As soon as I see this statement in CSR reports, on websites and in marketing statements, I immediately dig deeper and look for positive proof that the statement can be backed up. I am often disappointed!
This phrase is at risk of becoming a modern day cliché, and any CEO tempted to use it should ensure that they have satisfied themselves:- firstly that the organisation has put a bit more thought behind the phrase than just good PR, and secondly that they personally have an understanding of organisational reality at shop floor or operational level. In fact I often recommend to organisational leaders that they leave the safety and power-interactions in the C-suite and spend time regularly engaging with the workforce …… in listening mode!. Go out and listen to what they are saying, it can be tough but rewarding. Why? because it is common for less than 20% of a workforce to feel ‘engaged’ with the organisation and its existing leadership group.
Whilst it is without question important for employee’s to ‘hear’ a CEO express such a statement, it means nothing unless they ‘feel’ it in their employment or more importantly ‘know’ it in their interactions with their leaders and managers. That’s the true route to having an engaged workforce.
Sustainability means different things in different market sectors, but employee relationships are common to all businesses, and the way in which an employee feels they re ‘valued’ is not just a financial relationship. It can involve many tangible and intangible factors – the organisational culture, how the organisation aligns with their own beliefs and values, and the manner in which the business treats them and wider society – especially in the knowledge based or innovation driven employment sectors! This often determines whether the intangible factors of their goodwill, support, loyalty and ultimately presence are sustained or lost.
An active leadership approach to sustainability within organisations helps employees engage better with the organisation and to feel alignment with it. The best way to demonstrate ‘value’ (rather than state they are valued assets) is to explain directly how the work they are doing is appreciated and important to the business. Take time to research how their contribution fits into the larger picture, and by investing in their growth, engagement and satisfaction.
Reflection point: Do your employees ‘know’ and ‘feel’ your organisation’s core values, and are they aligned with your sustainability objectives?
At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business training & consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy. 1
83% of UK citizens are worried about climate change – and it
now appears that Mrs May is also one of them!
69% of Americans are worried about climate change, and equally it appears that President Trump is now one of them!
In the month that Mrs May prepares to leave office, and in which Donald Trump ramps up his re-election campaign. It has come as a surprise to many of us that both have stated action on climate change and environmental action after several years of active political silence, climate change denial or the dismantling of environmental protection laws.
Could it be that they are now worried about their political legacies or is it a sudden burst of conviction after finally sitting down and reading the evidence of their own scientists?
On Monday, whilst extreme flooding in Washington, D.C.
flooded the White House basement (no joke intended), the ‘coal is good’ US President
spent 45 minutes delivered some “remarks on America’s environmental leadership”
and touting his efforts to preserve the US environment. Even taking personal credit for the emissions
reductions that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan delivered, whilst berating Obama’s
climate legacy, calling it “a relentless war on American energy.”
However, he still seems unable to utter the words “climate
change” which were omitted from the entire environmental address. Instead he set out his strategy for how he
might talk about the environment in the lead-up to 2020 – focusing only on how
he might talk about conservation, clean air and water, marine litter, and the
impacts of the red algal tide on Florida’s businesses that have originated from
a relaxation of US agricultural laws, leaky septic systems and fertilizer runoff
over the last few years!
Just days from leaving office, Mrs May also took time out to
leave her climate change legacy – legally committing to ending the UK’s
contribution to global warming by 2050. A
bold stroke if she also leaves no wriggle room for a get-out clause by her
successors. The announcement was also accompanied
by the complete lack of a detailed action plan, suggesting that the whole
initiative may have been last minute attempt to create a legacy achievement for
a PM forced out of office by her Brexit failure.
Like many people who have worked for most of their career in
the responsible leadership and environmental management professions, the
brazenness of these cynical gesture politics when politicians know their time
is up or are seeking re-election is sickening – and demonstrates their lack of leadership!
Core values are the fundamental beliefs that drive the behaviours of individuals – be they organisational leaders, public service workers or skilled professionals. Through these values organisations are shaped, and leadership roles either become simpler or a nightmare of day to day problems and issues.
Whilst many organisations keep a tightly controlled focus on
expenses, stock levels and even stationary! Few have bothered to cost or even understand
the value of the cultural DNA that resides within their organisations and how
it feeds directly into bottom line performance and growth.
