Isolated CSR initiatives are not enough to restore public trust in business

New publications to encourage discussion at an international conference call for business leaders to adopt broader approaches to more responsible business  

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is sometimes justified as good business sense and as a way of building or rebuilding trust and reputation. Trust in business is at a low level in many countries, but two new publications by Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas suggest that if it is to be re-established and restored, more than worthy words from the CEO and a few CSR projects with related images in an Annual Report may be required.   

The author of Winning Companies; Winning People challenges the approaches to CSR being adopted by many companies: “Would cynicism and distrust be better addressed by being more open, honest and innovative, paying more attention to a wider range of stakeholder interests, a different business model or adding more value? Rather than decorating the icing, should the emphasis be upon improving the cake or baking a better one?”

In a theme paper written for the 2018 and 12th International Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility and an article in Director Today Prof. Coulson-Thomas suggests a broader approach to becoming a more responsible business may be required. The two publications raise a variety of questions that could usefully be considered by directors and boards to encourage discussion at the forthcoming international conference which is to be held in Bengaluru, India

Coulson-Thomas believes there are five steps that corporate boards need to take: “First they should clarify their accountabilities. Secondly, they must understand the interests, requirements and aspirations of customers, employees, business partners, investors, local communities and other stakeholders. Thirdly they need to decide the nature and extent of their responsibilities to different stakeholders. Next they must establish criteria and guidelines for allocating effort and forming relationships. Finally they have to decide how to assess, learn from and report the resulting activity.

The professor believes the benefits of appropriate action in terms of identifying new business, collaboration and co-creation opportunities, forging new and mutually beneficial relationships, and unleashing greater engagement, creativity and commitment can exceed the costs: “While there are challenges, there are also unprecedented opportunities for companies to be more responsible, use corporate cababilities in new ways, collaborate, have a beneficial social impact and restore trust and respect in business, corporate leadership, enterprise and entrepreneurship.”

The 2018 and 12th International Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility is organised by India’s Institute of Directors. The two publications by Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas can be obtained from the institute’s website: firstly the Theme Paper for the event: Responsible CSR: A New Agenda Beyond Governance ( and secondly his article in the January issue of Director Today on ‘The Responsibility of Being Responsible’ (

In addition to his professorial and leadership appointments. Dr Colin Coulson-Thomas, author of Winning Companies; Winning People and Developing Directors, a handbook for building an effective boardroom team is IOD India’s Director General, UK and Europe. Details of his most recent books and evidence based research reports on critical success factors for key corporate activities and quicker, more affordable and less disruptive ways of building high performance organisations and simultaneously delivering multiple benefits can be obtained from Policy Publications:


Press release on RIMS conference speech

The risk management community needs to review its role, contribution and professionalism according to Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas who delivered the opening keynote address at RIMS ERM Conference 2017. Speaking in Los Angeles, California, USA, the advocate of quicker, more affordable and less disruptive ways of increasing performance and productivity while simultaneously controlling risk, ensuring compliance, enabling innovation and achieving a range of other objectives, said:

“Some directors and boards and some governance, compliance and risk management practices have become a “hinder” rather than a “help”. The perspectives of some risk managers need to broaden to embrace networks and supply and value chains. Contemporary risk management needs to be less of a compliance and overhead cost and more of an enabler of innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Risk management professionals should become more of a partner in innovation and more of a positive contributor of value. They should look beyond the reporting of risks, and contribute more to dealing with them and identifying and exploiting related opportunities.

“More risk managers should focus on the support of decision making. They must move on from giving advice on how to prevent downsides and also roll up their sleeves and help their colleagues to achieve upsides.

“Responsible risk taking is essential for innovation. Encountering risk is evidence that one is alive and trying to accomplish something. Governance, compliance and risk management frameworks need to become continually adapting and learning systems.

“Applications of performance support can rapidly improve outcomes, ensure compliance, reduce and contain risk, and deliver a variety of other improvements. Incorporating checks and blockers into support tools can prevent outputs that would represent commercial, quality, legal or regulatory risks and enable bespoke responses.”

Details of evidence based research reports by Prof Colin Coulson-Thomas on quicker, more affordable and less disruptive ways of increasing performance and productivity while simultaneously controlling risk, ensuring compliance, enabling innovation and achieving a range of other objectives can be obtained from Policy Publications:


Honorary Fellowship for Champion of Affordable Ways of Increasing Productivity

Investigations reveal huge potential for most organisations to boost productivity, transform performance and simultaneously deliver a range of other benefits

“Increasing productivity is a matter of choice rather than a mystery” according to Adaptation chairman Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas. Speaking after the UK’s 2017 autumn budget statement which downgraded growth forecasts on account of stagnant productivity he pointed out that his research reports provide an affordable route to high performance organisations: “The evidence is clear. Most of the companies examined could quickly increase productivity and performance.”

Coulson-Thomas also outlined his conclusions in a speech on addressing the stagnant productivity challenge faced by the UK at the 2017 AGM of the Institute of Management Services. He was attending the AGM to receive an Honorary Fellowship. According to Coulson-Thomas: “There are much quicker, more affordable and less disruptive routes to high performance organisations than the approaches which many organisations adopt. They can simultaneously deliver multiple objectives. Importantly, they can work with whatever people, corporate cultures, and organisational structures we already have. They can be unaffected by legacy systems.”

The Author of Winning Companies; Winning People has set out in three evidence based research reports with case study examples how applications of performance support in different organisations and sectors can rapidly transform performance, ensure compliance. reduce costs, contain risks and deliver a variety of other improvements for people, organisations and the environment. He stressed: “Too many organisations restructure and adopt programmes that are expensive and time consuming.”

