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With the media focus on climate and COP26, it seems like all you hear about is the environmental aspect of ESG. Environmental initiatives are the baseline where people are expecting to see change from all businesses. There is a similarly large need and opportunity for businesses to act on their Governance Responsibility, to be leaders in creating a sustainable world. To do it, you need to take the governance responsibility out of the board room, and make it real and relevant from top to bottom and back up again in your organization. Using the 4 points outlined below, you can use the governance component of ESG to grow the value of your business by consciously embedding trustworthiness into the DNA of your business.

1) REFRAMING GOVERNANCE AS TRUSTWORTHINESS - Governance for senior leadership is their unique responsibility to convince shareholders the business is being run with honesty and integrity, so as to earn and keep the trust of financial markets. To truly live good governance you need to bring this governance responsibility to every person and role in the company. The key to make good governance relevant and practical all across the organization, is to redefine it as TRUST WORTHINESS. From this perspective everyone can contribute to proving out good governance. Everyone in the organization is responsible for demonstrating trust worthiness to all stakeholders.

2) KEYS TO BUILDING TRUSTWORTHINESS – There is a mountain of literature on leadership and building trust, many based on psychological and sociological principals but I find that simplicity is the key to utility within an organization, and the simplest foundation I’ve found is, “we don’t trust what we don’t understand”. As Simon Sinek says, we need to understand the “why” of things, before we care about what or how. Therefore, the key to building your trustworthiness as individuals, teams or communities of interest, is you need to focus on truly deeply understanding each other, especially the underlying needs and drivers. Further, if you want others to understand you, then you must understand them first and to do this you must suspend your judgements and assumptions, and bring an open mind and a deep desire to simply understand to your conversations. Then, when you communicate your own perspectives, the nuances in how you communicate are critical because to be trustworthy you must both speak and act in ways that convey: honesty, integrity, caring, competence, credibility, dependability, consistency, consideration, contribution, vulnerability, transparency and fairness. These are the characteristics, most referenced in the literature, of a trustworthy person or organization.

3) MINDFUL CONVERSATIONS – You can involve everyone in delivering on the governance responsibility by simply having them ask themselves in all of their interactions“is what I’m doing or saying adding to the trust account, or taking away from it?” In the information age, it is impossible to keep secrets indefinitely and when they get exposed, like VW or Patagonia, they can decimate the market value of the organization and lose you your best customers, people, suppliers and your social license to grow.

4) ANCHORING TRUSTWORTHY BEHAVIOURS – – The last, and culturally most crucial step, is to stop, recognize and celebrate your governance successes, and learn from your mistakes. Your culture is simply the pattern of behaviours you tolerate, and most importantly those you don’t tolerate within your organization. In the words of John Jones, “what gets measured gets done, what gets fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated”. This is the function of ESG data collection, monitoring, analysis and reporting. Recording your environmental, social and governance wins, the lessons learned, rewarding the right behaviors and not tolerating the wrong, is the key to driving your ESG cultural transformation. The job is not finished until you’ve collected the stories and shared them, not as bragging, but as a role model to others. To grow a sustainable society, as a leader you must own your ESG responsibility, and be a role model challenging others to do the same, then your stories and your efforts will build your ESG brand, growing exponential value over time.

Success in governance is a journey, not a destination, you never truly get there as with every interaction you are either adding to, or taking away from your reputation. Regardless, these simple ideas if applied consistently, with discipline, can position you as an ESG conscious business leader and trustworthy partner with all of your stakeholders. Your stakeholders are the key to your ESG success as it is when your stakeholders tell stories about your trustworthiness, they create the positive ESG brand and reputation you want, much more credibly than you could ever do for yourself.

If these ideas aren’t a part of your exit planning & execution, then make it so, or you may find it hard to attract buyers, customers, employees, partners and ultimately ensure a successful exit. This is your call to action to build ESG value in your business well before you start negotiating a deal in order to maximize your options, the value of your sale and have the outcome you truly want.

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