Search the site
August 23, 2010

Home » Is it the man or the job? The same questions asked about the Director of National Intelligence may apply to CROs.

The front page of today's Washington Post, recounts the frustrations that caused Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), to become the third DNI to resign in frustration.  The DNI and the National Counter Terrosim Center (NCTC) were set up to "address systemic breakdowns" and create a comprehensive approach to intelligence gathering across the multiple agencies charged with intelligence gathering and operations.  Unfortunately, "developments this week underscored the extent to which those two institutions have struggled to carry out their missions, and are increasingly seen as hobbled by their own structural flaws"
"The DNI oversees 16 intelligence agencies, including the CIA. But the director has only partial budget authority over the sprawling bureaucracy he leads. Thus, some intelligence experts say, whoever holds the job will lack the influence envisioned when the office was created... 'The DNI doesn't have any authority to make things happen,' said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former senior CIA official and the chief executive of the Intelligence & Security Academy. 'If you look at who we've had, we've been extremely lucky in the people who've accepted the job. Three of the brightest people I've ever met. But they can't make the job work. At a certain point, you have to ask yourself: Is it the job?'"
In reading that paragraph I couldn't help but think of several of the CROs I've met: incredibly intelligent, capable, and passionate people hobbled by the structural flaws of their jobs.  Our recent survey of Corporate Responsibility Best Practices revealed that more than half (57%) of CROs do not report directly to the CEO or board.  Nearly half, 47% of CEOs responding to the survey say they never meet with their corporate responsibility staffs.  But the ones I'm most concerned about are  the 58% who say they lack a dedicated Corporate Responsibility Officer and the 48% who say they do not have a dedicated budget. 
In an earlier blog post I asked the question "What makes a 'real' corporate responsibility program?"  I stick by what I said then: when a program lacks a dedicated officer or budget I have to wonder if the program and the staff, like the DNI, can really accomplish anything or if their tenure will ultimately end in frustration.
The parallels with the DNI do not stop there.  Congress established the Directorate in response to the terrorist attacks of 2001.  Many corporate responsibility programs were set up in response to a public failure of responsibility either by the company or in its industry.  Moreover, the DNI has also had to contend with an ever expanding definition of "national intelligence."  Originally scoped as oversight of the five core intelligence agencies -- the agencies of Central Intelligence, Defense Intelligence, National Security, National Geospatial-Intelligence plus the National Reconnaisance Office -- the definition continues expanding to include each of the armed services intelligence branches, the Departments of Homeland Security, Energy... the list keeps getting bigger.  SImilarly, "Corporate Responsibility" may have once encompassed only philanthropy or environment, health, and safety.  It now includes corporate governance, sustainability, climate change, social responsibility... the list keeps getting bigger.
Perhaps most significantly, "Blair lost several turf skirmishes to someone who was supposed to be his subordinate, CIA Director Leon Penetta."  CROs face the daily challenge of cajoling not just subordinates but superiors, peers, and nominal subordinates to adhere to the company's responsibility strategy.  Even when directly reporting to the CEO or the board, CROs often lack real power or the backing of professional standards of practice that would allow them to refuse to comply with corporate mis-deeds.  Accountants, lawyers, and doctors, all have professional standards of care that would cause them to at least refuse to cooperate if their employers asked them to falsify records, suborn perjory, or do harm.  That's why the CROA's professional development committee has been working on an ethics code and other professional standards that would give similar backing to CROs.
This is not an argument for giving up hope and disbanding these functions.  National intelligence needs central coordination.  So does Corporate Responsibility.  But it needs to be backed by a strength of purpose and will from the very top:  the President in the case of the DNI, the CEO and the board in the case of the CRO.  It also needs to have real influence.  That doesn't necessarily mean a big budget or a huge portfolio.  It does need the ability to get things done -- even over the objections of other parts of the organization.  And, it needs the kind of professional standards of practice that will steel the will of a CRO in the face of ethical and operational challenges,
Share this page!
Copyright © 2006-2010 CRO Corp, LLC. All rights reserved.