The Professor found: “Traditional approaches to compliance and risk management can increase overhead costs, cause delays and result in key work groups focusing upon compliance rather than customers. Incorporating checks and blockers into support tools can enable responsible risk taking, bespoke responses and the creation of new solutions. They can prevent outputs that would represent commercial, quality, legal or regulatory risks.”

He continued: “Support tools can make it much easier for people to behave in preferred ways. They can make it very difficult or impossible for them to behave in undesired ways. Personalised and relevant support can be made available 24/7, wherever and whenever needed, including when people are on the move. It can be continually updated. It can also be interactive and can incorporate and facilitate social networking.”

Coulson-Thomas has led over twenty investigations leading to research reports that set out critical success factors for activities that are crucial for continuing corporate success, such as winning business, building customer relationships, purchasing, pricing, corporate learning and managing intellectual property. Over 2,000 companies and over 500 professional firms participated in the studies. He discovered: “Even top quartile performers are only very effective at half of the identified critical success factors for an activity such as competitive bidding. The evidence assembled suggests the performance of most companies could be quickly improved.”

The Adaptation chairman explained: “Support tools can capture and share what top performers do differently. They can enable average performers to adopt the winning ways of these higher performing super-stars. The support they provide can reflect our individual understanding. They can learn and be continually updated, for example as offerings and regulations change. They can evolve to match the changing requirements and competences of users.”

Coulson-Thomas concludes: “Performance support tools can quickly deliver large multiple returns on the cost of developing them. They can also address traditional trade-offs such as that between risk and return by both reducing risk and increasing return. At the same time, because checks and balances can be built into them, support tools can set people free to be creative, innovative and entrepreneurial. Productivity challenges can be addressed at the level of the individual enterprise.”

More widely Coulson-Thomas explained that management services practitioners need new and interdisciplinary approaches as less work is undertaken by people, and their perspectives need to embrace networks and supply and value chains and combinations of people, robots and other machines, AI and other software and digital and disruptive technologies: “Many practitioners have extensive experience of how to improve the productivity of work-groups and teams in certain situations. Increasingly, the challenge is to examine how people, machines and digital technologies can best work together in new contexts and as business models change.”

Details of evidence based research reports by Prof Colin Coulson-Thomas on critical success factors for key corporate activities and quicker, more affordable and less disruptive ways of increasing performance and productivity while simultaneously controlling risk, ensuring compliance, enabling innovation and achieving a range of other objectives can be obtained from Policy Publications:


Sport can be a Catalyst of Conservation

Sport can be a catalyst of conservation according to Adaptation chairman Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, author of Winning Companies; Winning People and a member of the Advisory Board of Bridges of Sports:

“World Conservation Day reminds us of of the fragility of our natural environment, much of which is under threat from human activities, whether directly as a result of the deforestation and exploitation caused by relentless development or indirectly as a result of the impact of climate change and the global warming that is a consequence of it. Much needs to be done to protect precious natural environments and habitats and reduce the loss of biodiversity and natural capital.

Limiting Environmental Damage

“Each year World Conservation Day prompts the question of what each of us is doing and could or should do to help us transition to more sustainable activities, practices and lifestyles. What steps can we take to interact more sustainably with nature? What can be done to encourage more people to actively participate in activities to protect, conserve and sustainably manage our natural resources?

“When aggregated many of our personal consumption patterns cause considerable environmental damage. As concerns grow about the adverse environmental consequences of our industrial and disposable society, whether mountains of rubbish or climate change, will more consumers and investors change their aspirations, expectations and requirements? Are there routes to more sustainable and fulfilling lives in greater harmony with the natural world?

“Environmental issues are not new. In Roman times manufacturing and processing activities had a negative  impact on the environment. More recent practices such as built in obsolescence could be reduced if we reduced our consumption of manufactured goods that consume greater amounts of natural capital put more emphasis upon different and more satisfying activities.

Adopting More Sustainable Activities

“Compared with many other sectors sporting activities have a limited environmental impact. They tend to build health, comradeship and physical prowess rather than consume natural resources. If the emphasis switched from polluting activities and the consumption of manufactured goods to participating in, sharing and enjoying sport, it could lead to simpler, more active, healthier and more inclusive and sustainable lifestyles.

“Sport and keep fit activities and creative endeavours, can all reflect changing values, concerns and aspirations. They can create opportunities for those who might otherwise be marginalised or redundant to participate, offer one-to-one personal services, engage in communal activities and experience a higher quality of life. More active lifestyles can improve mental and physical health.

“In an age of global brands, more people may want to find ways of being true to themselves and what is unique, special or different about them. We are not categories, statistics or trends but individual human beings with distinct interests and preferences. There are such a wide range of sports that most people should be able to find one or more that they can relate to. We can become active participants rather than passive recipients of other people’s messages.

“How we use our skills, tools and technologies and for what purpose determines the extent to which they help or harm us. Consumer behaviour may change as more people become aware of the consequences of their purchasing decisions. Sport can be participative, but also observed and enjoyed by others. It can have a multiplier effect. Its externalities can be positive. Sport enriches lives. It can overcome the urban-rural divide and boundaries of social class and creed.

Reconnecting with the Natural World

“More people are seeking refuge in virtual worlds. What can we do to involve them in the real and natural world? Advances in connectivity have boosted digital interaction and social networking. How might we restore and build physical and community interaction? Sport and sporting activity can help people to physically interact, reconnect with nature and support conservation.

“Many sports require and involve direct contact with the natural world. Marathon running and cycling can take people out into the countryside. Aquatic sports include canoeing, diving, rowing and swimming. Sailing involves interaction with natural forces such as currents, tides and the wind. Winter sports depend upon the seasons and require slopes and snow.

