Why Company Success Relies On Integrated Thinking

Integrated thinking to a non-integrated thinking company

Susanne leads Novo Nordisk’s efforts to be a sustainable business, charged with management of corporate sustainability-driven programs, the integrated Annual Report, stakeholder engagements and communication on the value of the company’s Triple Bottom Line (TBL) business principle. She is member of the International Integrated Reporting Council, member of the Board of the Access to Nutrition Foundation and member of the Board of the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings. She is adjunct professor of Corporate Sustainability at the Copenhagen Business School and a Berkeley Social Impact Fellow at UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business.

Christopher P. Skroupa: What visible differences would there be in a company that thinks about its business in an integrated way?

Susanne Stormer: First of all, it would appear from the behaviors of its management and its employees. Do they show consideration for the impacts to people, communities and the environment in their words and deeds? It would be manifest in the way its factories are located and the environment around them, in the way offices are laid out, even in the way guests are welcomed. In essence, it will eschew an atmosphere of welcoming, of having a human dimension, and being a place where people thrive.

When you enter, you will listen to how people speak to one another, and how decisions are made. They will factor in the outside-in perspective; they will listen respectfully to arguments and counter-arguments; they will seek to gather facts—and then they will make decisions in a balanced way.

When you read written corporate materials such as their annual report, it will provide a well-thought, concise and compelling picture of what the company is about—its purpose and its business model—as well we how it creates value over time and how it accounts for performance on multiple dimensions in a 360-degree perspective. Its corporate website will carry similar messages, and so will its marketing proposition and investor presentations. The ultimate proof point is that employee communication through social media and in their professional and personal interactions is fully consistent with the essence of the corporate messaging.  

Skroupa: How would you sell integrated thinking to a non-integrated thinking company?

Stormer: I would liken it with what I know well: Novo Nordisk offers treatment for people with diabetes, a chronic condition that will be part of their life for the rest of their lives. Integrated reporting is the same: It is chronic, it is progressive, and it is irreversible. But when you put it to good use, you will find new qualities and have a full, healthy life, likely even healthier than before.

Integrated reporting is not a quick fix, and it’s not just something you try out. It requires a dedicated effort and a long-term perspective for where you want to go. It’s a bit of a cliché to talk about a journey, but it really is. You start, and then you proceed, finding new and interesting perspectives just around the corner that incite you to carry on.

The beauty of reporting requirements, though, is that it really can be a force for good. It can help drive change internally. As you see performance on financial, social and environmental dimensions in context, patterns emerge and you realize how for instance efforts to save energy are also reflected as savings in your operational costs. So in essence you will move your way from integrated reporting to integrated thinking. And the value you will derive is that it will enable better decision-making, leading to better and more competitive business performance.

Skroupa: Novo Nordisk has taken an integrated thinking approach to measuring performance for more than a decade. How have your internal processes and structures changed to accommodate?

Stormer:  There are two main changes that we have implemented. First, to prepare an integrated annual report, you need to ensure that there is consensus on what goes into the report beyond the compliance-driven contents. We have set up an “editorial board,” consisting of representatives from key functions such as R&D, finance, internal audit, sustainability management, investor relations, legal and communications. Across that table, decisions are made as to what to include in the narrative management report, how to present performance of the year and outlook, and how to incorporate expectations of external stakeholders. We challenge each other and bring different perspectives. And so, there is a natural calibration that helps ensure a balanced perspective.


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