Updated: Nov 2, 2022
A thoughtfully curated snapshot of essential elements to effectively guide sustainability transformation within your organization.
As a leader, you know how hard it can be to coordinate and motivate a diverse group of employees (and, employees, you know how hard it is when a leader struggles to do so). The importance of effective coordination and motivation can’t be emphasized enough when tackling BHAGs, like sustainability transformation agendas. But even more important, and often overlooked, is having the right mindset.
For those striving to lead transformation initiatives, expanding your perspective and awareness is key to developing the mindset necessary for driving new agendas. This begins with shifting one’s perspective to view the complex network of systems that make up the whole. Every decision that we make has cascading effects that ripple throughout all interrelated systems. Failing to acknowledge this is one of the primary reasons for the position we find ourselves in now - scrambling to take drastic action to mitigate the collapse of critical planetary systems.
Systems thinking is an indispensable tool for leaders to effectively navigate our complex and ever-changing world, and particularly valuable for leading sustainability transformations. So before you dive in, explore some resources to begin cultivating a systems perspective. This will help you disseminate a sustainable systems mindset throughout the organization as you embark on your journey.
Now let's get started with a brief overview of your journey moving forward. Below you will find a consolidated set of guidelines influenced by various thought leaders and theorists from the fields of sustainability and organizational change.
Communicate your conviction and a sense of urgency
Make it clear that you understand the need for change and are committed to making it happen. As a leader, it is imperative that you are vocal about the organization's shortcomings through the lens of sustainability and can effectively communicate the role this plays in sustaining a competitive advantage.
Embrace experimentation and organizational learning
Organizations often enter the unknown when embarking on their sustainability (or any other transformational) journey. Each one must develop a transition pathway that realigns its core functions and values with sustainability at the foundation. Therefore, it is critical that organizations embrace innovative thinking and experimentation to discover what works and what doesn't, so they can learn and adapt together effectively.
Failure is acceptable. Not trying isn't.
Collaborate to develop a comprehensive roadmap
Collaboration is essential, both within the organization and with third parties. Having the full spectrum of input, from "grassroots" ideas from employees to insights on tested successful initiatives from subject matter experts, can be extremely valuable in cultivating a strategic vision that is both ambitious and suited for the organization. Additionally, this can give employees a greater sense of purpose, foster camaraderie, and allow new leaders to emerge organically.
Set ambitious targets
Failure is acceptable. Not trying isn't. Setting targets and milestones that seem just slightly out of reach can really help motivate, especially if there is a strong support network. Moreover, if leadership is vocal about the fact that failure and shortcomings are to be expected, employees are less hesitant about speaking out and taking risks to advance progress.
Empower others to own initiatives and take action
Giving internal teams ownership over initiatives and soliciting their input and feedback will empower them to take action. This will also encourage colleagues to hold one another accountable and strengthen collaboration. Moreover, recognizing those who want to lead will signal your confidence and trust and help reinforce the change effort.
Track and reward progress
This may seem obvious, but tracking efforts and recognizing achievements are critical to success. Whatever methods you choose to monitor your initiatives, ensure they are well-defined and well-known across the organization. This will allow you to maximize experimentation (with pilot initiatives, etc.) by enabling you to swiftly and confidently eliminate the processes that don't work and capitalize on those that do.
Embed change into the culture
It is vital that successful outcomes from change initiatives are “institutionalized” or adopted into the organization's standard operating procedures. Simply put, the change must become the new norm. Similarly, continual learning and adaptation should be embraced and deeply embedded in the culture so that change is expected and initiatives become more easily executed over time.
Here we've covered the exoskeleton – if you will – which is intended to provide a framework for thought and lessen the often overwhelming feeling leaders and business owners get when they first begin to explore sustainability pathways for their organizations. Remember, there is no one way to get there, but know that this journey will require change, learning, and fierce commitment.
There is much more to be said about organizational transformation and sustainability transitions. You can find articles and books on these subjects dating back to the mid-twentieth century. As far as the merger of these schools of thought goes, there has been an increasing density of information available in recent years. So luckily for us, there are countless resources available to help inform our processes. (But you should definitely keep checking Blogging for a Sustainable Future for new posts)
I am a systems-thinking future-focused strategy & management coach striving to share knowledge on and propose solutions to the risks we face in the present and potential future state of our world. I am passionately driven to work collaboratively with organizations and aid them in developing sustainability mindsets and roadmaps to increase their adaptability, resilience, and long-term sustainability. If your organization has yet to take its first steps toward future-proofing, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can get you started or schedule a meeting here.