“Sporting activities can reconnect us to the natural world. They can inspire, motivate and develop inner strength. Team sports develop social skills. People can express themselves, collaborate and discover how the whole can be more than the sum of the parts. They can learn to respect themselves and appreciate the roles and contributions of others. Barriers to entry to some sports are low, while for others a basic infrastructure exists and could be developed with will and collective support.

Inclusion and Participation

“Sport can address a range of social issues. Participation in sporting activities can represent an alternative to boredom, feelings of inadequacy, delinquency, drug taking and crime. Different sports offer scope for philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship. They can represent a cause and a collective endeavour for teams, supporters and local communities.

“Successful sportsmen and women can represent healthy role models. In sport, cheating and doping are discouraged. Umpires, referees and officials endeavour to ensure that certain norms of behaviour are observed, there is mutual respect between participants, the rules of the sport are obeyed and that competition is fair.

“Sport can break down many barriers. It can embrace groups who have in the past been excluded or sidelined. It can provide ladders of advancement for those who do not excel academically. People can often go as far as their will, commitment and talent will take them. Success in the paralympics could be the ultimate ambition of the disabled athelete.

Bridges of Sports

“Sport has the potential to reach all groups in society, whether as participants or as supporters. Sport should be for all and not just a few. Nitish Chiniwar, the founder of Bridges of Sports, is keen to reach beyond urban areas and create participation opportunities for the rural poor, overlooked communities and the disabled.  He is keen to ensure that sport’s potential for greater inclusion embraces those who are or could be at a disadvantage and reaches hitherto excluded groups.

“Bridges of Sports is a non-profit organisation that is working towards creating a sustainable sports ecosystem in India. It catalyses the identification and nurturing of grass-roots athletes by developing and deploying coaches in schools, catering especially to socially and economically backward communities. Participants in its fellowship programme are already at work in schools coaching children in a range of sports.

“Greater involvement in sport could help the transition to a more sustainable, stable and post-industrial society where there is less pressure upon the environment and the impacts of digital and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics create more time for activities other than work. It could improve the well being of the present and future generations and reconnect healthier people to a healthier environment.”

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas regularly provides theme papers for international conferences concerned with sustainability and the environment. He leads the International Governance Initiative of the Order of St Lazarus, is Director-General, UK and Europe, IOD India, Honorary Professor at the Aston-India Centre for Applied Research, a Distinguished Professor at the Sri Sharada Institute of Indian Management-Research and a member of the advisory board of Bridges of Sports. Details of his latest books and reports on how to excel at a range of activities and what high performers do differently can be found on:


Boards failing to support creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship

Plenary Speech by Adaptation chairman

Dubai Global Convention 2017 on Business Excellence and Innovation

Board Leadership and Excellence in Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Tuesday 18th April, 2017, Hotel The Grand Hyatt, Dubai (UAE)

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas*

Business leaders face many challenges. They range from disruptive technologies to new business models. For some of us incremental improvement and excellence in current activities will not be enough. We need creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

We are born with a drive to reach out, connect and learn. Too often education and employment inhibits the release of creative potential. They constrain and limit, rather than inspire and liberate. People learn acceptable answers. Too rarely are they encouraged to seek their own solutions.

Corporate policies and practices should encourage and support curiosity, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, rather than frustrate and repress them.

As directors, do we really value qualities such as independence, intuition, wide interests and non-conformism? Are critical, imaginative and independent thinking recognised and rewarded?

Many directors enjoy wielding power. They may have earned their spurs in a previous era when expectations were different and possibilities more limited. Another business model may have applied. Yet, they still think they know best. They issue policies and take decisions. They then monitor the extent to which others comply and fall in line.

Directors usually justify calling the shots. They claim position privilege, broader awareness and a more strategic perspective. In reality, many directors are preoccupied with internal issues and challenges facing their companies. Front-line staff may be much closer to customers, the marketplace and local communities. They may also be earlier adopters of new technologies.

Senior executives can be surrounded by “groupthink” and the eager to please. Cocooned within a head office, they may be unaware of ferment outside and developments on-line.

More executives should engage with, observe and experience the lives of customers. Obtaining insights from different situations can open one’s eyes to changing requirements and new possibilities. It can raise questions and spark ideas.

How self-aware are the members of your board? Do they acknowledge and address their limitations? Are they listening? Are they open to new ideas and possibilities? Do they question assumptions? Do they encourage the exploration of alternatives and the creation of new options? Do they genuinely believe in the importance of challenge, discovery, experiment, exploration and trial?

Sir Karl Popper warned of enemies of the open society. Are some boards enemies of the open company? They are excessively concerned with order and standards. They are slaves to particular models and approaches. They are intolerant of diversity and reluctant to let go and empower others.

In The Future of the Organisation I set out ten essential freedoms for removing organisational constraints and liberating latent talent. People should be encouraged to challenge. They should be supported and allowed to work, learn and collaborate in ways, and at times and places, that best allow them to give of their best and be creative and productive.

Encourage people to be open about problems and to suggest solutions. Help them to learn from mistakes and failure and to build upon achievements. Pixar appreciated the importance of candour. It blossomed because openness, honesty and constructive questioning and comment were highly valued. People actively searched for better approaches.

Many boards are intolerant of diversity. Their companies employ and serve people from many nationalities in a multitude of locations. The roles and activities of employees widely differ. Markets fragment. New business models emerge. Customers may seek bespoke and personalised responses. Yet many directors try to stamp out variety and impose uniformity.

Directors and boards have a lot to answer for. Many policies, rules, regulations, guidelines and practices reflect past views, priorities and understanding. Enforcing compliance with them can stifle questioning and challenge. It can inhibit the search for new and better alternatives.

