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How to Earn Respect as a Sustainability Leader

The SSC Team October 9, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

When trying to lead a sustainability program from the inside, you may find that getting internal buy-in from your peers, managers and executives is the toughest part of the job. This is especially true when sustainability and CSR don’t get a lot of respect as a corporate priority.

Consider the situation from nay-sayers perspectives, though, and you can begin to see why sustainability (and you) aren’t favorites at work:

  • The CFO may be thinking: why was sustainability “forced” on my, and why does it always seem to be spending more money than it saves?

  • The COO may be thinking: have CSR programs really delivered anything meaningful to the company, or is it just a feel-good initiative that’s taking people away from their “real” jobs?

  • Department heads may be thinking: Do sustainability people do anything except for harp about recycling all the time?

  • The Director of Communications may be thinking: I just want to tell a good story. Why do the sustainability managers always want to bring up our weaknesses?

The industry, the corporate culture, the history of the company’s performance, the physical location, and many other factors may contribute to how your co-workers, subordinates, and leadership view the role of the sustainability leader.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, a security software company, gives some solid advice about earning respect inside a corporate culture.

Sustainability leaders may want to pay special attention to Whitehurst’s advice.

  • Show passion for the purpose of your organization and constantly drive interest in it. Even though you may have a TON of ideas on how your company can quickly change and make significant environmental gains, you should frame those ideas and the positive change they can create in language that speaks to the purpose of the organization itself. If internal stakeholders see sustainability programs as strengthening the business as a whole, and not just some ancillary reporting department, they will begin to respect sustainability’s role in the organization.

  • Demonstrate confidence. You may be asking employees who are not under your direct supervision to make changes to purchasing habits, reporting protocols, and behavior. You need to ask them with respect and confidence. Conveying confidence for a program that is supported up the chain-of-command will help establish you – and the programs you are implementing – will encourage others to follow your lead.

  • Engage your people. One of the biggest complaints about sustainability may stem from the top-down approach to change. Of course, you’re gathering the data, interpreting the reports, and making recommendations – but those who have to change because of a recommendation may come to see your role as an arbitrary rule imposer. As you look at programs and policies that affect department function or employee behavior, ask for input, ideas, and thoughts about how to implement change. You may get some great ideas from unexpected places.

  • Don’t be a know-it-all. You may know a bit about sustainability, but you probably don’t know a lot about the detailed work of the different functional areas in your company. By showing passion for shared company goals and values, being confident in your own role, and engaging people in different areas of the company, you will begin to build a positive reputation. But, you may also misstep. By “owning up” as Whitehurst says, you should frankly address when something doesn’t go as planned and help the team build a work-around together.

Managing sustainability is a difficult role in many corporate systems as sustainability is not a supervisory, but more of an advisory, department. This makes it even more important to earn respect with internal stakeholders. By doing so, you will really see the full effects of sustainability programs and help integrate sustainability into the fabric of the company’s culture.

Working on a tough sustainability project where internal stakeholders are pushing back? Let us know in the comments.

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from September 2018

The SSC Team October 2, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from September.

 

How Sustainability Experts Should Give Feedback

 

Social Sustainability Satisfying Human Needs

 

How to Hire a Successful Sustainability Manger

 

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How Sustainability Practitioners Should Give Feedback

The SSC Team September 27, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.

In the same way that hungry rats learn to navigate the blind alleys of a maze in their search for food, coaches, consultants, and other change agents learn that punishment most often follows their constructive criticism. Conversely, when they stroke the egos of clients, rewards come raining down. Managers fall victim to the same temptation: it’s much more fun (and in the short term, rewarding) to praise your direct reports than to deliver negative feedback. The bad news is that if you’re a consultant or coach, folks will tire of having smoke blown at them and, sooner or later, react negatively. They’re paying for reasoned critiques, and chronic evasiveness eventually gets on their nerves. And if you’re a manager, you can’t only rely on praise. 

Steven Berglas, Harvard Business Review

As consultants, it's our job to deliver feedback to our clients throughout the sustainability consulting engagement--and we've gotten pretty good at identifying, refining, and delivering news (both good and bad) about a company's "state of sustainability" and roadmap for action. But when we read the article, Don’t Sugarcoat Negative Feedback, in Harvard Business Review, we realized that the art of providing feedback has a much broader application to companies pursuing sustainability initiatives. Here are some of our takeaways:

Use Facts in Your Feedback

Berglas: Deliver constructive feedback rapidly in its raw form. This doesn’t mean harshly; there’s a way to soften blows without delaying them if you strive to be empathic. Just never make it seem like you’re avoiding hard cold facts. All that does is make the facts seem worse than they are.

Focusing our feedback on facts is a great way to create some space between participants, so that no one feels blamed, guilty, or shamed. It also allows everyone to (more) objectively assess the situation--including whether the feedback being provided is correct, how a solution should be constructed, and how responsibility and accountability for change should be allocated.

Wrong: [After 20 minutes of praise and exultation about everyone's awesome sustainability work.] "Look, even though we're all doing our best, it's not enough. We're falling behind on our performance data, and that's shown up in some recent press. We can't let our industry leave us in the dust. Come on, guys, we've got to improve!"

