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Seeing the whole picture: Why perspective-taking is a powerful tool for sustainable decision-making

Published 18 October 2023 in Strategy • 6 min read

Systematically wearing the hats of all stakeholders can ensure their perspectives are taken into consideration when making decisions.

In today’s corporate world, sustainability is no longer a superficial makeover; it has evolved into a profound redefinition of core values and practices. This transformation spans various dimensions, encompassing everything from reshaping cultures and leadership styles, to reimagining governance structures and skills. Amid this transformation, one challenge looms largest: rethinking decision-making.   

Historically, decision-making rules and criteria have been skewed towards profit maximization, often sidelining the interests of other stakeholders, such as employees, suppliers, society, and the environment. This deeply ingrained approach hampers the transition towards a multi-stakeholder perspective, even among conscious leaders. The absence of stakeholders during decisions complicates matters further. Inviting them to every decision is impractical. 

This dilemma raises a crucial question: how can decision-makers compensate for the absence of stakeholders? A seemingly straightforward solution is replacing them with internal experts who can act as proxies. Tempting, yet dangerous, this approach risks mirroring the trap of equating a salesperson’s view with that of the customer.  

A solution for sustainable decision-making 

A practical alternative is to systematically wear the hats of multiple stakeholders when making decisions. By doing so, decision-makers are forced to think from different perspectives. This approach, what psychologists call “perspective-taking, is already applied in management fields such as negotiation, innovation, and DE&I. Extending the application to the increasingly relevant domain of sustainability can help managers ponder how each stakeholder may benefit from the decision (or be affected by it), how to balance trade-offs, and mitigate negative externalities.  

To facilitate this approach, we developed the Perspective Circle. This tool visually divides decision-making into sectors, each corresponding to a specific stakeholder group, such as customers, suppliers/partners, employees, shareholders, society (including communities, governments, NGOs, and environmentalists), and the environment itself. In a team-based setting, decision-makers don the “perspective hat of each stakeholder, role-playing to identify key benefits and concerns, all while considering trade-offs and externalities.  

There are five steps to sustainable decision-making with the Perspective Circle:  

1. Hypothesis:

Start by outlining the hypothesis to be stress-tested and align the team around it. The initial statement describing the hypothetical decision is placed at the top of the Perspective Circle. 

2. Stakeholders:

On the outer layer of the Perspective Circle, identify specific stakeholders for each sector, adding context to the scenario with precise stakeholder names.  

3. Hats:

Next, wear the hats of each stakeholder to identify and map their unique benefits and concerns. This can be done through rounds, following the circular sectors, or by splitting participants into sub-teams, each representing one stakeholder. 

4. Trade-offs:

In the middle layer of the Perspective Circle, evaluate the main shared concerns and conflicting benefits, and discuss possible trade-offs. 

5. Sustainable decision:

Finally, synthesize the perspectives to revise the initial decision statement. Write a new statement, in the center of the Perspective Circle, that encapsulates the multiplicity of perspectives and serves as the outcome of this exercise.  

perspective circle
Figure 1 – Perspective Circle

Putting the Perspective Circle into action 

To illustrate the effectiveness of the Perspective Circle, consider the case of Fernanda, a product manager of a food company in southern Europe, evaluating a shift from traditional plastic packaging to a range of alternatives, including a biodegradable one. All the options have different implications in terms of the functional performance and recyclability of the product. 

Her team follows the five-step process, engaging with stakeholders and eventually arriving at a revised, sustainable, decision statement.

“Shift from current plastic to certifiable biodegradable packaging, considering the trade-off between environmental impact and the needs of [our logistic partner] as for thermomechanical properties, and the needs of [our retailers] as for lasting shelf, as well as the concerns of [our material suppliers] in switching technology by promoting joint development.”  

Embedding the practice for widespread impact

The Perspective Circle offers numerous advantages, from inviting a comprehensive analysis of the stakeholders affected by a decision, to raising awareness of the expected benefits and concerns attached to choices. Even in cases where the Perspective Circle isn’t fully completed, its mere application can trigger valuable discussions on possible trade-offs and prompt managers to engage with, and listen to, particular stakeholder groups. 

meeting room
The absence of stakeholders during decisions complicates matters further. Inviting them to every decision is impractical

While the tool can be used by individuals, it is most potent in team discussions and workshops, serving as a powerful visual aid to communicate, share, discuss, and review decision rationale. To scale its adoption throughout the broader organization, we recommend the following actions:  

  • Train the muscle: Incorporate the concept of perspective-taking and the tool into educational programs, complete with simulations and real-world scenarios. Create more opportunities for individuals to develop their ability to listen and empathize with external stakeholders.  
  • Trigger adoption: Provide all managers with a simple playbook, with a clear step-by-step approach, instructions, and real-world examples. Encourage its spontaneous application across the organization. 
  • Embed into routines: Consider making the tool mandatory when complex decisions need to be taken. This practice should become the standard approach to decision-making within the company. 
  • Augment with AI: Leverage LLM (large language model) chatbots (such as ChatGPT, Claude 2, or Bard) to bolster team efforts. These AI assistants can offer insights into stakeholders’ needs and interests, simulate various stakeholders’ perspectives, and provide potential reactions and feedback. 

Ultimately, in today’s complex business environment, where sustainability and multi-stakeholder interests are paramount, most decisions have a high degree of ambiguity. In this context, traditional criteria and tools for decision-making are of little help as they overlook externalities. The Perspective Circle is a valuable compass that can guide decision-makers towards more informed, responsible, and sustainable choices. 

Authors

Gabriele Rosani

Gabriele Rosani  

Principal of Capgemini Invent and Director of Content and Research at the Management Lab

Gabriele Rosani is a Principal of Capgemini Invent and Director of Content and Research at the Management Lab by Capgemini Invent.

Mattia Vettorello

Mattia Vettorello

Strategy & Innovation Lead at frog, part of Capgemini Invent

Mattia Vettorello is strategy and innovation lead at frog, part of Capgemini Invent. Mattia contributed to top tier journals on innovation management and strategic decision making such as Creativity and Innovation Management. He is the creator of the award winning Innovation System Roadmap.

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