If you feel particular constraints are necessary and desirable, make sure their rationale is understood. Reward people for considering better ways of achieving their original purpose.

Many organisations exude a dull and monotonous uniformity. No wonder so many creative ideas originate outside of the workplace. Encourage diversity. What about different strategies, policies, processes and practices according to requirements, circumstances and possibilities?

Is there sufficient diversity of experience, gender and thinking in the boardroom? What about competing research projects?

Contending interests and competing solutions threaten some people. Others perceive differences of opinion as healthy. They believe that encouraging debate is more conducive of creativity and innovation than imposing single solutions.

Be wary of rigidity and bureaucracy. Network organisations can embrace customers and business partners. They can support co-creation and grow organically. Collaboration with customers and iterative development can speed up adaptation and innovation.

C P Snow warned of a growing division between science and the humanities, and the emergence of two distinct cultures. Within many companies today, is another division emerging?

Some people think in a logical and structured way. They prefer order and standardisation. Others are more tolerant of uncertainty. They favour variety and welcome diversity. They look for links, patterns and relationships. They can simultaneously explore in different arenas?

During its golden years, Xerox PARC recruited degree majors from disciplines that approached problems differently. Introducing them into research groups increased creativity. Throughout history breakthroughs in thinking have been caused by outsiders who challenged orthodoxy.

Do you look beyond the normal suspects? Are you alert to curious and restless explorers? Might greater exposure to the creative arts stimulate creativity in your organisation?

The creative arts are undergoing a revolution. Digital technologies are creating new opportunities for engagement and involvement. They are opening up new arenas for innovation and entrepreneurship. They are democratising enjoyment of the arts and participation in the arts.

More people can now find their voice and express their creativity. Channels of communication have become more open, inclusive and participative. We have more ways of being creative, connecting with others, and sharing our creativity than any generation in history.

The creative arts can enrich both working and leisure activities. They are ripe for enterprise and social entrepreneurship. They also reach beyond practitioners. They embrace the audiences, followers and exhibition visitors who enjoy their work at home or in the community.

Collaboration with creative artists can unleash energy and ignite thinking. Creative artists in residence and creative arts activities can stimulate imagination, innovation and entrepreneurship across work groups, communities and organisations.

The creative arts can also address social issues. They offer participation and self-employment as an alternative to boredom, delinquency and crime. They provide scope for philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship.

The creative arts are sustainable. Repetitive and rule-based tasks can be automated. Unstructured creative activities are more resistant to replacement by technology.

For business success, creative ideas have to be developed and commercialised. Innovation and entrepreneurial flair may be needed to deliver tangible offerings or acceptable solutions at affordable prices, that enough people will buy to cover costs and generate a profit.

While Pixar exuded creativity, attention was also devoted to practical business issues such as brand building, rights and acknowledgements. Addressing contractual matters ensured the studio derived the maximum of credit and benefit from its creativity and promising ideas

For companies to become more effective incubators of new ventures, corporate policies, rules, guidelines, standards, codes and compliance practices may need to change.

Options, choices and possibilities are multiplying. As new business and economic models emerge, past strengths can become sources of weakness and vulnerability. Directors need to be alert to defensive responses and attempts to protect vested interests.

Education and involvement in the creative arts can enhance, enable, enrich and empower. It can stimulate the creativity and commitment that leads to successful innovation and entrepreneurship. Sir James Dyson the inventor, industrial designer and vacuum cleaner entrepreneur was educated at the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Royal College of Art.

The School for the Creative Arts aims to give people the ability to explore and develop ideas, implement a business plan and fulfil commissions. Its role is to give people the ability and confidence to express themselves and become successful practitioners.

Business leaders need to discuss, consult and consider where creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship are most needed. What should they be applied to and for what purpose? What might their relevance, significance and value be for customers and prospects?

Should we take a wider range of interests into account when deciding when, where and for whom to be creative, innovative and entrepreneurial?

To have a dream can be inspiring. A relevant and affordable offering can provide an income. In business both thinking and doing are required. We need aspiration and achievement.

The requirements for effective corporate leadership and successful entrepreneurship are converging. In some contexts they may soon overlap to such an extent as to be almost indistinguishable. I wish you well as both leaders and entrepreneurs.


This talk draws upon a position paper published by Adaptation: Coulson-Thomas, Colin (2017), The Case for the Creative Arts [Position Paper No. 1/17], Peterborough, Adaptation and a chapter in the souvenir book to accompany the event: Coulson-Thomas, Colin (2017), Creativity, Innovation and the Board, in Institute of Directors. Dubai Global Convention 2017 / 27th World Congress on Business Excellence and Innovation, Souvenir, 18-20 April 2017, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, New Delhi, Institute of Directors

The speech was delivered in a plenary session of the Dubai Global Convention 2017 and 27th World Congress on Business Excellence and Innovation held on Tuesday 18th April in the Al Ameera Hall of the Hotel The Grand Hyatt, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Further Information

Details of forthcoming programmes at the School for the Creative Arts to encourage and develop creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship for leadership in the creative arts will be available on

