Strategic decision-making, governance and risk
A major energy company wanted to develop production in one of the smaller African countries, which at this point had remained relatively untouched. Conscious of the bad press their sector had been recently receiving, they wanted to develop a policy, which they called “No Regrets”. This meant that, in ten years time when they were looking back on how the project had gone, they would have no regrets about their behaviour from an ethical point of view. However it transpired that there was a difference of opinion at a very senior level about just how far the company would be prepared to go with this policy. Should it include the provision of education for employee’s families? Housing? What about roads and other infrastructure, which might be of paramount importance for the local population but only of secondary importance for the energy company itself? At this point we were asked to make an intervention at Board level to re-establish communication between the different factions, focus on building pictures of the future and help to begin a process of decision making about what a policy of no regrets might look like.
We began with conversations with key personnel to gather as much information about the project and the different opinions as possible. We then researched a traditional African story that closely mirrored the situation the organisation found itself in. The story was used as a focus for the process. At a series of evening events, the story was told to the senior management in episodes. Each episode was followed by a series of questions about the decisions made in the story, which were discussed in small groups. By focussing on the story and not their own situation, they were able to address moral values and ethical questions without acrimony.
Once the story had been completed, it was relatively easy to map the responses made to the story onto the real life situation and look at the long-term effects of the various decisions. A useful side effect of the process was the development of a common language based around the story, which worked as a short hand and also a bonding mechanism between group members.