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Insight | Integrated thinking key to connect performance with purpose

22 August 2017

The pressure on organisations to be both competitive and sustainable has never been greater. But Professor Paolo Quattrone says this often leads to a mishmash of half-measures.

Today’s organisations operate in a complex word, continually having to mitigate the influence of multiple external pressures, manage interdependencies and make trade-offs to meet the varied expectations of diverse stakeholders.

From government and regulators, to local communities and the environment modern companies and institutions must demonstrate their responsibility to and impact on the world around them like never before. Long gone are the days when maximising shareholder value was the CEO’s only goal.

This widening scope of accountability is good for society and the economy, but at an organisation level it comes at a cost. The weight of expectation on leaders to navigate this complex landscape and implement a comprehensive approach to planning, measurement and reporting has never been greater.

Too often, this pressure leads to a mishmash of solutions that fail to add up to a cohesive strategy, the impacts of which are difficult to account for. Management accountants should go beyond the mere representation of the initiatives of sustainability through a set of ad hoc targets and key performance indicators, to include processes of mediation among the different stakeholders who are involved.

In this space, management accountants and finance experts in general, can lead the search for sustainable performance by suggesting pragmatic solutions that are able to monitor and communicate ways in which such an inclusive business purpose may be converted into added-value for multiple stakeholders

Integrated Thinking and Reporting offers a solution. Connecting performance with purpose, it calls on leaders to identify, execute and monitor decisions and strategies to maximise long-term value creation. Building on the need to reconcile competitiveness with sustainable growth, it creates an inclusive model to take advantage of market opportunities and face their challenges.

But how can it be achieved? In our new report for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), we set out 10 actions.

Make Integrated Thinking happen

  1. Secure the understanding, interest, and commitment of high profile organisation leaders willing to champion the adoption and effective use of integrated thinking and reporting
  2. Create a cross-functional work group led by enthusiastic internal “game changers” to ensure engagement, diversity, and inclusiveness. While integration is applied to planning, measurement, and reporting
  3. Clarify the difference between performing sustainability and sustainable performance(s) early in the process, and bring the finance function on-board
  4. Focus on the business purpose and on the multiple objectives, considering the various stakeholders that engage within the value chain
  5. Understand the financial and operating objectives as well as the expected targets that are linked into the organisation’s strategic plan
  6. Identify the resources, activities, drivers and stakeholders involved in the development and execution of the business model
  7. Recognise the trade-offs, interests and risks that characterise the value creation process
  8. Design a system of appraisal and performance evaluation able to reward connectivity and inclusiveness
  9. Implement a comprehensive system of data collection and analysis to support integrated thinking and reporting, and fosters the validation and interrogation of performance(s)
  10. Share the achievements of integrated thinking, management and reporting with the board and key leadership to maintain sponsorship and to ensure data and analysis are used for decision-making purposes.

Professor Paolo Quattrone is Dean of Special Projects at University of Edinburgh College of Arts Humanities & Social Sciences, Chair in Accounting, Governance & Social Innovation at University of Edinburgh Business School and co-director of the Centre for Accounting & Society. Together with colleagues across Europe, he has authored the new CIMA report Integrated Thinking.

Read the Integrated Thinking report →