Speaker Profile

*Prof. (Dr) Colin Coulson-Thomas is Adaptation chairman, Chancellor and a Professorial Fellow at the School for the Creative Arts, Honorary Professor at the Aston India Centre for Applied Research (Aston University) and holds a Distinguished Professorship at the Sri Sharada Institute of Indian Management-Research. In addition to board and academic roles, he is Director-General, IOD India, UK and Europe, leads the International Governance Initiative of the Order of St Lazarus, chairs the group Risk and Audit Committee of United Learning and is a member of the Advisory Board of Bridges of Sports. Colin has served on public sector boards at national, regional and local level and been the chairman and/or president of professional, voluntary and representative bodies. The author of some 70 books and reports and over 1,000 articles he has held professorial appointments in Europe, North and South America, the Middle East, India and China. He has helped organisations in over 40 countries to harness more of the potential of their people in order to build a business or deliver better services, improve performance and simultaneously deliver multiple objectives. He has also contributed plenary addresses to over 300 national and international events, and was educated at the London School of Economics, the London Business School, UNISA and the Universities of Aston, Chicago and Southern California. A fellow of seven chartered bodies he secured first place prizes in the final examinations of three professions. He can be contacted at His latest publications on quicker, more affordable and less disruptive routes to high performance organisations are available from


26 Apr 2017
Colin Coulson-Thomas

Distinguished professorship conferred on Adaptation chairman

A Distinguished Professorship has been conferred upon Adaptation chairman Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas at a ceremony in New Delhi at the Sri Sharada Institute of Indian Management-Research. The Institute is a university institution approved by the Government of India.

The author of Winning Companies; Winning People, Developing Directors, a handbook for building an effective boardroom team, Transforming Knowledge Management, Talent Management 2 and Transforming Public Services, was in India to speak at the 2017 Global Convention on Corporate Ethics and Risk Management for which he provided the theme paper and at which he also presented conclusions and recommendations.

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas has helped directors in over 40 countries to improve board and corporate performance. He leads the International Governance Initiative of the Order of St Lazarus, is Chancellor and a Professorial Fellow at the School for the Creative Arts, Director-General, IOD India, UK and Europe, chair of the Risk and Audit Committee of United Learning and Honorary Professor at Aston University. Author of over 60 books and reports, he has served on corporate boards and local and national UK public sector boards.

Since becoming the world’s first professor of corporate transformation in 1994 Coulson-Thomas has held professorial appointments in Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, India and China. He was educated at the London School of Economics, London Business School, UNISA and the Universities of Aston, Chicago and Southern California. He is a fellow of seven chartered bodies and obtained first place prizes in the final exams of three professions. His latest books and reports can be obtained from


27 Feb 2017
Colin Coulson-Thomas

Global convention call for more positive and forward looking approaches to risk management

Global Convention on Corporate Ethics and Risk Management

Corporate Ethics and Risk Management in an Uncertain World

18th February, 2017

Bombay Stock Exchange, Dalal Street, Mumbai, India

Plenary Session X Special Valedictory Session (Conclusions and Recommendations)

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas*

Some of the key terms that we have been using at this convention mean different things to different people. We and those we are seeking to help and support would benefit from a shared understanding of what we mean by terms such as ethics, risk and culture.

Increasingly, contemporary organisations are networks of voluntary relationships built upon trust. People and organisations tend to trust those who treat them fairly and who act with integrity.

Integrity and ethical conduct are more than a nice to have. We recognise them when we see them. We also notice and alert others to their absence. Instinctively knowing what the right thing to do is and being able to act as a role model should be key criteria for the selection and appointment of directors and leaders.

In relation to both ethics and risk, we need to be realistic and accept the limitations of our current practices and the dangers of using out-of-date approaches and models. We need to anticipate challenges and failures and be prepared to handle them and both recover and more forward.

Risk is too important to just be left to a small group of professionals in a head office environment. Too often those in the front-line who are closest to emerging issues leave identifying, assessing and addressing them to specialists.

No-one may have experience of a new and unexpected development. Risk needs to be seen as an aspect of a much wider range of roles from the bottom to the top of an organisation. How it is handled needs to be built into systems, processes and tools in a way that can be quickly updated.

Communications relating to risk need to be two-way and all those involved should be vigilant and open-minded. Opportunities should be explored for using personalised performance support to make ethical and risk guidance available on a 24/7 basis whenever and wherever required, including when people are on the move.

Acknowledgement and understanding of ethics and risk should be an integral element of school education. It should have an important place in the curriculum of business studies and business school courses. It should be an integral element of the preparation of the members of most if not all professions. Priority should be given to handling ethical and risk dilemmas and incorporating ethics and risk in decision making.

Education for risk should avoid portraying risk as negative – as a problem. Risk should be viewed positively and seen as an aspect of life, as an integral element of entrepreneurship and as an enabler and an arena of opportunity.

Risk management is more than avoiding downsides, costs and losses. It is about creating a better future. We need to look at what we can do to help customers and others to cope with risks they face and so turn their challenges into business opportunities.

Risk is not just for business and management practitioners and professionals. Assessing risk is important for engineers, medical practitioners and many other professionals. Their instincts and approaches may be more relevant to issues currently faced by boards than those of risk management professionals using approaches developed when different priorities and business models applied.

Medical practitioners understand the risks of various treatments. They accept that for certain conditions there may not be a cure, but it may be possible to manage a long-term condition. If organisations are living organisms we should learn from medical and other professions.

The diversity, variability and unreliability of human beings is a major source of risk. In particular, we need to learn from groups such as human resources practitioners.

People face a variety of risks in their personal lives and in their homes as well as when at work. Individuals like organisations can be hacked and they can become victims of cyber-fraud. Like medicine, risk management can be seen and portrayed as a caring profession – concerned with protecting people as individuals and in their communities and organisations.

We can also learn from the roles of specialists within the medical world. General risk practitioners may only take us so far. Do we need to specialise more, for example offering post-qualification development options in areas such as cyber-security?

In a world of mutating risks and unexpected and disruptive developments, professional qualifications – and even the shared experience of professionals – can quickly become out of date. We need real time updating in certain areas.

Within any profession there are a small number of super-stars and a large number of average practitioners. The more routine, repetitive, structured and rule based activities of professionals will increasingly be replaced by expert systems that will be refined and updated by some of the superstars. Other super-stars might work as consultants to make their skills available to more than a single employer.

