I have recently started blogging regarding my Sustainability Leadership challenges and I had a few topics to think about, so I decided to write two blogs… My second blog is about taking action at work, specifically trying to use alternative approaches to encourage further adoption of sustainability and sustainable finance in business.
Naturally I am an extrovert character with an eye for logistics and organising – I love creating / implementing a practical plan to ‘make things happen’. This has served me well during my career and in the sustainability field is frequently a piece which is missing. For example, some business leaders understand the climate change issue but struggle with the response aside from high level commitments. Also some sustainability focused individuals have fantastic ideas / thought leadership but struggle to convert them into business solutions.
As my work has progressed over the last two years and been more broadly adopted in the business, I have recently been experimenting by adapting my own techniques to influence internally. My usual personality-led ‘force of nature’ type approach was not always working and in some cases was turning colleagues off and causing them to retreat. In order to implement by successfully fully integrating sustainability day-to-day in the business, encouraging colleagues to ‘own’ the topic themselves would be necessary. I cannot be everywhere at once and clones do not exist (yet).
My first thought was to not dominate meetings but rather foster an open discussion. Now in meetings at the begining I will openly state I do not have all the answers. Also I have been trying hard to take a step back and not dominate all the conversations, instead having critical interventions – usually with questions to guide.
For me this is difficult and goes against my natural personality, but it has had some successes. For example, business units owning specific actions and creating new sustainability product ideas. Unfortunately I have also seen other impacts – my perception is some senior colleagues have seen my new approach as a weakness as I am perceived not to have the ‘answers’. This reaction to sustainability in general is not uncommon in my workplace, some people feel threatened. Again I have adapted my approach here. Rather than reacting to others frustrations, I am keeping really calm and then usually responding with a question of my own. It has felt good to take control of these situations and not react emotionally.
I am not sure how I will know if I have succeeded…although ultimately further implementation and inspiring others to act is a start. On this topic I have been working references to the ‘Good Life Goals’ into my public/work speeches – these are personal actions to implement the SDGs. Encouraging others to think about, share and implement one or two of these for themselves would be a great start 🙂
2 thoughts on “Adapting my approach…”
Thank you for sharing your personal journey regarding how you engage your colleagues. It’s interesting to hear about how your approach achieved some real progress with regard to increasing a sense of ownership, as it allows people to discuss and suggest sustainability solutions themselves. As a former consultant, this is often put forward as the best way to workshop with clients. This can be easier said than done when you’re an expert in a topic and know – or think you know! – the best way forward. I wonder about the psychology of this and how much a sense of ownership and having contributed to a solution then leads to actual action, compared to more dictatorial approaches. A good research topic perhaps! Separately, it’s also interesting to hear about the perception of weakness your new approach has garnered. I wonder if it’s the naysayers who comment on this?
Separately, I hadn’t come across the good life goals as yet. They’re fantastic, so simple and accessible!
Your perspective on the gap that sometimes appears in the sustainability field is really interesting. I have definitely seen this in some of my roles, its really important we can turn our ideas into tangible projects to deliver on high level goals.
I also empathise with the ‘force of nature’ approach. When passionate about a subject, especially one as enormous as the sustainable growth agenda, its very difficult not to dominate conversations. It sounds like you’ve found a fantastic middle ground using critical interventions. I would love to see more of the type of questions you use to guide the conversations.
Do you think your perception of your senior colleagues view of you not having the answers is true? Have you received feedback to that effect? I hope it’s only your personal perception – how can one person really be expected to have all the answers to this systematic issue?
Congratulations on convincing business units to own actions and create new ideas independently. This sounds like a huge step forward, and definitely a measure of success!