Aleen Bayard, LEED Green Associate, is the managing partner of Footprint Partners, a consulting practice specializing in leadership, change management and communication services for organizations committed to sustainability as an integrated component of their business model. In that capacity, Aleen works closely with clients on the communication strategy, integrated reporting, CSR reporting, green messaging and company branding. Aleen holds a Certificate in Leadership & Sustainability Management from University of Chicago and has been certified in Sustainability Strategy by Natural Step. She currently chairs NSF’s Economic Working Group and is a member of SASB’s Working Group on Professional Services, as well as Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship’s Services Roundtable.
Christopher P. Skroupa: The concept or term “integrated thinking” started gaining airtime as part of the Integrated Reporting movement/trend/focus. Why is integrated thinking a core principle of integrated reporting?
Aleen Bayard: The integrated reporting framework was initially conceived to offer investors a more accurate way to analyze a company’s ability to create long-term value. Wall Street typically demands short-term results and the reporting formats and cycles take the market’s lead. Integrated reporting kicks sand in that bully’s face. The principles of integrated reporting all fundamentally deliver the same result; a connecting of the dots. For a company to be able to connect the dots between the 10-K and CSR report, they must, by definition, be able to connect the dots within the organization itself. That calls for integration at the core of the business. It is a mandate for a change of mindset, not only accounting practices.
Skroupa: How does a company incorporate or operationalize integrated thinking? What does Footprint Partners look for in terms of integrated thinking?
Bayard: Thinking manifests in practice. If you want to operationalize integration, you are really talking about the organization’s leadership, culture and values. We have developed a set of frameworks to essentially parallel and complement the status quo and tease out the ‘integrated thinking’ component. One example is with the organization’s compensation and bonus structure. If managers are rewarded for collaborative approaches to reporting, you will see an acceleration of that practice.
Skroupa: Since there are no established metrics or even a common definition of this principle, are there any indicators or “proxies” a company can look to?
Bayard: Employee engagement is a terrific proxy for integrated thinking as higher levels of engagement indicate an organization has a strong and positive culture; decentralized authority; robust communication; and a solid line of sight between the strategy and individual jobs. Each of those factors is fundamental to cultivating a culture of integrated thinking. You can also look to its values and leadership competency model. Organizations that use words like collaboration, teamwork and engagement when describing their values are walking the integrated thinking talk.
Skroupa: We’ve been discussing integrated thinking chiefly within the context of sustainability and CSR reporting, do you see any other applications or benefits?
Bayard: There are big pay-offs with the employees. If I work for a company where the leaders encourage and recognize (and maybe even develop and promote) the level of teaming necessary to foster integrated thinking, chances are I am comparatively more productive and performing at a higher level than a colleague who works in a more silo’d and fractured organization. Integrated thinking should fuel a competitive advantage.
Skroupa: If an organization wanted to develop integrated thinking practices within their business model, what is a good first step?
Bayard: A first step is to test for mixed signals or competing commitments. In other words, are we espousing a lofty principle of thinking together, but paying people to perform apart? And payment comes in both hard and soft dollars. If I demonstrate that I can think with you and walk a mile (or kilometer) in your proverbial shoes, then please notice me, put me in your hi-po program, give me a juicy project or have me mentor others. You need to align the business practices to reinforce large and small acts of integrated thinking.
On September 21, 2015, Skytop Strategies will present “Symposium on Integrated Thinking: Drivers and Evolving Best Practices,” hosted by Edelman at the New York City office. Continue the discussion with Aleen Bayard and company executives, institutional investors and practice leaders at this full-day symposium, designed to explore how integrated thinking improves company resilience and net performance. To inquire about attending, contact Victoria Billman at firstname.lastname@example.org.