Risk management needs to embrace supply chains, customer aspirations and networks of relationships. It needs to be forward looking and concerned with the support of decision making and creating a safer and more secure and sustainable future.

One can sometimes go beyond protection. Cyber-security specialists may have options to track and respond to attacks, either alone or in collaboration with relevant law enforcement agencies.

Risk management needs to offer affordable, timely and practical advice and solutions. When there are narrow and shortening windows of opportunity there may be little point suggesting a multi-year transformation or culture change programme. Requirements and a business model may change long before it is implemented. Living, adaptive and flexible approaches are required.

Complex and interdependent risks do not necessarily require complex and expensive solutions. They can sometimes be best addressed by quicker and simpler approaches. If behaviour change is required, one should use levers that can be quickly operated such as changing a pay plan or updating the performance support that makes it easy to do the right thing and difficult to do the wrong thing.

We need to recognise the reality of threats we face in areas such as cyber-security and that collaboration can be more effective than operating alone. Most cases of hacking and cyber-fraud are not reported. Sharing an experience with ones peers and law enforcement agencies can increase understanding of the threat environment and improve planning of counter measures.

We also need to be prepared to innovate and explore. We must play our part in addressing future applications of disruptive technologies. For example, we should take steps now to anticipate the risks associated with various adoptions of block-chain technology and consider possible next steps.

Compliance with outdated requirements can leave the door open to new risks. To innovate we need to be open to discussion, debate and new developments. Rather than unthinkingly apply a standard approach we need to encourage greater diversity and be prepared to simultaneously explore a number of different solutions.

Ethics and risks are inter-related and inter-dependent. Manufacturers of mobile and internet-of-things devices need to take responsibility for reducing the risk of their connected products being misused. Many users just opt for standard manufacturer passwords which are known to hackers. Responsible manufactures should ensure customers are made aware of the risks involved.

If risk managers want acceptance as a recognised profession they much accept and discharge the responsibilities this involves, for example to protect the public as well as members.

As a profession, risk management needs to become involved in public debates. For example, manufactures of mobile devices feel they have a duty to use encryption to protect the confidentiality of their customers’ communications. This same encryption can prevent law enforcement and security agencies from tracking the communications of criminal and terrorist suspects. Governments and societies sometimes face difficult choices when protecting people from some risks can leave them open to other risks.

In such areas your counsel as leaders of the risk management community could make a difference. In so many aspects of our lives we need your engagement and support. I do wish you all the best.

*Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas has helped directors in over 40 countries to improve board and corporate performance. He leads the International Governance Initiative of the Order of St Lazarus, is Chancellor and Professorial Fellow at the School for the Creative Arts, Director-General, IOD India, UK and Europe, chair of the Risk and Audit Committee of United Learning and Honorary Professor at Aston University. Author of over 60 books and reports he has served on corporate boards and local and national UK public sector boards, and held professorial appointments in Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, India and China. Colin was educated at the London School of Economics, London Business School, UNISA and the Universities of Aston, Chicago and Southern California. He is a fellow of seven chartered bodies and obtained first place prizes in the final exams of three professions.


25 Feb 2017
Colin Coulson-Thomas

Global convention told that management and governance practices are increasing risk

Global Convention on Corporate Ethics and Risk Management

Corporate Ethics and Risk Management in an Uncertain World

Bombay Stock Exchange, Dalal Street, Mumbai, India

Plenary Session III, 17th February, 2017

Enterprise Risk Management: Board Perspectives (Questioning Risk Management)

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas*

Directors and boards should make sure that policies and governance arrangements are in place to ensure ethical decision making and effective risk management. Record losses announced this week by Rolls Royce illustrate the consequences of ethical misconduct and risk mismanagement.

In relation to risk, should we be taking a hard look at ourselves and whether our approaches and board practices are creating an unnecessarily high degree of risk? Why is risk management not just management? Surely risk is an integral element of business, management and life.

Risks present both challenges and opportunities. The taking of reasonable and calculated risks is at the heart of entrepreneurship. It is essential for innovation and progress. Innovation may be risky, but not innovating is even more risky and can lead to stagnation.

Uncertainty abounds – From the unpredictability of political and economic events to the relentless pace of innovation, discovery and scientific advance – From the impacts of disruptive technologies to the emergence of new business models and markets. We have come to expect the unexpected. We are no longer surprised by surprises.

There are consequences for risk managers and risk management. Are our existing approaches still valid and up-to-date? Do risk management and governance practices need to be refined, or do they have to be re-invented? Are our outdated models and practices a major risk factor?

Twenty five years ago, in my book Transforming the Company I argued that organisations should not be viewed as structures with hard shells, or as machines to be re-engineered. I suggested they are living networks of inter-connected relationships and collaborations that can grow organically.

The subtitle of Transforming the Company was ‘bridging the gap between management myth and corporate reality’. Is the notion that we are managing various risks a myth or a reality? Are risks under control, or in many cases are are we groping for ways of handling them? Where in our changing world is the innovation in our thinking about risk management and governance practice?

Are we just going around in circles like the feedback loops in our tidy models? Why do we still undertake annual reviews? Why do we measure performance against objectives that were set when different market conditions, priorities, even business models applied? Why do we devote time to ritualistic exercises whose outputs are quickly forgotten or over-taken by events?

Are aspects of corporate governance rhetoric a con? Are directors providing strategic direction, or are they keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for the best? With companies de-listing, and in an era of crowd-funding and co-creation, why is corporate governance so obsessed with shareholders? Why are customers still regarded as outsiders?

