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Brain circuits

Three questions to help you manage corporate digital responsibility

Published 20 October 2021 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

Two megatrends have dominated the last decade: digitization and ethics and sustainability. So far there have been few points of intersection between them, largely because ethics and sustainability tends to deal with the physical world, and digitization largely deals with the virtual world. But you can think of data in a very similar way to a physical product, and that comes with a number of ethical issues including how it is sourced, transported, sold, packaged, and destroyed. This is where corporate digital responsibility (CDR) comes into play.

  1.       Why are you doing it?

Is your overall approach compliance-driven or is it rooted in your purpose? As with most things there isn’t a black and white answer. We recommend a “trust but verify” approach. It is always effective to be purpose-driven in your mission, but it is best backed up by some degree of regulation. If possible, align incentives with responsible behaviors.

  1.       What are you doing?

Are you taking a reactive approach where you are focused on being agile and fast to change with the landscape, but not spending a great deal of time trying to predict the future? Or are you being proactive, looking toward the future and including what you think will become an issue in your plans now? We recommend being as proactive as you can. You should strive to anticipate future trends and build them into your digital pipeline.

“You have to try and anticipate changes that will happen; we will be judged by the ethical norms of the future,” says Wade. “Just being reactive is not going to be enough. But at the same time, you also have to react to unpredictable changes. This means you need to have agile systems and processes for this to work.”

  1.       How are you doing it?

This is a question of centralization versus decentralized implementation. Fragmentation is a key problem with CDR. – in fact, 53% of participants in the webinar felt their organizations were taking a fragmented approach to CDR, so centralization can be a very attractive route to take. Wade and Isik recommend the middle ground here as well. Building a central team that can act as advisors, facilitators, and trainers can be very effective, but then different units can have freedom to take initiatives further. You can also use an external advisor. Some companies are hiring ethical boards, which can bring a fresh perspective along with external insights and experience.


Further reading: 

Corporate Responsibility in the Digital Era by Michael Wade


Oyku Isik IMD

Öykü Işık

Professor of Digital Strategy and Cybersecurity at IMD

Öykü Işık is Professor of Digital Strategy and Cybersecurity at IMD, where she leads the Cybersecurity Risk and Strategy program. She is an expert on digital resilience and the ways in which disruptive technologies challenge our society and organizations. Named on the Thinkers50 Radar 2022 list of up-and-coming global thought leaders, she helps businesses to tackle cybersecurity, data privacy, and digital ethics challenges, and enables CEOs and other executives to understand these issues.

Michael Wade - IMD Professor

Michael R. Wade

Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD

Michael R Wade holds the Cisco Chair in Digital Business Transformation and is Director of IMD’s Global Center for Digital Business Transformation. He directs a number of open programs such as Leading Digital Business Transformation, Digital Transformation for Boards, Leading Digital Execution, and the Digital Transformation Sprint. He has written ten books, hundreds of articles, and hosts a popular management podcast. In 2021, he was inducted into the Swiss Digital Shapers Hall of Fame.


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