When the Rubber Meets the Road…Sustainability and Social Responsibility in Global Sourcing

WandaBy: Wanda Lopuch, Chair, The Global Sourcing Council

“The Next Generation of Investors Seeks Purpose Alongside Profit” – was the headline for the The Guardian on Feb. 12, 2014 . I cannot wait to see similar headlines regarding ITO/BPO sector in any one of the major publications, perhaps “The New Wave of Global Sourcing Seeks Purpose Alongside Profit”.

We are not quite there yet…. In global sourcing, I have argued that social responsibility is a generational issue (http://gscouncil.org/from-the-desk-of-the-president-2-2/). These generational differences couldn’t have been more visible than during The World BPO/ITO Forum (WBPO Forum) in New York City on June 2-3, 2014, when the GSC Executive Development 3S Boot Camp© participants entered “the real world of global business”.

The WBPO Forum in the last seven years has been a prestigious place where global experts share insights on the trends and shifts in the BPO and ITO space, and where buyers and sellers of services meet in a friendly environment.

This seventh World BPO/ITO Forum program incorporated a variety of topics: from technical discussions on cloud, smart sourcing mix, automation, and vertical integration, to broader business questions addressing value creation through IT, creativity in business or value proposition of impact sourcing.

The GSC 3S Boot Camp©, held in New York City from May 29 through June 3, concluded the 2013 GSC 3S Awards program. It was attended by the winners of the 2013 GSC Awards in Sustainable and Socially Responsible Sourcing: accomplished social entrepreneurs and experience business executives, as well as students of the Sustainability Programs at the Stony Brook University in New York.

Attendance at The WBPO Forum was the true test
for the “rubber meeting the road”.

Attending The World BPO/ITO Forum was an integral part of the GSC 3S Boot Camp© because participants practiced their newly acquired skills in communication and influencing the thinking of other WBPO participants, and networking while learning about the new developments in the cloud, crowd sourcing, robotics, risk-assessment and vendor-buyer relationship management. The Forum was the true test for the “rubber meeting the road”.

The GSC 3S Boot Camp© discussions and simulations incorporated a variety of cultural, managerial and generational perspectives. Though the students lacked the depth of managerial experience, they contributed invaluable insight into communication processes; especially as the Gen Y / Millennials are both current and future consumers and producers of goods and services. The GSC 3S Boot Camp© participants were generously rewarded for their contributions by fully-paid internships to study sustainability at the JSW Group headquarters in Mumbai, India. JSW was the winner of the People’s Choice Award at the 2013 GSC 3S Awards.

During the pre-WBPO Forum portion of the GSC 3S Boot Camp© program, where excitement was high, I cautioned the passionate attendees that “it is easy to preach to believers”. As I have argued in the past, the real challenge and the real satisfaction, comes from reaching out and open a dialog with “nonbelievers”; that is, those who do not see what you see or who reject your perspective.  Real results come from challenging the status quo, and merging different perspectives, that can create the best business outcomes. (See: http://gscouncil.org/from-the-desk-of-the-chair-abandoning-csr-silos/). As participants nodded with skepticism (reminding me that ignorance is bliss), I could see that they had not envisioned how challenging their time at the World BPO Forum could be, when they would experience, first hand, the varying degrees to which social responsibility has been adopted in the BPO/ITO sector.

The true test of how the BPO/ITO sector adopts social responsibility and sustainability as business values, took place during the Speed Networking Session during the first day of the WBPO Forum.

Overwhelming the experience, especially of our youngest participants, was in their own words: devastating. Comments following the session included: “THEY did not want to discuss this issue”; “when I asked about social factors in business, THEY said that it is not their area”. One passionate intern stated: “THEY simply do not care”; while another less frustrated intern admitted: “Only those on the “Impact Sourcing Panel” wanted to talk about values“.

Real results come from challenging the status quo.

Yes, it is easy to preach to believers… but there is the whole other world out there.

Many reasons contribute to why THEY left the impression of not caring or ignoring social issues in business. However, THEY were not the only opinions presented at the WBPO Forum. Here are three other voices:

1. Marv Adams, the COO of TD Ameritrade, in his Keynote presentation on “Seeing Systems – the Key to Agility” walked the audience through the complex world of risk assessment scenarios in agile organizations. Marv clearly pointed to corporate values as guiding principles in the case of uncertainty. Social risk, Marv said, is typically the domain of the C-Suite, not the operations management.

