June 2017


8



SYMPOSIUM

Reporting – overcoming the illusory world
Geschäftsberichte-Symposium 2016 – a review

Von Kristin Köhler und Rea Wagner / Foto: zVg

How to avoid, prevent, disperse an ­illusory world – that was the mission of this year’s Geschäftsberichte- Symposium (GBS) hosted by the Center for Corporate Reporting (CCR). How can those responsible for reporting create an authentic, ­easy-to-understand and relevant ­stakeholder-oriented report?

Reporting – an extract of corporate reality

Individuals responsible for reporting and com­munications are called upon more than ever to make senior management and operational units aware of the links between corporate culture, behavior and communication. An illusory world becomes evident when the annual report is viewed as a handsome image brochure that projects a corporate culture and management that has very little to do with the corporate realities of management, strategic direction and corporate governance in a company.

Reporting can only highlight an extract of corporate reality. So then the question arises: is the focus on pure financials and quarterly performance, or do investors get to see and understand the business model, long-term strategic direction, opportunities and risk management that includes input and output factors? Peter Bakker, Chairman and CEO WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development), Dr Dominique Biedermann, Chairman Ethos Foundation, Dr Mirjam Staub-Bisang, CEO Independent Capital Group, and Dr Rudolf Wehrli, Chairman Clariant, made a strong case for the latter – in so far as this reflects the corporate reality. Prof. Dr Axel P. Lehmann, Group Chief Operating Officer, UBS, insists that “We need to report on a quarterly basis and still communicate our long-term strategy.”

We need to report on a quarterly basis and still communicate our long-term strategy.

Axel P. Lehmann

The role of communicators

One thing is certain: if reporting is not authentic you jeopardize the stakeholder trust that has been cemented over a long period of time: “Trust comes on foot, but leaves on Facebook” (Peter Bakker). Those responsible for reporting can underscore the connection between authenticity and credibility – and lend support in its anchoring within the company. Naturally, reporting always reflects corporate management: Integrated Reporting as a holistic reporting approach means nothing without integrated thinking, according to Bakker. Nevertheless, annual report doers are important catalysts. They convey the various stakeholder demands internally to management. In essence, in their role as communicators, they support internal transformation processes and interdisciplinary collaboration, and report in various media on the direction of the company.

Public value is what the public values.

Timo Meynhardt


Through active stakeholder management communication professionals are asked to integrate the relevant topics emanating from the perspective of the company and from diverse stakeholders into the company’s internal decision-making processes and reporting. Prof. Dr Timo Meynhardt, Chair at the Dr Arend Oetker Faculty for Business Psychology and Management, HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management, and Managing Director of the Center for Leadership and Values in Society, University of St. Gallen, summarizes this as follows:

Key Learnings

– Companies cannot help but engage with relevant stakeholders if they want to be successful in the long term

– The annual report is only the start, the compendium of corporate history – that includes the past, but more importantly the future, too. However, this “story” must be consistently told over all channels and reflect business reality

– Communicators have an important coordinating role in fostering integrated thinking within the company

– Building trust through transparency and authenticity is not solely a communication task. The financials and non-financials must be better united – in accounting, corporate valuation and in reporting. An overhaul of the financial accounting standards to include non-financials in accounting rules and valuation approaches will come according to Bakker, and the existing view of a company will fundamentally change

– Companies need to realize that sustainable investments eventually lose the label of “eco” or “green” not least through their proven outperformance as they gain the attention of investors

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