Right: "Our three-year carbon emissions are up 4.3%, while Competitor A is holding steady and Competitor B actually decreased its emissions by 1.1%. A report, which is getting press coverage this week in the New York Times and a number of "green blogs", calls us out for poor energy and climate performance in our industry. Let's talk about what that means in light of last month's board meeting where there was consensus about aiming for the top 25% of our industry across all sustainability issues."

Don't Predict the Outcome

Berglas: Resist the urge to prophesy. The absolute worst thing a CEO, coach, or consultant can do when offering constructive criticism to someone is to provide a timetable for the process that a person who must change should be expected to conform to.

While goals and targets are critical elements of effective sustainability planning, changing people (and institutions) is an uncertain process. When you need to address employee engagement and organizational culture issues, don't make promises that you can't keep. Yes, you can get a new Code of Ethics in place by the end of the year, but can you put a clear time line on when your emerging-market suppliers are going to really *get* the concepts of anti-bribery and corruption? You can provide a clear road-map, but putting calendar dates down for personal and organizational change is a dangerous proposition.

Be Honest about the Effort Required to Change

Berglas: Don’t minimize the challenge. When you critique someone with a history of success you have to assume that the flaws you see in them are (a) entrenched, and, (b) something they have long grappled with to suppress or get past. Saying, “No big deal” to that sort of issue can scare the socks off someone who knows that what you’re targeting for change is an issue they have battled unsuccessfully for years.

Sustainability is probably the biggest, most complex challenge that the world has ever faced -- and individual organizations trying to navigate a highly interconnected system in which it has limited leverage and resources is not an easy task. (Hah, understatement!) So don't portray the journey as all rainbows and kittens. It's going to be hard, and there are going to be really tough decisions. People need to understand that the road is going to be long, and the challenges are going to be scary--but that all great, epic adventures start with a seemingly insurmountable mountain to climb.

If you liked this article, you'll want to download SSC's free white paper on Sustainable Change Management. And if you're looking for a sustainability coach, check out our coaching and mentoring services. Or, join the conversation on Twitter, where SSC President Jennifer Woofter tweets at @jenniferwoofter. Did we get it right, or would you add something to our takeaways?

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from August 2018

The SSC Team September 4, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from August.

 

Companies Collaborating Could Mean Everyone Wins

 

Are You Getting the Real Truth from Your Employees?

 

Break Your Own Sustainability Habits and then Help Employees Change

 

If you like an article, please consider sharing it online via your favorite social media platform. Helping us grow our audience is the #1 way you can show your support for the work that we do.

Break Your Own Sustainability Habits, and Then Help Employees Change

The SSC Team August 28, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Are you searching for ways to make your office more environmentally friendly? Before declaring a moratorium on plastic bags and forcing your co-workers into a carpool schedule, take some time to look in the mirror and reflect on your own habits.

 

We are, quite literally and biologically, creatures of habit and repetition, so creating a new pattern of behavior is far from easy. Our brains love saving time by making some actions automatic, even if those actions are ultimately harmful to us or our planet. If you’re trying to get your colleagues on board with a few new, positive sustainability habits around the office, start first by taking stock of your own bad habits and serving as a role model for change.

 

Global CEO coach Sabina Nawaz stresses the importance of frequently tracking and reviewing your goals and progress when trying to form a new habit. In order to track and measure your progress, your goals must be exactly that: measurable. Trying to attack too lofty or broad of a goal can be overwhelming and may ultimately lead you to slip back into negative behaviors.

 

Consider choosing 3 small tasks that you can concretely determine if you’ve completed or not. For example, bringing in your reusable bottle, unplugging your work station at the end of the day and printing less than 30 pages per day. The Nature Conservatory and Huffington Post also have some other great suggestions for small ways to decrease energy use and waste in the office.

 

Nawaz recommends using a simple chart called the “Yes List” to quickly track whether you’ve completed the new habit each day. You can make a hard copy or keep the tracker on your mobile device to make it even more convenient. If the chart is too complicated or cumbersome, you won’t use it, so make sure the chart is quick and clean like the one below.

 

Having a visual representation of your progress will keep you motivated and also help you determine which habits you may need to adjust or the ones you’ve successfully completed, so you can introduce a new habit. 

   
  
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After you’ve successfully tracked and started to shift your own habits for a few weeks, share your chart with your colleagues as motivation for them and a proof point that change is possible! 

 

Invite them to join you on your sustainability journey and share resources so they can pick the habit that make most sense for them. 

 

 

Are You Getting the Real Truth from Your Employees?

The SSC Team August 21, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We know that lying is a part of life. All of us have told the occasional white lie, even at work. But when it comes to managing a business how often are your employees lying and more importantly, why are they bending the truth?

 

First, let’s take a look at how often employees lie. Harvard Business Review says that according to research “20% of people tell 80% of the lies, and 80% of people account for the remaining 20%.” So, the good news is that most of your employees are probably not lying; at least not very often.

