A headline in a recent issue of The Economist read “Companies aren’t charities”. I agree. However, organizations can no longer afford to ignore corporate citizenship. I volunteer in my community, I strive to reduce my carbon footprint, and I recycle and compost my waste. It is my modest contribution to building caring, responsible and engaged communities. Likewise, organizations are increasingly called to play their part.
In a previous blog titled Sustainability becoming Mainstream, I shared results of a CEO study showing corporate commitment to sustainability is on the rise. It also concluded that “sustainability issues should be fully integrated into core business”.
My personal experience has helped me identify 7 principles that I believe are essential to incorporating sustainability into strategies.
Engage a broad set of stakeholders
There are many benefits to involving a wide and diverse range of stakeholders. By inviting input from employees, shareholders, customer groups, community actors and industry experts, you raise the probability of gaining useful insights that often lead to innovative products and services. You also earn buy-in and engagement which help ensure successful execution.
Do your homework… creatively
Before you start developing your strategy, gather and analyze data and information from a variety of traditional and non-traditional sources.
Diverge then converge
Groups involved in strategy development tend to err in one of two ways. They may spend too much time creating new possibilities and fail to agree on a path forward or jump too quickly into action with a plan that lacks creativity. Organizations need to spend time generating a broad spectrum of strategic scenarios and then converge on a limited set of goals and actions. It is all a matter of judgment: balancing time and resource requirements with the realities of running a business.
Lay-down the right performance indicators
What gets measured gets the attention! Performance indicators are essential to track success and drive results. Businesses need to track economic indicators- that’s a given. Profits are to organizations what oxygen is to a high altitude climb- it might not be the goal but it is essential to your survival. Organizations also need operational indicators: is your productivity improving, are projects on track? Profits and operational performance are rarely enough to sustain employee motivation nowadays. So, many organizations choose to track HR indicators. They help ensure you invest in training and development. The more progressive organizations also have sustainability indexes- they make sense. They benefit Mother Earth and help contain costs. Finally, Social indicators ought to be included; they measure how well an organization contributes to solving social issues in their communities.
Develop detailed implementation plans
Even the best strategies are worthless if they are not well executed. This involves tedious but necessary work. An astute strategic thinker may not turn out to be the best at implementing the plan. The skills required to create actionable plans are a combination of deep operational experience and effective project management.
Communicate, communicate and communicate again
Strategies may be crystal clear to the senior leadership team but often become increasingly nebulous as you travel down the organization. Never underestimate the effort required to effectively communicate the strategy and action plan. This is essential to engagement and flawless execution.
All elements of the plan need an executive sponsor accountable to the senior executive team reporting monthly using dashboards or scorecards. To drive execution the plan must remain visible, it is vital.
Creating and executing strategies is, in many ways, like following a recipe. Once you have created the recipe (the plan), you gather the right ingredients (resources), mix then cook. As the meal simmers you will take great care to monitor the temperature (indicators) and check that all is well (track progress). As chef, you must clearly communicate instructions to your assistants and set realistic expectations – don’t surprise your guests with tofu if they expect burgers! As you go along you might have to tweak the recipe because of a missing ingredient or incident- the same applies to strategies- be ready to be nimble and adjust them periodically.
And don’t forget to have fun!