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Rethinking CSR – Circles of Trust

There are many who believe the entire concept of Corporate Social Responsibility needs a bit of a shake up.

Well, let’s go a little bit further — how about a complete systemic overhaul. It will be fun and (we promise), well worth the effort.

And it all revolves around this interesting idea.

Introducing The Circles of Trust.


Trust is the glue of functioning and thriving systems.

Stephen Covey (the younger one) says it well:

“Trust drives employee engagement, enables success in the midst of change, and is the greatest leverage for executing your top priorities.”

Really letting that sink in …… “the greatest leverage” ….

So let’s explore it. And like all good explorers, let’s start with a question: What is the purpose of traditional CSR anyway?

Well, bearing in mind Stephen Covey’s words, surely part of the answer to that to date has been to build, or in some way repair, public trust in corporations.

Evidence abounds that PR campaign efforts of doing a little social good as an adjunct to ‘business-as-usual’ (often extractive, exploitative or damaging) activities are not paying off in the trust department. Generally rightly so.

And that’s because, as Covey points out in The Speed of Trust, such an approach is entirely missing out on the value and returns that a real investment in systemic trust building offers not only business, but any organisation or system of entities. Covey makes a brilliant case for the economic imperative and implications of trust in business, (it’s well worth a read).

But let’s take it further:

We know that when the cells and systems of our bodies are in coherence with #Purpose, are communicating well, and are operating for the health and wellbeing of the whole system, then things will run optimally..

And we also know that when any one of these 3 key factors goes sufficiently astray, systemic trust is lost and ‘fight or flight’ responses are kicked in.

Hell breaks loose. Cells miscommunicate. Anti-systemic rogue activity occurs. Vital systems attack each other because they don’t recognise their own allies. Many cells and groupings no longer recognise or absorb required nutrients, and simultaneously begin to let in (or in some cases even protect) agents and influences that are harmful. Some cells completely lose their true purpose, and begin to grow for growths own sake (cancer). Systems become pained. Life spans are shortened or cut off. At the minimum, quality of life is suppressed.

And it will not have escaped you that these are PRECISELY the patterns we see around us in organisations too. So … let’s delve a little deeper:

The alternative: Thrivable Design. Make a Positive Handprint.

As the information age speeds the education of consumers in impacts from industries to individual business activities; as the anthroposcene age throws human actions into magnified global significance; even as growing risks shift conservative voices like IMF & World Bank, et al, to frame that ‘what were predominantly ecological questions, are now primarily economic ones’; and as growing numbers recognise we DO actually have the necessary conditions and capacity to live together in an abundant world for ALL global citizens (eg here, here, here)… there has never been a more opportune time to design for thriving.

Beyond all that, we have a duty to the systems that support us. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, “(Systemic thriving) is enlightened self interest.”

Rather than talking about social responsibility as though it were something outside of us, Systemic Responsibility recognises that we are an integral part of larger systems, and they are inseparably a part of us. By creating thriving in the whole system, we create the best conditions for our own thriving; when creating suffering in the larger system, we create greater risk of our own suffering. This works at both a personal and organisational level.

A little like an evolution of Maslowe’s Hierarchy, The Circles of Trust & The 5Ps of Thriving give us a map for creating SYSTEM WIDE TRUST.

PSR – The process starts with the core tenet of “Know Thyself” as an integrous and evolving system,
mapping both the preconditions and obstacles to thriving, so that the individual can act according to their own flow, integrity, and honour limitations.
The individual knows simultaneously how to create value for him/herself, and within his/her environment.

TSR – At the second tier, teams & tribes learn to identify the value and best conditions for thriving of others in the system, while holding/acting for the needs and thrivability of the whole team. In this way teams find optimal flow and trust as a unique ecosystem (think corporate teams, identities and cultures).

CSR – At the third tier, we do the same process at the level of broader systems, and the interactions of groups within groups. It is also the level of our group being received and trusted by the broader community (think corporations and customers).

GSR – At tier number 5, we map the broadest levels of ecosystems, it’s stakeholders, and the optimal conditions for abundant thriving.

All stages use the 5Ps of Thriving (and Design-to-Thrive method/frameworks) to map and identify stakeholders, relationships and thrivable conditions.  All of the above systems are inter-related; we must always start with knowing ourselves, and then recognise our relationship to the world, and so the maps and stages inform each other.

Through clear mapping and analysis, we are well resourced to reverse engineer the most thrivable and universally abundant outcomes available at any given time.

Changes over time is also a factor in any mapping and design process. The process of creating thriving is not to strive for a fixed and defined idea of perfection, but to develop “Action Learning Cycles” to manage our own evolution.

Change can actually be fun.

How often do we allow ourselves crazy dreams, and fully allow ourselves to reverse engineer them? How often do we really craft our own identities, choosing our own culture, and being mindful and masterful in our own becoming?

We often do things the way we do things.. well, because that’s just the way we do things. Cultural narratives are continually shaping and limiting our beliefs, and our patterns of behaviour – yet we can construct them also, and set the terms of engagement. :)

Push-model economies of scale are becoming to slow and rigid to keep pace with an increasingly agile and self-disruptive environment.

As free agency and free access to information spreads, we’re learning to do things differently. Despite many current ways of doing things suggesting that the cost of beurocracy will always be high, implementing substantial transformative change doesn’t have to cost exorbitant amounts of time and money, either. It’s just means doing it a little differently – The Agency can show you how.

Say hi to us at Agency@PositiveHandprints.org.

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