Executives and ESG: A Stockholm syndrome relationship?
15 June 2023

I’ve heard Dave Snowden suggest that executives are trapped in a Stockholm syndrome relationship with their HR/OD functions. I am starting to think this might apply in the case of their ESG ratings agencies too.

Stockholm syndrome is a coping mechanism in which people develop positive feelings toward their captors or abusers over time. Other symptoms are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder and include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Feeling distrustful, irritated, jittery or anxious
  • An inability to relax or enjoy things that you previously enjoyed
  • Trouble concentrating.


Stockholm syndrome isn’t recognised as an official psychological condition in the DSM and there’s no standard treatment. Talk therapy is recommended to:

  • Understand your experience
  • Understand how sympathetic behaviour toward your captors was a survival skill
  • Learn how you can move forward with your life.

I don’t think these recommendations are useful under the circumstances.

In my opinion, active engagement is recommended to:

  • Realise that ESG shows only one facet of the sustainability spectrum
  • Appreciate that ESG raters could be trapped in their own syndromes
  • Develop a context-based view to inform your next step.

ESG is a standardised hygiene factor. Context-based sustainability includes ESG but is more nuanced and strategic.


Photo cropped from an original by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

* Please note that comments must be approved before displaying