In my last blog I explored the power of the business case in creating 'buy-in' to the sustainability journey. Now I'm addressing a different type of 'buy-in' - how you create the culture change within an organisation that makes sustainable change possible.
The next decade will see radical new technologies, the resource crunch and the sharing economy all disrupt the established business order. For a company to survive and thrive over the next 20 years creating this culture change is the single most important step. Why?
Sustainability is totally different from the corporate social responsibility (CSR) that business practiced at the turn of the millennium.CSR was about protecting the status quo. Business as usual with a few of the more obvious unacceptable practices smoothed away. But ultimately, the basic business model remained the same - a linear approach of make, use and dispose. Sadly, there aren't enough resources on the planet to keep making more, nor is there enough assimilative capacity to keep on accepting more waste. We need to build new business models and this means engaging the whole of a business in change.
Engage the whole business. Easy words but what does it actually mean? Let me share with you a few numbers from M&S. We sell 36,000 different product lines, made in over 2,000 factories, drawing on raw materials from many thousands of farms, fields, forests and fisheries. In total we're selling about three billion items per year via 1,000 stores and a number of websites around the world. We have 21 million customers, 78,000 employees and about two million people in our supply chain.
Every part of this value chain needs to change if we are to become sustainable and everyone involved in that process needs to participate in the change. Understand why and how we need to change and be a willing participant in the change process. But surely, that's easy, you just tell people to do sustainability! Sorry, it's not that simple. 'Telling' is fine for CSR, it drives unquestioning compliance built on the certainty of tweaking the status quo, but it does not create the appetite for systemic, radical change, particularly when times are tough.
So that's the why, what about the all important how? Let me offer 10 key lessons from our journey so far:
Historically CSR has created a mindset of 'treading water'. Lots of activity but no destination. Sustainability is a journey, from an unsustainable today to a very much more sustainable tomorrow. Our journey is clearly articulated but shows that there's always more to do, but not in a random way, everything we do has a purpose, a sense of direction.
Sustainability will not be solved by one person at the top saying 'do it', but it helps. I'd suggest there is a very particular way of engaging the CEO around sector benchmarking, strategic positioning and understanding how sustainability creates disruptive threats and opportunities to your business model. CEO to CEO learning is also important.
You need to state what you are going to change - identify your priorities, targets and accountability for delivering them. That in essence is what Plan A is, a comprehensive list of the 180 things we said we'd do. Every few years the plan is updated and more change is initiated.
Unless you have a unifying internal change 'brand' to describe your sustainability journey you risk just having lots of unconnected activity, each part of which can be ignored or avoided. A brand (like Plan A) makes all this activity more than the sum of the parts. Salt reduction, better wood sourcing, eco factories. Very different issues, solutions and owners but all part of Plan A.
5. Project management
There's so much going on that you have to control change, perhaps the most important learning of all. Rigorous project management proactively chasing progress, seeking solutions, making connections. Appoint the very best project manager in your whole business to be your delivery manager and get the best data to inform their work.
6. Management information
How do you run your business commercially? Blind hope? A bit of annual data? No! You do it on the basis of rigorous, useful, daily information that informs you about sales, profitability and other commercial KPIs. What's the CSR approach? Passively waiting for an annual report that tells you how much energy you used 12 months ago! The right project manager will create the regular flow of information allowing you to work out how you are performing.
7. Director bonus
Whatever leadership you get from the CEO you also need the 'buy-in' of the 'barons' of the business. They need personal objectives that have to be measurable and therefore depend on the information flow referenced above to make them credible.
8. The mirror
We all know how rapidly the world of sustainability shifts. Last year's poster child is today's no no. Bio-fuels anyone? So although you need the certainty of long term plans and targets on your change journey you also need the ability to reflect on what you are doing. We've created an external advisory board that meets twice a year to 'hold a mirror' up to us and challenge what we are doing.
Having said that everyone needs to be part of the change there will always be certain individuals that go the 'extra mile'. You need to harness, recognise and reward these individuals. We've created a network of Plan A champions across our 100s of stores to make Plan A real at the 'coalface' encouraging their colleagues, feeding back to the corporate centre what could be improved or changed.
10. Business case
And let's finish on the business case. Presenting sustainability as not just a destination, to be reached, probably well after most of the current leadership of a business has left, but also as a tool to tackle today's pressing business challenges is crucial to help create the initial impetus for change.
The ability to handle an enormous, long term change programme will define business success in delivering a sustainable future. Engage your HR teams and change functions and all their rich experience in delivering change. Look for technical prowess in your teams but value people skills too. And once you've cracked internal business change you're going to have to do it all over again on a huge scale with your customers! It's all about 'hearts and minds'.
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