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What’s your story: Why every sustainability program needs a narrative

While it is great that many enterprises have decided to take on a myriad of initiatives and actions within their sustainability or CSR programs, have they truly clarified what the outcomes are?  And if not, is that a problem?

Well, without a clear and compelling narrative describing our sustainability strategy, how can we engage stakeholders with respect to what we are trying to achieve when quite possibly we don’t know what the end goal is, ourselves? And in a world where it is difficult to grab the attention and commitment of stakeholders, both internally and externally, you need to do more than flick them a dull plan.

AS I noted recently in my whitepaper on why sustainability programs often fail, you need a narrative, one that can be fleshed out by leaders to create a story.  I’ve been won over by the need to engage people with more than facts; a story – specific to an enterprise and its opportunities, challenges and the environment in which it finds itself – one that connects with people’s emotive sides.

What’s in a narrative? For me, a well-crafted narrative sets boundaries regarding:

  • The scope of the program (the WHAT)
  • The key activities (the HOW); and
  • Possibly, the key stakeholders to engage or work with (the WHO).

But most importantly, where I think narratives for sustainability programs could be especially potent is when they encapsulate just what is the fundamental objective that you are trying to achieve.  The WHY.

Just as many companies are successful by connecting their strategic direction with a compelling purpose, so too sustainability programs should fulfil their huge potential to engage stakeholders and provide clarity with the use of a great narrative that explains the WHY.  Just why are we doing this?

Have you ever thought about your own, personal, WHY, or your narrative?  That get’s people thinking (that can get people thinking about changing jobs or careers).

Anyone who has visited my website will have seen that Phoenix “exists to support transformational change that benefits enterprises, communities and the environment”.  That is my WHY; that is what keeps me going – to support transformational change in the reputation and performance of enterprises as a consequence of facilitating them to strategically advance transformational contributions to social and environmental issues within communities.  And I work towards this WHY through the services I offer.

What could they look like?

Here is a very different example to get you thinking.  It’s from a community proactively dealing with interconnected, wicked problems such as high unemployment, high truancy, poor reputation and crime:

By connecting our community, we will reduce the impacts of drugs and alcohol, mental health issues, domestic violence and other violent crimes on our community.  Sustaining a long-term mindset, we will facilitate this by involving and educating disadvantaged families, transforming school attendance, and enabling and partnering with those who wish to make a difference in embedding positive behaviours throughout our community.

Just think about it, it’s quite confronting; it humbles many of us when we think our enterprise has real challenges with figuring out how to tackle issues!  Well, this narrative for a truly wicked problem still contains the WHO, WHAT, HOW and WHY.  Does your enterprise have in place such a statement for its sustainability strategy so that you know what it strives to do?

For many, that question might be met with an awkward pause however, awkward or not, it needs to be raised.

The value of a narrative

Creating a narrative obviously helps with engaging stakeholders because it summarises the directions of a strategy / plan / report into just a few compelling lines.  While people may not remember a narrative word-for-word, generally they can remember the “gist” of the direction.  How many plans has your enterprise had where you can remember what they are trying to achieve?

But a narrative helps with so much more.

Crafting a narrative can engage stakeholders because the best narratives take a participatory approach to their development.  It isn’t just one team that develops the ideas on their own; influential stakeholders are also involved, which in turn, raises the potential to engage them when it comes to delivery of the narrative.

Importantly, it forces enterprises to think strategically.  I believe that is a huge problem with many sustainability programs – that they have been created with little rhyme or reason to them.  Instead, the development of a narrative helps enterprises focus on what is important, relevant and where it can get the biggest bang for its buck – internally and externally i.e. on issues of materiality.

Similarly, thinking about the why – a program’s  fundamental objective – really forces enterprises to think about why do they have a sustainability program in the first place.  Just what is trying to be achieved?  What are the outcomes sought?  DO we have this program to help improve performance?  Or to innovate new business models?

And finally, thinking strategically forces enterprises to consider tradeoffs.  That is, by crafting a narrative, enterprises soon come to a point where they realise that they will never have enough resources – time, people or money – to do all that they want to do.  They can never be enough to all causes.  Accordingly, they need to think about where they can advance a genuine contribution efficiently and effectively and therefore, if some of the initiatives or actions are really necessary.

But wait! There’s more!

For a recent sustainable development project, I built on the use of a narrative to engage and educate stakeholders on what the strategic direction would be (in this instance, the narrative described above) by calling on a top graphic designer, Tone Bullen from Smorgasbord (, to draw the narrative:


I am finding that people really connect with these drawings because the narrative becomes more than words or facts; it becomes visual – and they end up appealing to people emotionally about “what could be”.

And isn’t that what we want?


