Magazine article New Zealand Management

Call It Kick-Arse Innovation

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Call It Kick-Arse Innovation

Article excerpt

It could be a case of language getting in the way of a good business idea.

Talk "sustainability" and watch the collective corporate gaze glaze over. Demonstrate on a spreadsheet how to generate a 38 percent improvement on bottom-line business performance and any CFO worth his/her salt is obliged to start paying attention.

Bob Willard has done the sums and after 34 years with IBM, Canada--the last 10 of those in leadership development--he knows how to present a fairly compelling business case. It's laid out in his latest book: The Next Sustainability Wave: Building Boardroom Buy-In and he was in New Zealand last month to present it to the NZ Sustainable Business Conference.

The focus is less on saving the planet than on saving and making money.

"It's about how to create revenue, save on operating costs and, as a byproduct, do something better for the environment. But the focus is on business strategy--you're doing this for business reasons."

It helps if you can put some numbers around that. His case studies came up with that figure of 38 percent profit improvement--and it erred toward conservatism.

"That was factored down a number of times to get it to 38 percent and it still seems ridiculously big. So what we do is give people the spreadsheets, allow them to take the assumptions I teased out of these case studies and plug in their own numbers. If some of the seven areas of benefit turn out not to be relevant to them, then put in zero and go for six or four.

"It's just getting them to ask the question--how good could it be for us if we really got serious and smart about this, quantify the numbers that are credible to them and if there's good reason to go ahead, then do it."

If this is the "next wave", Willard could be seen as one of the chaps who'll be shaping the boards that ride it. With the navy suit, grey hair, glasses and gold watch, he's a credibility chasm away from the somewhat anarchic image of earlier environmental foot soldiers.

Image, he agrees, can present an unnecessary barrier to engaging in conversation around business and sustainability or business and corporate social responsibility. The trick is to talk the language of business rather than dwelling on the often value-laden, guik-laden or just irrelevant-sounding multi-syllabic ideals. …

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