I have seen and experienced this on several occasions during
corporate take overs – a previously successful organisation is sold by its original
founder or partners to a competitor. A
new suite of managers parachutes in and start to immediately organise processes
to reflect the new parent organisation’s systems. Whilst perfectly acceptable in principle,
these managers often make the mistake of failing to understand or appreciate
what made that firm ‘successful’ enough for their employer to purchase it. In fact, they often look upon this new asset
as a ‘failure’ that must be rescued, rapidly turned around and rebooted to a new
set of organisational instructions. The
organisation stumbles, the top talent walks and loses its intellectual capital,
and with them the contribution they made to the original’s cultural success
Core values help companies to determine if they are on the right path, fulfilling their goals, living by their expected behaviours and ultimately how they treat and interact with their employees, customers, society and the environment. Just as there are many types of leaders and employees, so there are many different examples of core values driving organisational engines.
Your leadership style and character are defined by your own
core values and the respect you have for other leaders that you have been
prepared to follow (parents, teachers, other business leaders and colleagues). They form the root of the core values you
have built up over time as a result of experience, nurture or nature. Over time you have developed an image of self
that is built by the repetition of behaving in a particular way.
For example, if you are always honest in your dealings with
others and always tell the truth, you internally identify with the values of an
‘honest person’ and externally are perceived as an ‘honest person’. If you tend towards the creative or
collaborative in your style of work, then you are likely to find the greatest
satisfaction in roles that suit those give an outlet for those core values ,
and will often feel happiest amongst others who value those traits in the
workplace. It’s as simple as that. And
yet, we collectively underestimate the importance of values in business and its
impact on organisational growth, development and ability to manage change.
I have read many mission statements that define a set of
values that the organisation would either like to aspire to or help give out an
image of how they would like to be perceived.
The truth is that the organisational and leadership values displayed
collectively as Value Statements or by individual leaders will often have a bigger
impact on the inner workplace environment than on the external views of customers
and stakeholders. Only when they are
demonstrated internally will they leak out into the outside world of the
customer or client. Whether they are written
down or hidden away internally within the psyche of the workforce they define
us and the organisations we work for, and ultimately form the foundation of a
company’s character and how it interacts with society and the environment.
Thus, it makes sense that if thou are willing to invest so
much in your life, work, progression or in the creation of your own business,
your values should be one of the most important things in your business life.
But what if you don’t feel you have core values? Or what if
you’ve never thought about setting them down for your organisation, your team, or
even for yourself?
It is often reassuring to hear from another colleague the
values that define them, it gives a greater depth to their character and when
these characteristics are authentically displayed, we automatically give credit
into their ‘trust account’. We often need to feel that a person or leader
is real for us to believe them, and all employees like to hear what they leader
is thinking, and to see those values acted on transparently. We then feed that information into our own
character and compare them with our core values, and if those behaviours align with
our own or inspire us to take action, then we are more likely to listen to and follow
that leader in the direction they are setting.
We have all encountered the faceless manager who repeats the
party line, adopts the values expected but rarely demonstrates them, and hence lacks
trust amongst the workforce!
That’s why I went on a recent self-development course. I wanted to reconsider and define my own
personal core values to solve some questions I had been repeatedly asking
myself as I contemplated updating my old website.
Does my company (Leading Green) truly reflect
the core values I value most?
Does my portfolio of training and consultancy services
reflect my passion for helping others in these core areas?
If my own core values are clear, will they help
attract clients of a similar mindset and attitude to business?
Getting such fundamental questions straight in my own head,
could only benefit my customers and their expectations from the services I am
seeking to offer them. It has led to the consideration of some new
training avenues and the dropping of some services from the portfolio as I have
reasoned that my passion in that area is not as great as it is for other
subjects – and I have associates to whom I can pass any inquiries onto in good
If you are running your own business, are part of a family
business where group ethics dictate direction and you wish to explore where
your values lie, or an organisational leader who has started to feel alienated
or detached from their organisation, then I would encourage you to do the
same. Once you know who you are and what
you stand for in an organisation, you stop trying to be who you are not. That
gives you the confidence to grow and expand your skill sets further or even
move onto an organisation that aligns better with your values.