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The Failure to Implement Your CSR Strategy

I have been so-o-o lucky in my time to be able to assist some local communities plan around some really important issues such as planning for their economic, social and environmental sustainability in to the future.  Yet, outside of my scope of works, has been the need for these communities to deliver these plans.  And, even though I keep trying to alert clients to the challenges of delivery – it is still all too common for delivery to fail.  The documents just end up on the shelf somewhere.

And this isn’t just the domain of communities.  It is also apparent when I ask the executive of companies to share with me what they believe have been the big areas of CSR progress over the past few years.  All I often get is an awkward silence because nothing ever happens in between conferences.  And this is just as relevant for a company’s overarching strategy as it is for CSR strategy (more on that another time).

So here are a few tips to consider – if you haven’t already – with respect to ensuring that your CSR strategy or plans have a greater chance of successful delivery.

Organisations need to place as much focus on implementation as they put on the development of CSR strategy or plans

Is the Executive focussing onimplementation? Why not include monitoring of a strategy or plan’s delivery as an Executive Team meeting agenda item at least on a quarterly basis.  Too often, senior managers appear to have meeting agendas that have been created historically with no consideration given as to how they (the agendas) influence what is considered to be important.  Why not retain a focus on your strategy simply by having an agenda item or even a meeting each quarter specifically to debate progress on your strategy?

Are they committed?  Do the Executive even care about CSR?

Is middle management focussing on implementation? I reckon that middle managers have the toughest gig; they are the ones who are expected to roll out new initiatives while still being expected to deliver business as usual.  How are you making life easier for them?

Are your executive or group managers coaching middle management? Or is that the role of your CSR Manager? Are you providing middle managers with bite sized chunks of information that they can readily absorb on just what you want them to do?

Oh, and have you even involved them in identifying how to roll out the strategy?

How are staff engaged and supported? Have you really communicated your CSR strategy to staff and why the strategy is necessary? Put simply, sell, sell, sell! Sell your staff a vision and a purpose.  And sell to staff how their work contribute to this.

Have staff been given the opportunity, through their managers, to set the targets to deliver the strategy?  Have staff been given the chance to identify the initiatives or projects that may be necessary to achieve the targets? Instead of them receiving a command from on top of the mountain, give them a chance to have their say!

And just to ensure that, once staff are engaged they will follow through, are there CSR responsibilities included in performance agreements of staff?

Just how many initiatives is your company actually running? Consider if your organisation is trying to implement too much too soon.  While I know that “the only constant is change”, there must be a limit to the number of strategic – or change – initiatives you can subject staff to.

I was involved some years ago with a company trying to deliver 14 staff and environmental initiatives at the same time; there was no way that middle managers were going to be able to effectively deliver on those.

Is your company measuring – and monitoring – what matters? Does your organisation even have genuine KPIs for CSR?  Or do you just monitor milestones? For that matter, all too often companies report on indicators for external initiatives, but do these really contribute to enhancing your company’s business performance?

And how often do you monitor and evaluate progress on these? Do you just monitor them when it comes time to report on them again?

So, think about why you measure and monitor your KPIs.  Do they (the KPIs) really matter?


Sure there are plenty more things that could be done to enhance success. What are you doing?

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10 Reasons Why Strategic CSR Is a Must Have: No. 8 Systems

I did some work many years ago with a company whose quality system completely hindered their efforts.  While they talked about “creating a customer-focussed culture”, the amount of paperwork and sign offs required was surreal.  For example, each and every mobile phone required by a new staff member, sign off was required by a GM and then the CEO!

(Now, is that really an effective use of the CEO’s time? And what implications does a culture like that create for all stakeholders?)

No. 8  Strategic CSR can result in companies improving their systems

Systems are vital to delivering an organisation’s goals Whether it be management systems, procedures, values, meeting agendas or position descriptions etc, they may be a dry subject, but all play a part in organisations setting expectations as to what people should or should not be working on or even how they should behave.  They are all a means by which effort can be channelled effort towards delivering organisational strategy – and subsequently, corporate goals.
But sometimes they seem to take on a life of their own They can sometimes be a scourge.  For some reason – or perhaps due to the cumulative impact of hundreds of decisions – we can lose sight of what we are trying to do; we seem to lose sight of doing the right things and tend to focus on doing things right. There is a difference!
Strategic CSR can help improve systems It’s a no brainer; focussing on meeting the needs of key stakeholders can translate to subsequent system improvements.  To paraphrase a six sigma term, a commitment to considering the “voice of the customer and other key stakeholders” in system development and maintenance is vital to determining if an organisation’s systems are helping or hindering its meeting of their needs.

Through working with relevant stakeholders on solving common problems, organisations receive feedback on what they do and how they are doing things.  Much of this feedback can relate to refocussing organisations on doing the right things; and then we can rethink just what our systems are delivering for our customers and those affected by our operations.  If our systems are not creating value, what needs to be done?

