries, which indicate that the number of companies that have sustainability as a top management agenda item jumped from 46 percent in 2010 to 65 percent in 2014 (Kiron et al., 2015).

Contemporary management  literature on C-suite executives indicates that they play a strategic leadership role in organizations. Although some early researchers define C-suite executives as those who also served on the board of directors, most successive researchers use a range of definitions, such as those executives holding senior-most offices (e.g., senior vice-president, executive vice-president; or all the executives listed or reported in statutory filings; or the top five highest paid executives including the CEO.

In aligning myself with the sense in which successive researchers use the term C-suite, I believe that C-suite executives owe a duty to humanity in ensuring that they actively seek new and better ways to embed sustainability and advance corporate sustainability performance.

 

 

References

Kiron, D., Kruschwitz, N., Haanaes, K., Reeves, M., Fuisz-Kehrbach, S.-K., & Kell, G. (2015). Joining forces: collaboration and leadership for sustainability. Mit Sloan Management Review, 56(3), 1-32.

Morsing, M., & Oswald, D. (2009). Sustainable leadership: management control systems and organizational culture in Novo Nordisk A/S. Corporate Governance, 9(1), 83-99. doi:10.1108/14720700910936083

 

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Pius Ughakpoteni

Currently a doctoral candidate at Business School Lausanne, Pius is an adept Ex-Journalist-turned-Public Relations, Management and Futuristic Sustainability Leadership Practitioner-Researcher. Passionate about continuous professional development, Pius earned three Master’s degrees from three universities in England in six years. These are: Master of Science in Business and Management Research from Henley Business School at University of Reading (2017); Master of Business Administration in Leadership and Sustainability from the University of Cumbria (2014) as well as Master of Arts in Leading Innovation and Change from York St John University (2013). He got a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Management from the University of Calabar in 1991. The following year, he began his working career as a Management Assistant. Two years later, he veered into Journalism as a Researcher/Reporter at Nigeria’s THISDAY newspaper. Pius worked on the Business, Energy and Politics desks in several newspapers, and eventually became Associate Editor of Leadership newspaper before he joined the public service. Since 2004, he has risen from Senior Manager position to Assistant Director at the Niger Delta Development Commission, an organisation set up by an Act of the Nigerian parliament to facilitate the sustainable development of the country’s Niger Delta region. Pius's areas of expertise include: Writing, Research, Public Relations, Collaboration and Stakeholder Engagement. His research interests lie at the intersection of leadership, sustainability, innovation, change and strategy implementation. He is fascinated by collaboration and constructive engagement for change as well as by questions around how to work with top executives to advance corporate sustainability performance for the good of all.

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