How relevant are concepts such as vision, mission, values, goals, objectives and strategy in uncertain contexts in which disruptions abound? How useful are practices such as monthly board meetings, corporate planning and annual reporting where change is relentless and intervals between reinventions dramatically shorten?

Thirty years ago I wrote an article entitled Strategic Vision or Strategic Con? It was published in a journal optimistically called Long Range Planning. Why do boards perpetuate planning myths? Why don’t they embrace intelligent steering, confidence accounting and real time information?

Why do so many boards treat employees as dependants and targets for their one-way messages? Is this why so few employees report ethical and/or risk concerns? Why do whistle-blowers invariably suffer for speaking up? Is protection promised to whistle-blowers another con?

How many boards are truly innovation driven? Is their commitment to innovation rhetoric rather than reality? Do boards only adopt innovations that match existing policies, strategies, values, cultures and capabilities? Would they be prepared to review any or all of these in the light of exciting opportunities created by a disruptive technology?

High risks in certain areas can sometimes be balanced within a portfolio of activities and/or products by other items with lower risk profiles. Is an anti-diversification bias and the fashionable strategy of focusing upon a core business increasing risk by putting “all eggs in one basket”?

The nature and source of risks can change. Processes, systems, business models and governance arrangements need to be flexible and adaptive as well as robust and resilient. They also need to reflect the inter-connected nature of contemporary corporations.

Risk management and governance should extend to a company’s customers, business partners, supply chain and other stakeholders. So should cyber-security measures. They should embrace corporate data held externally, corporate systems operated by third parties, mobile devices and people working from connected homes.

Corporate systems and processes should be sufficiently resilient to withstand the simultaneous materialisation of multiple risks. Boards should be aware of dependency upon collaborations, utilities, public services and banking, legal, regulatory, transportation and other systems. In cyber-warfare many of you will be in the front line. There will be people trying to shut you down.

A board should establish, communicate and regularly review its risk appetite. The level of risk it is prepared to accept in different areas should reflect changing challenges and opportunities. Which collaborators and stakeholders should be involved and how often should they be engaged?

Does risk management have to just be about our problems and those of our companies? Should it also be about what our companies could do to help customers and wider society confront the risks they face? Should it be more about turning challenges into opportunities?

Wider society faces many challenges. Large numbers of jobs are at risk from disruptive technology. Repetitive jobs and those requiring logic and structure are particularly at risk. Yet opportunities abound to enable people to live healthier and more rewarding lives. Entrepreneurship in creative arts that are less resistant to automation can deliver cultural, social and economic benefits.

Performance support represents an affordable, quicker and less disruptive approach to high performance and the simultaneous delivery of multiple objectives. It could end traditional trade-offs between risk and return. As well as enabling people to be current and to excel in key roles, performance support can both increase returns and reduce certain risks.

How many risk management professionals have been held to account for the CDOs that threatened to explode and bring down the international financial system? Were they looking the other way? Did they know and understand the risks that banks were running? Did their warnings not reach bank boards? Should they have persisted in ringing alarm bells and ensuring their messages got through?

Thirty years ago I was writing a report that was published as The New Professionals. It set out my views on how professionals and professional practices and bodies needed to change to remain relevant and deliver positive value as opposed to being a cost. Since then many of the changes I have observed have been about avoiding liability, accountability and responsibility.

The focus of some professionals is too often upon themselves and the needs of their firms rather than upon ethical and responsible conduct, their clients and wider society. Too many professionals have become a vested interest, advocating changes, approaches and practices that create more work for themselves and impose additional requirements and extra costs on others.

Thirty years ago, although I had enjoyed a stimulating visit to Xerox PARC, I had left my role at Rank Xerox. I felt the priority the company put on top-down policy deployment, immediate objectives, meeting plan and compliance would undermine its strategy to move into integrated office systems. It did not surprise me when Xerox subsequently outsourced its own systems.

Prevailing corporate practices can represent a significant risk. Xerox rested on its American Samurai laurels. It celebrated quality awards for heritage activities rather than create a business model, capabilities and new ways of operating that would make the visions of the Xerox PARC community a reality. Past achievements in a different situation are no guarantee of future success.

Top-down approaches can stifle creativity. The risk of unfulfilled potential and missed opportunities is especially high where there is inflexibility, limited challenge and a lack of freedom and diversity of thinking. Direction is about thinking as well as doing. Directors can play a key role in challenging traditional assumptions, conventional wisdom and prevailing practices.

Today’s directors are expected to exercise individual judgement and take a wider range of interests into account. They should also avoid self-interest, resist vested interests and focus on what is best for the companies on whose boards they serve. The last 30 years have taught me that one of the surest ways of building trust and reducing strategic risk is to encourage challenge and diversity of thinking and build an effective board of competent directors.

*Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas has helped directors in over 40 countries to improve board and corporate performance. He leads the International Governance Initiative of the Order of St Lazarus, is Chancellor and Professorial Fellow at the School for the Creative Arts, Director-General, IOD India, UK and Europe, chair of the Risk and Audit Committee of United Learning and Honorary Professor at Aston University. Author of over 60 books and reports he has served on corporate boards and local and national UK public sector boards, and held professorial appointments in Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, India and China. Colin was educated at the London School of Economics, London Business School, UNISA and the Universities of Aston, Chicago and Southern California. He is a fellow of seven chartered bodies and obtained first place prizes in the final exams of three professions.


23 Feb 2017
Colin Coulson-Thomas

Influential business expert and author appointed as honorary professor

Authority on creating high performance organisations becomes honorary professor at Aston University

Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas, Chairman of Adaptation and author of Winning Companies, Winning People and more than 70 other books and reports has been appointed an honorary professor of Aston University. He is a leading expert in direction and leadership, competitiveness and corporate governance and transformation. His previous achievements include a portfolio of professorial appointments across the world, advising corporate and public bodies to improve performance, and leading over 20 investigations into high performance organisations.

