1. Explain whose support did you need but did not get?

This sounds a bit like a whistleblowing question, but that's OK, occasionally. I think the CEO should know who is blocking the process. If sustainability is important to you as CEO, and reporting is a key part of that, you need to have set your expectations clear. If your people are blocking progress, you might want to consider how this should affect their performance review, bonus or career development prospects. As a minimum, you might want to talk to them to find out what prevented them from being collaborative.

2. Explain what help do you need from me in the next reporting cycle?

Asking the question doesn't commit you to providing all the help requested, but it does give you an idea of the state of mind of your SRM. The SRM should be pleased to receive help and support from the CEO and I can think of hundreds of ways the CEO could support the reporting process. An SRM who responds "nothing, really" to this question is probably not doing the best possible job.

3. Explain what were your disappointments in producing your last Sustainability Report?

Maybe there weren't any. Maybe the report turned out exactly as your SRM envisioned. Maybe not. Understanding how your SRM measured up to her own expectations may tell you a little about the organizational issues your SRM faces in driving sustainability processes. These are the issues where a helping hand from the CEO might just be what is needed.

4. Tell me what aspect of our last Sustainability Report are you most proud of?

A positive and open ended question for a gentle introduction to the subject. The SRM should be able to talk with enthusiasm about the sustainability report and in response to this question is free to select the things that personally gave her the most satisfaction. Whether these things are the same as those which are important to you, the CEO, or to the business, will give you an idea as to how well your SRM is aligned with the business and with your aspirations. The response may also enlighten you about things you may not have realized were such a big deal as you read the Sustainability Report.

5. Tell me why should we continue to produce a Sustainability Report?

This is a fundamental question that every company should ask itself before re-embarking on the process another year around. The answer may not be the exactly the same each year and its worth taking a few minutes to articulate specific hopes for this cycle of the reporting process. NB: The response, "because we reported last year" is not really quite good enough.

6. Tell me what are your objectives for the next report and how will you measure success?

Following on from the existential "why are we doing this" question, the obvious next thing to ask is "how will we know if we have done it well". As a minimum, you should expect to hear quantitative targets such as adherence to budget and on-time publication, but equally, qualitative targets about the process of reporting should not be overlooked. Does your SRM intend to get feedback on the process of developing the report? Did your SRM run an effective Reporting Steering Team in which people have had the opportunity to influence? If your report is the single-handed work of your SRM and a consultant, you can bet there's something essential missing.

7. Tell me was the sustainability report produced in line with budget? If not, what was different?

Sustainability reports have a talent for coming in over budget. The SRM is a business manager and must know how to manage budgets. This question is more about understanding if your SRM has it covered than understanding the gory details of what was spent where.

8. Tell us how much of our sustainability reporting budget was spent on external consultants?

Of course, I am biased, being a sustainability reporting consultant:) but it is always worth having some external help when writing your Sustainability Report. However, you should know how much it is consuming of your total reporting budget.

9. Tell me what's new?

Many many moons ago, I attended a Leadership Program which included a strategy session run by the inspiring Aslam Malik. One of the things he talked about as a feature of great leadership, which has always stuck in my mind, was the fact that a leader is always asking questions and eager to listen to the answer. Just as a simple question such as: How are you? can be a real floodgate opener, so can the question: What's new? be an opportunity to learn lots about what's top-of-mind in your business and also about the person you are asking. Anyone who answers the question What's new? with the answer: Nothing much has obviously checked out of life for a while, because in life, work and in sustainability reporting, there is always something new.

10. Tell me who will be working on this project?

Fit is important at the organizational level, but also at the interpersonal level. Make sure that you have met the people who will be working on the project. The most important person will be the account manager (or the project manager) - the person who will be your primary point of contact on day-to-day matters. But it's also helpful to jump on a video conference (seeing them in person makes a huge difference here!) with the entire project team.

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