Responsible Management and Organizational Learning

Continuous Learning for Shared Value across the Company: Reflections on an interview with Mark Kramer

When I interviewed Mark Kramer about shared value, two years ago, I did not directly realize how much of what he said back then actually reflected the spirit and underlying theme of the book that we were writing. Mark claimed that “it [shared value] is not just the CEO thinking different about strategy. It really requires every operation within the company from procurement to HR, from marketing to research and development to be undertaken with a different lens, and it takes years however.”

So, becoming a responsible, sustainable, or an ethical business is not only about the big commitments, convinced top-management teams, and inspired leaders, but about the ability to create specialized practices throughout all the different departments, each equipped with drastically different management practices and tools? How can such a tremendous task possibly be achieved? The answer might be continuous learning that is shared (company-wide), but at the same time specialized (local). Continuous learning for shared value would have to be embedded in the action at dozens, hundreds, in large corporations possibly thousands, of distributed sites of learning throughout all functions and hierarchical levels of the company.

In the interview, Mark further illustrated how realizing shared value is about learning on the job. He explained, “so what we have seen is that for this really to influence the thinking and really become embedded in the company takes not just one project or two projects, or a shared value department that is off to the side like CSR often is. It is rather an executive education process that goes throughout the company.”

Meanwhile, the interview I am quoting above has become an important part of the first textbook for the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education, a network of over 600 business schools worldwide, committed to educating responsible managers. Reflecting on Mark´s words, I wonder if one could actually “cut out the middle man” and directly use the book as a training tool and handbook for this very task of learning for shared value “in-company” and “in-action”.

The contents would be there. Our book “Principles of Responsible Management: Glocal Sustainability Responsibility, Ethics”, (Cengage) covers both, basics for a shared learning on company level, and specialized learning through tools and practice examples from various business departments. Good examples are the sustainability balanced scorecard for the strategy department, social return on investment methods for finance, total responsibility management for operations, or cause-related marketing.

However, is this kind of in-company executive education for shared value possible in practice? What are your experiences with executive education and learning for sustainability, responsibility, and ethics on company and department level? What are he challenges, insights, tips, and tricks from practice for practice that you could share?


The full interview with Mark Kramer and other thought leaders, such as Philip Kotler, Geert Hofstede, and Edward Freeman are included in the book “Principles of Responsible Management: Glocal Sustainability, Responsibility, Ethics”, a textbook and handbook that provides practical guidance and learning opportunities for managing social, environmental, and moral performance throughout all major functions of the company.

Oliver Laasch is founder of the Center for Responsible Management Education (CRME), which provides of executive education, and coaching. He is also co-author of the above book.


This post has simultaneously been posted as a contribution to the shared value community website. For the original post, please click here.