Action Requires Engagement, Engagement Requires Ownership

Sustainability isn’t for everyone, and even in the firms that we have come to recognize as leaders, there are internal struggles over who is going to own what program and plan of action. This is particularity true in firms who are adding on top of, versus integrating, sustainability to the existing responsibilities of the individual (or department), and it is usually that I find myself often taking the first steps with any clients.

Looking to understand how the internal dynamics, politics, pressures, KPIs, and capabilities are lined up with the vision of the leader, and how to align and overcome those barriers so that the programs can be rolled out.

Recently, this was a significant hurdle within the organization of one client whose mission and vision are of the most forward leaning. They have the “plan,” the market loves the plan, and they are committed to the plan at the highest levels of the organization. The problem is, within their Asia operations there is discourse, and this is a problem for HQ because Asia is a large part of “the plan.”

Key to their struggles was the fact that the process that started at HQ, without much consideration for Asia. It was a plan built around the idea that issues of environmental challenges are a global threat and the firm has a responsibility under that framework to change. Not all that different from many firms that I have work with over the years, but is different considering their primary market for sales is now in Asia and a significant piece of their supply chain is also based here (raw materials to processing).

Once complete, the strategy was “dumped” on the desks of Asia leaders, and it was left to them to figure out how to make it happen. Not exactly a process that anyone felt was engaging… on any level.

Which became the next problem. End of the day, even with the alignment, no one locally wanted to own it. No one felt a true alignment to the vision as (1) HQ had not exactly engaged them in the process and (2) they had more pressing environmental and social issues at hand that were not factored into “the plan”. A significant impact to ownership resulted as the business units all looked to do the bare minimum, and ultimately led to a two year stall that has left HQ looking for action.

Until I found an owner hiding in the corner of the organization. Its employees. Who were actually personally aligned with the vision of both leadership teams, were passionate about the issues, and were willing to support the organization through a bottom-up approach. Something that immediately aligned several of the key internals (HR in particular), and allowed for progress to be made as the staff would ultimately be trained up to run the “movement” and would work with their respective business units to embed elements of the global strategy into their job description vs. keep it as an add-on. Something that the GM was more than happy with.

It was a case, that I have oversimplified for readability, that really brought home the importance of engagement. without it, there is no ownership, and without ownership, there is no action.

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