3 Lessons on Internal Engagement I Learned from Interface

In the first two weeks of June, through the Beyond Business As Usual platform, we organized and hosted six events with Erin Meezan, Vice President of Sustainability for Interface. As one of the corporate executives, and a key reason for why the firm is now a firm recognized leader for their efforts to build a business with a core of sustainability, I came away with a deep appreciation for the effort that a firm must expend when building internal engagement.

It is a topic that is very often overlooked in this field or talked about only at the surface level, but more often than not it is the ability of the visionary to engage his or her organization that will ultimately determine whether or not the vision is carried out.

When discussing this very issue, Ms. Meezan said that she believed that three things were done well.

  1. Ray Anderson’s personal engagement with executives, managers, and staff through regular visits and presentations of Mount Sustainability and Interface’s new mission.
  2. Remaining consistent through good times and bad, and making sure that no one walked away from message or strategy.
  3. Introduced programs and activities to change people’s thinking to overcome the fact that people are siloed and don’t see the “systems”.

In recent discussions with several of our clients, it is often the second one that remains for them the most difficult. Particularly in rough economic times when the mission’s emotional appeals can take second place to the practicalities of business.

But, from my experience, it is actually the first that is most crucial, and as I have seen recently with a number of firms whose efforts have been publicly questioned, it is often at this step that organizations really stumble. In the case of one client, whose name shall remain confidential, they are widely recognized as a leader in their industry and have received a lot of good press on their efforts to roll out an ambitious sustainability plan. A plan that is, in my opinion, one that is comprehensive in nature and rooted in a strong understanding of where their value chain is exposed to various challenges.

However, even with a strong vision for the firm, and a plan that reflects that vision, engagement in Asia has been slow. Very slow. Part of the problem is that the visionary, the CEO in this case, is spending far too much time speaking externally about the plan, why they believe in the plan, and their achievements to date, and has failed to spend much time with the key internal stakeholders in key markets. That process has been largely left to the business units themselves. Which has had the effect of isolating staff on the ground, and the local management teams who are supposed to be delivering on “the plan”.

So, I hope that you will find the above three aspects of Interface’s internal engagement useful, and find a way to fold them into your own engagement strategy.

If you would like to learn more about the Interface series, the Beyond Business As Usual engagement series, or learn more about our work in developing stakeholder engagement strategies feel free to contact us anytime.

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