Here are my Top 4 Core Values:
Leadership — Good leaders add value to organisations and stimulate wider employee engagement. Responsible leaders with a mindset that encompasses wider social and environmental parameters that influence business sustainability and growth have a wider perspective on how to prepare for future marketplace challenge. Successful leaders embrace self-development, the ability to reflect on past mistakes and want to set a business direction that encompasses their core values.
Responsibility & Accountability — You cannot be a leader of others if you do not own your actions, mistakes, and current life responsibilities. Understand what’s in your control, and fully own it within the organisation. Don’t like something? Seek to change it. But don’t just focus on the ‘now’ take responsibility for risks and opportunities that are just beginning to emerge in society, the environment and in the values of your employees and customers.
Effectiveness — Do the existing levels of organisational skills, talents, engagement and performance in your areas of responsibility & accountability; the quality with which tasks or processes are carried out; and the extent to which they ultimately contribute to higher business performance match up? Do you, your team and its operations fulfil the responsibilities and mandates they have been tasked with achieving.
Integrity – Your colleagues and employees place a high premium on integrity than any other trait, and research shows that leaders with integrity strengthen businesses. This places a premium on responsible leadership which has at its core: integrity, ethics and sustainability. Everyone is ‘pro-integrity,’ but it needs to be defined internally and ultimately translated into the expected & accepted moral principles and behaviours that others translate as ‘integrity’ – otherwise it is just an empty CSR phrase!
I started with an original list of 25 values, it was a struggle on the day to reduce them down to just 4 core values, but the effort has been worth it. Why 4 values? The list is just long enough to remind me of who I am and what I am passionate about.
So, leaders need to realize that their core values define their
words, actions, decisions and methodologies and ultimately the businesses they
run or an organisation’s true values and culture.
Take home message: Your business values must be in line with your core values if you are seeking to build a successful business and become a better leader to your employees.
Your first few days in a new job are always daunting, especially when you have been recruited to develop the existing culture towards greater sustainability by enacting a change in the organisation towards a business model that will be new, challenging and will need even the most obstructive manager to change pathways.
One of the first major environmental roles I took on was withina large Scotttish Power Utility with growing interests in England, the US and in the water utility sector. They had decided to recruit a new environmental team to support organisational and operational activities within thier Technology Division. The interview to say the least had been a strange experience, as for over an hour they asked few questions but talking directly at me listing issues they now recognised to be threats to the business. I nodded and looked wise, but was rarely asked how I would seek to handle them if employed. There was clearly no predetermined job description, role or even defined set of environmental accountabilities for the team they were seeking to recruit. There was no compelling company vision for the environment and we were unlikely to receive any further advice from the senior executive in charge of us. His instructions on our first day were simply ‘Go and do something Environmental!’
Well we certainly achieved that, with ScottishPower becoming the first UK utility to gain ISO 14001 subsequently in both Scotland and England, winning numerous CSR awards and developing a strategic approach to environmental impact assessment that is still a successful model 30 years later.
Yes, the first few days are incredibly stressful and daunting for the newly hired sustainability manager, especially when joining a business with little organisational maturity or leadership in that area, or with an undefined sense of what it is seeking to achieve through your employment – resource management, regulatory safeguarding, risk governance or a solid platform for future sustainable growth and value. You have the knowledge, but how are you going to get started applying your talents is the first order of the day.
So here are a few simple tips that I wish I had received back then to get me started as quickly as possible. You have the skills for the role, your mission within the first few weeks is to start integrating and embedding yourself in the organisation and within the awareness of its key players. Start to make friends and allies, ask questions and understand the mood within which strategic decisions are made, and what issues will be receptive targets for your audiences.
Week 1 – Show your face – Talk to everyone and Listen!
1 Learn the company’s language.
Talk to the organisations employees in a style and manner that resonates with them.
2 Get your hands dirty.
Spend your first few days in the office getting acquainted and being available to meet others. As soon as you can, get out into the field, factory, other locations and experience how the organisation is implementing its CSR and environmental policies. Is there a vision or mission statement – is it a living reality of just ‘greenwash’?