During the Speed Networking Session, “THEY” were probably operations executives entrusted with operational and/or infrastructure tasks. THEY reflected their universe of priorities: cost, on-time-delivery, reliability etc. THEY were not the Marv Adams’s of the BPO space.

This is, however, as far as I will go with excuses for my operations colleagues who have not acknowledged the importance of social values in business. In his opening statements, Marv emphasized that in a modern organization, everyone needs to embrace organizational values. So, the response to “It’s not my area” only demonstrates, that an organizational inertia or a Vision/ Mission disconnect is impacting real attitudes and behaviors, with the consequence being that corporate values preached by C-Suite executives are not being absorbed into a company’s ecosystem.

I would like to assure our young, somewhat frustrated interns, that there are organizations out there that successfully translate corporate values, including social values, into measurable indicators, which are effectively filtered down the organizational layers. Ameritrade and ConEdison are two prime examples of getting it right. Organizational inertia or disconnect can be controlled and managed, when a middle manager feels a direct impact on his or her paycheck or career opportunities. So, look for these well-defined, standards-based socially responsible organizations for your careers!

2. Carol Foley, the EVP and Director of Knowledge of Leo Burnett Worldwide, elaborated on differences in leadership styles as the key to innovation. (See: http://bit.ly/1nuRNO1). It is important to recognize that leadership and creativity comes in various forms and shapes – argued Carol; it is only smart to leverage that knowledge to maximize innovation. Carol did not address any IT issues, neither did she use the BPO jargon, yet she has received standing ovation from the WBPO Forum audience. “These are fundamental issues for the industry that suffers from lack of innovation, and is not very forthcoming to admit it” – said Anne Dunkian from Lumiu, thanking Carol for sharing her insight.

There were those in the audience, who made the immediate connection between innovation in outsourcing and the importance of embracing differences as competitive advantage. Diversity is a keyword here. And from diversity, there is only one short step to acknowledging social values in business, in addition to profit.

There were others in the audience, who did not see any connection between their BPO responsibilities and Carol’s pledge to embrace diversity to leverage innovation. Most likely THEY were the same individuals, who “simply did not care” about socially responsible sourcing during the Speed Networking Session.

More than 80% of the Gen Y / Millennials believe that
business should do more to address world problems.

3. During the WBPO Forum, just about every emerging outsourcing destination was represented, each promoting itself by emphasizing the availability of a young and capable workforce that brings much needed talent. Talent availability is one of the key investment factors for global companies. In this War on Talent, winners are the companies who attract talent, develop it, and retain it – just ask Uber and Dropbox of today’s global business.

A young and capable workforce is not the only influencer. The views of young adults are also a prominent factor. More than 80% of the Gen Y / Millennials believe that business should do more to address such world problems as resource scarcity or climate change. And they want to be a part of this solution – according to 2013 Deloitte research.  Extensive research into the Gen Y / Millennials workforce reveals that young talented individuals look first for meaningful work, dignity in the workplace, and the social value that a business creates. Simply, Millennials care and want to work for organizations that care.

This finding has been a cornerstone for the Wal-Mart Global Sustainability Index and its Green & Clean strategy. Recently, Starbucks announced its College Achievement Plan, whereby the company will fully pay college tuitions for thousands of part- and full-time Starbucks U.S. employees, otherwise known as “partners” in Starbucks lingo. This underscores the point of how public companies build long term value for their investors and the communities in which they operate. When positive, socially-geared investment occurs, economic benefits follow.

I predict that the majority of my colleagues who are accomplished operational experts and remain skeptical of social values in business, will sooner rather than later be forced to review their positions. This is especially true when their most valued employees look for opportunities with competitors – those who offer a direct, unbreakable connection between work, profit and purpose.

These three perspectives are only a sample of views and messages during intense WBPO Forum sessions. Are these views just outliers in the kingdom where short-term efficacy prevails? I would like to believe that these sound business views presented by accomplished business leaders are bringing us closer to the tipping point at which the outsourcing industry will accept “profit with purpose” not only as the PR slogan, but as a true business principle.

I am looking forward to next year’s World BPO/ITO Forum, taking place June 16-17, 2015, to see more generational diversity, and with it – more discussion on mobile and social, cyber risk and social risk, crowdsourcing, the meaning of work, and importantly – profit and purpose. Perhaps the headlines in 2015 will capture this shift as well?

Please submit your comments to contactgsc@gscouncil.org. We will share your views with the community.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.