Professor Coulson-Thomas is an experienced chairman of award-winning companies and vision holder of successful transformation programmes who has travelled the world taking professorial appointments at universities on nearly every continent, advising corporations and public bodies, and speaking at major corporate events and conferences – all in the name of improving the performance of organisations of all kinds. Reports of his investigations are published by Policy Publications.

Coulson-Thomas has served on local, regional and national UK public sector boards, written more than 1,000 articles and more than 70 books and reports, and has led more than 20 investigations to identify the critical success factors for key corporate activities and quicker, more affordable and less disruptive routes to high performance organisations. His current international roles include leading the international governance initiative of the Order of St Lazarus and the post of Director-General, UK and Europe for the Institute of Directors, India.

Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas said: “The University from which one obtains a PhD will always be special, and even more so if it shares one’s engagement with India and one’s commitment to building relationships between India and the UK. I have met Aston alumni in India in senior positions and I look forward to working with the Aston India Foundation for Applied Research to the benefit of both countries.”

The professor regularly speaks at international conferences, congresses, conventions and summits. His recent publications, including Winning Companies; Winning People, Developing Directors, A handbook for building an effective boardroom team, Transforming Knowledge Management, Talent Management 2 and Transforming Public Services and reports on investigations he has led into winning business, building customer relationships, corporate learning, exploiting know-how, pricing and purchasing can be obtained from


10 Feb 2017
Colin Coulson-Thomas

Global convention call for companies to work for the many and not just the few

16th London Global Convention on Corporate Governance and Sustainability

Theme: Boards Evolving Role in an Uncertain Global Economy

Companies need to work for all and not just the few*

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas+

Responding to challenges and opportunities in the global economy and helping people to cope with them is creating an historic opportunity for businesses, government, public bodies and regulators to work together to ensure the results of growth are more widely shared. We could be on the threshold of a new era of cooperation and collaborative capitalism.

The contemporary company is a network of relationships with stakeholders. Among these stakeholders, customers, employees, suppliers and business partners can be as important as shareholders if not more important for a company’s growth and development..

While in company law the interests of shareholders have been paramount, in practice directors have to achieve a balance between the interests of all stakeholders. If not satisfied, each group of stakeholders might take decisions that could harm the future prospects of a company.

While some investors might sell their shares if not satisfied with dividend levels, customers who feel short changed and key employees who are dissatisfied may look elsewhere. Important suppliers and business partners who are not fairly treated might give more priority to other relationships, or even walk away.

A board cannot give so much away that it does not retain sufficient resources for building the capabilities to ensure a company’s own survival and development. Relationships with stakeholders need to be mutually beneficial and based on trust if they are to endure in uncertain times.

Uncertainty can be unsettling, but collaborative responses to uncertainty can create closer and more strategic relationships with customers, suppliers and business partners. Unfortunately, a combination of corporate governance scandals, allegations of excessive executive pay and cases of inadequate funding of pension obligations has resulted in a degree of public cynicism and distrust.

With certain stakeholders some directors and boards need to take urgent steps to restore and sustain confidence, credibility and trust. Traditional responsibilities to ensure solvency and promote the best interests of a company remain. Value still needs to be created, but many boards need to devote more attention to its allocation in order to benefit more stakeholders and a wider society.

Efficiency, economy, innovation and productivity in value creation are still vital for sustainability. The bigger the cake the more there is to allocate, including to the company itself to build and sustain its continuing capability to create future value.

Revisions of company law have recognised the wider responsibilities of directors. In the UK’s Companies Act, when taking decisions they are now expected to have regard to the interests of stakeholders other than shareholders. In India, companies that meet stated criteria are expected to devote 2% of net profit to socially responsible activities.

Wider society faces many of the challenges faced by boards, including sustainability and coping with uncertainty. Given technological developments, of particular concern to many people and governments is the question of where future jobs will come from. Those who are not employed by others and who do not become self-employed and entrepreneurs will need activities to occupy them. They will also require some form of income or other financial support to cover the basics of life.

At the 2016 Conservative Party Conference, a theme of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech and a challenge to her ministerial team was creating an economy that works for all and not just a few. Given the common challenges facing them, other governments may share this ambition.

Our challenge as directors is increasingly to build companies that work for all and not just a few.
If we can restore trust and build confidence and credibility, we have a once in a generation opportunity for collaboration, cooperation and partnerships with other enterprises, governments, legislators, regulators, public bodies and other stakeholders. We can work together to create and build economies of companies that benefit wider society and future generations.

*These concluding comments by Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas were made on Wednesday 19th October, 2016 at the end of Plenary Session X to summarise some of the main issues that emerged at the international conference of the 16th London Global Convention on Corporate Governance and Sustainability which was held at the Millennium Hotel, 44 Grosvenor Square, London W1K 2HP, UK. The convention was organised by the Institute of Directors, India

+Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, an experienced director and board advisor, leads the International Governance Initiative of the Order of St Lazarus, is Director-General, IOD India, UK and Europe, Chancellor and a Professorial Fellow of the School for the Creative Arts, Chairman of the Audit and Risk Committee of United Learning and a member of the advisory board of Bridges of Sports. He has helped to improve director, board and corporate performance in over 40 countries. Author of over 60 books and reports he has held professorial appointments in Europe, North and South America, the Middle East, India and China. Colin was educated at the London School of Economics, the London Business School, UNISA and the Universities of Aston, Chicago and Southern California. He is a fellow of seven chartered bodies. His recent publications can be obtained from:


27 Oct 2016
Colin Coulson-Thomas