3 Meet with the crucial internal staff as soon as possible.
Arrange informal conversations with the key managers and staff whose support and influence will be critical in delivering any future initiative. These are best arranged within the first few weeks into the job.
Listen, listen, listen whilst gauging how positive or negative they are about how your role can improve business growth, values or risk management internally. Are these allies or blockers:
what ssues currently are of concern to them;
what will they be minded supporting;
what advice can they provide re threats and opportunities, market trends: etc.
Month 1 – Establish your personal credentials, start to prioritise your findings and develop your future strategies.
4 Don’t be critical of your predecessors
As a new leader or manager learns more about the way an organisation thinks, functions or behaves, there will inevitably be surprises. No matter how strong the urge to question previous policy, initiatives, etc resist the urge to say anything negative about the previous managers who have sought to implement environmental or sustainability systems. It will be some time before you identify who has done what, and who their internal friends, allies and supporters are. It is simpler just to be positive about the efforts you encounter (which will have been supported by others internally) as the critical building blocks for your own changes that will arise latter.
5 Know your own weaknesses before criticising the organisations.
Seek to identify where your strengths lie and where personal development, training or mentoring/coaching is still needed to enhance your effectiveness in the new role. At the interview you may have promised the earth, those impressions are what you were recruited on and now is the time to reinforce and build up your leadership traits, understanding and in particular – change management skills
6 Prioritise and align
Prioritise what you uncover in terms of tangible business benefit and value, rather than intangible environmental risk. In prioritising what needs to be done, be realistic about what is and isn’t achievable, and consider how they can align with the corporate plan (and its planning cycle) and seek advise on how to incorporate your future agendas into the planning cycle.
Who can you turn to for support— perhaps an internal mentor, other senior managers or even the chairman of the board? Don’t try to do it all on your own – that is a weakness!
90 Days in – Start setting out your personal vision and ideas for alignment, growth and value through sustainability
7 Build a diverse circle of advisers.
New leaders in any organisation need to surround themselves with a variety of viewpoints, ideas, and temperaments as they build up a mental template of how the cogs and wheels of the organisation turn – and at what speed. This is critical as your role will often require more in the way of advocacy instead of ‘power’.
Help develop ideas, strategies and approached through the use of these networks. Seeking to win thier support and patronage if matters have to be referred upwards to other executives, or brought into operational activities if beneficial changes can be enacted quickly by mutual agreement with other managers.
8 Have a Personal Vision
Seek to rapidly acquire a vision of what you want to happen, building this up from the solid foundation of ‘viewpoints, ideas, and temperaments’. You must own the vision and inspire others. Sustainability visions developed by committee tend towards aspirational and consensual, yours must be viewed and admired for being results orientated!
When building a visison, one tip is to start with the end in mind, by making the future direction of travel clearly outcome focussed – others can rapidly acquire a fully understanding, help guide strategic planning approaches and join in thier voices in nspiring & directing others in the organisations realignment towards greater sustainability.
Getting started is hard work, no wonder they say it takes an employee 3 years to understand how an organisation operates and thinks. Leading Green‘s coaching and mentoring services can provide essential support as you build up the confidence to start changing an organisation’s culture towards greater sustainability performance and social responsibility.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on this article and how the emotive language surrounding climate change and other environmental topics is being altered more and more within media reports.
In respect of the global IA climate change community, what struck me most was not the language we use in EIS or Environmental Reports but whether our own behaviours as a professional community has failed to alert others to the significance of what our words are conveying. If it takes a 16 year old Swedish student two years to activate the global population on the crisis we face regarding carbon emissions, then it is only fair that we hold up a mirror to our own activities and ask ourselves – ‘What have we been doing individually and collectively for the last 3 decades in comparison?’
Whilst I am not advocating the use of such emotive language in our work or debates with society, perhaps our resolve to lead on climate change in our work, how we communicate or emphasis our views within the institutions we support, and how we could have placed greater emphasis on challenging substandard polies, plans and programmes needs greater consideration and to become part of a more general debate on professional leadership traits within our IA standards of conduct.
If we as IA professionals agree it is a global crisis, then surely the first steps for that community in general is for others to see that we are treating it as a ‘crisis’ in our work and words. I would value your insights, views and feedback?