 

Let’s get to the bottom of why employees lie. The 20% telling most of the lies often don’t see anything wrong with their deceit. Normally, things are going well for our deceitful employees when they lie and they “…do it when they are feeling good or in control of things – because they get a kick out of it.” Our frequent liars are also more likely to admit their deceitful ways if confronted.

 

But what about the majority of employees who make up the remaining 20%? Frequently their lies stem from stress, poor work/life balance, pressure to fit in with peers, or a lack of timely opportunities to tell the truth.

 

If we are able to acknowledge that our employees are going to tell lies (as are we) the next question is how to eliminate, or at least minimize harm. As we know, not all lies are negatively affecting business. If two employees don’t care for each other but claim to ‘like one another’ and cooperate, well, what’s the problem?

 

If you suspect you aren’t getting the truth slow down and take a closer look at the situation. Are you being honest with employees? Do employees have frequent opportunities to offer the truth and do leaders value that feedback? Are transparency and feedback a regular part of the day-to-day operation?

 

Feedback is essential to creating highly effective teams and thriving companies. But how can you ensure you are getting truthful, constructive feedback from your employees?

 

The simple answer is to just ask them. From using Survey Monkey to utilizing regular check-ins to hear how things are going, there are many ways companies solicit feedback

 

Additionally, you need to determine how much feedback you want. There is quite a spectrum of feedback out there. We’ve all likely been solicited for feedback by our leadership only to have it fall on deaf ears as more of a formality. Additionally, we’ve all probably been asked to provide feedback only to be met by a staunch defense that leaves us feeling, somehow, in the wrong for doing what we were asked to do.

 

“One of the biggest tragedies of mankind is people holding their opinions in their heads… they’re not dealing with the things they need to deal with,” Ray Dalio, Founder and CIO of Bridgewater Associates, told Adam Grant on his podcast Work Life.

 

Bridgewater is one of the biggest hedge fund firms in the world. Its culture is founded on something Dalio calls “radical transparency,” where all employees, from top to bottom, put “every criticism, every opinion, out in the open.” The newest, lowest ranking employee is encouraged to provide feedback as high up as the CEO.

 

So, is radical transparency right for your company? Probably not to the extent Bridgewater takes it. But according to Grant “… if we want to get better at something, we should go and learn from the extreme.”

 

At the end of the day, employees lie for a variety of reasons. It is not our responsibility as leaders in the organization to discover the origin of each lie and punish the instigator.

 

Instead, we can take a closer look at ourselves as leaders and our organizational culture. This can help us to discover the optimal level of transparency that motivates our teams to be more truthful and productive. 

United We Understand: EcoPulse 2017 Special Report

The SSC Team August 9, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

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Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives. 

White Paper: United We Understand
This special report released by GreenBiz earlier this year is centered around the idea that words have power. Are you choosing the ones that unify? Or the ones that divide?

In an age filled with divisive rhetoric, sustainability messaging can be a unifying force. Check out this report for ideas about how your company can create sustainability messages that help you connect with your consumer values.

 https://www.greenbiz.com/whitepaper/united-we-understand-eco-pulsetm-2017-special-report

Sustainability Consulting Round-Up: Best of Our Blog from July 2018

The SSC Team August 2, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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We try to post a new blog at least once a week, just to share our insights into the world of sustainability strategy and what it takes to be a sustainability consultant or professional today. Here are our most-read posts from July.

 

Big Businesses Making Smarter Sustainable Choices

 

Motivate Your In-House Team to Meet Your Sustainability Goals

 

Why Standards Would Benefit the Green Finance Industry

 

Facility Managers: Putting Energy & Sustainability Practices to Work

  

If you like an article, please consider sharing it online via your favorite social media platform. Helping us grow our audience is the #1 way you can show your support for the work that we do.

TED Talk: To Eliminate Waste, We Need to Rediscover Thrift

The SSC Team July 19, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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Everyone loves a good TED Talk! Here’s one of our favorites

Andrew Dent is hitting all the right notes in this talk about reducing our waste creation. Dent believes there should be no such thing as throwing things away because no matter what it is — used take out containers, broken toys or an old pair of undies — it inevitably ends up in a landfill if we dump it. It’s time to get smarter about the way we make, and remake, products. Dent’s focus is centered on the idea of thrifting, basically avoiding the purchase of anything new. His talk also explores advances in material science, like electronics made of nanocellulose and enzymes, which can help make plastic infinitely recyclable.

Facility Managers: Putting Energy & Sustainability Practices to Work

The SSC Team July 17, 2018 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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In this white paper from GreenBiz, you can learn more about how Facility Managers are prioritizing energy, water, and waste efficiency initiatives in response to current market conditions.

Key sustainability findings from surveyed facilities professionals and market insights on topics including: How Facility Professionals are Utilizing Energy Data to Drive Low/No Cost Efficiency Initiatives; The Role of Right-Sizing and Right-Streaming in Driving Toward Waste Reduction Goals; Go-to Strategies for Water Conservation and more.

 https://www.greenbiz.com/whitepaper/facility-managers-putting-energy-sustainability-practices-work