University of Southern California

Why Initiatives Won't Create Sustainable Effectiveness
April 22, 2011

"At this point most corporations have one or more sustainability initiatives as well as multiple social responsibility programs," write Marshall Professor Edward E. Lawler III and Christopher G. Worley in their new book, Management Reset: Organizing for Sustainable Effectiveness. And for good reason: While some companies have more enthusiasm than others for things like eco-sensitive packaging and reduced carbon footprints, most now see them as the cost of doing business.

But such efforts, however ambitious, won't achieve the fundamental change needed for sustainable effectiveness. "For organizations to survive in a global economy that demands financial performance, social performance, and environmental performance it is not enough to simply launch sustainability initiatives and social responsibility programs," they argue. "Organizations must develop comprehensive management approaches that fully integrate a triple bottom line commitment into their strategies, organization designs and management practices."

In other words, sustainable effectiveness happens when companies re-imagine how they:

  • Create value
  • Govern and lead
  • Organize work
  • Manage people

As they undertake a managerial transformation of this scale, they'll likely experience:

A change in financial performance. "Sustainable effectiveness implies a conscious backing away from the short-term, profit maximizing objective," say Lawler and Worley.

An increase in triple bottom line performance. "As a result of work system modifications," they explain, "organizations should see increased support and commitment from employees and the communities in which they operate, if not from society in general. In addition, the organization's carbon footprint and other measures of environmental and social use should improve."

The creation of a new identity for the organization. "Sustainable effectiveness is more than an organization design blueprint," they note. "[I]t is a philosophy change that becomes embedded in the organization's culture, brand promise, and reputation."

The bottom line: Sustainable effectiveness requires more than a socially responsible program here or thereā€”it takes an entirely new approach to management.

Edward Lawler is Distinguished Research Professor of Business, Professor of Management and Organization, & Director of the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business. Christopher Worley is Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations

Lawler, E.E. and Worley, C.G. Management Reset: Organizing for Sustainable Effectiveness. Jossey-Bass.