Strategic CSR can result in innovative improvements The resulting outcome can only be good for stakeholders – and organisations.  This “collision of ideas” that comes out of partnering with stakeholders has strong potential to result in innovative improvements to systems.  In fact, many organisations are now providing incentives to staff to identify means to stript their systems back to what they are meant to be doing.

While I have never quantified it, wouldn’t I be right that the potential to cut systems back to the truly important things must have some significant benefits to organisations? Coming back to my initial story, there would have to be some huge savings simply with respect to not burdening staff and executive alike with having to the tiniest of tasks signed off so many times.


So what are your systems doing for you? How do they help you achieve your corporate goals?

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10 Reasons Why Strategic CSR Is a Must Have: No. 6 Workforce Development

The benefits from being more strategic about CSR are numerous.  Rather than targeting every known cause under the sun – as many companies do, particularly with their sponsorship or community investment programs – companies should accept that there need to be some tradeoffs.  It simply does not make sense to spread efforts so thin across the causes selected.  Who gains from this?

No. 6  Strategic CSR can result in companies developing their workforce’s capabilities

Productivity is important A number of opinion pieces lately have highlighted the need for Australia to find the means to improve productivity.

This is necessary if the country is to remain competitive.  A recent World Economic Forum report1 identified that, for Australia to become more competitive, it would need to make improvements in business sophistication and innovation.

Strategic CSR can get more out of staff by improving engagement Previously, I had noted that significant improvements can be made to the productivity of individual companies through the genuine engagement of staff. By having a common and understood organisational purpose – and one that strategic CSR initiatives are also aligned with –subsequent improvements to staff motivation can be made.  Don’t we all want to feel like we are contributing to something important?
More importantly, productivity can be enhanced through development of staff Many leaders complain about not getting enough out of their staff.  Well, strategic CSR can contribute deeply to the development of staff.  As staff commit to working with stakeholders on common problems, the old ways of thinking staff can often adhere to are challenged.  Rather than seeing problems solely from the perspectives taught to become engineers or scientists etc, staff learn new problem solving skills.

A number of leading construction companies now are well versed in working with environmental groups to reduce the impacts of infrastructure construction on nearby wildlife.  This has lead to solving problems innovatively, reducing the time spent overcoming community concerns or government approvals and resulting in innovative services and sophistication that gain greater value from staff.

And also development of leaders Similarly, the “collision” of ideas and perspectives described above also can contribute todeveloping better leaders.

Yukl2 highlighted making decisions, influencing people, building relationships and giving – seeking information as the key behavioural areas which enable managers to perform their roles effectively.  For those that are currently technical leaders, these people skills can be developed from commitment to stakeholder interactions and more holistic thinking.

I remember leaving a public sector organisation years ago because I was so fed up with the impacts of leaders getting promotions based not on leadership capability but because they had the best technical expertise.  They could not describe a vision, they could not inspire nor could they even control project delivery. They simply wanted to run their own projects, not worry about people.

Meanwhile, the Karpin Taskforce3 highlighted the urgency for reform and improvement of management.  As the business environment is changing rapidly, the softer skills will be necessary to extract greater productivity from teams and hence companies.  And if companies are to enhance sophistication and innovation, strategic CSR can play a vital role.


1  World Economic Forum, 2010, Global competitiveness report 2010 – 2011.

2  Yukl, G., 1998, Leadership in organizations, Prentice Hall, NJ.

3  Karpin Taskforce, 1995, Enterprising nation: renewing Australia’s managers to meet the challenges of the Asia-Pacific century, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

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10 Reasons Why Strategic CSR Is a Must Have: No. 5 Retention & Attraction

The benefits from being more strategic about CSR are numerous.  Rather than targeting every known cause under the sun – as many companies do, particularly with their sponsorship or community investment programs – companies should accept that there need to be some tradeoffs.  It simply does not make sense to spread efforts so thin across the causes selected.  Who gains from this?

So, each week, I will describe a benefit companies can gain from being a bit more strategic about CSR than most currently are. Why?  Well, for those companies that describe their people as their “greatest asset”, gulp, you certainly need to think about this!

No. 5  Strategic CSR can result in companies enhancing staff retention, attraction and productivity

It is currently difficult to attract and retain staff The era of skills shortages is challenging enough as Australia grapples with an ageing population and a substantial number of workers continuing to leave the workforce over the next ten years.  You only have to look at the extent to which mining companies fly workers in and out to see what a challenge this is.
Strategic CSR can combat this problem through improving a company’s image Put simply, people don’t wish to join a company with a poor image, nor do they often wish to remain with such a company.  One company I know of put on a significant number of junior staff in the past few years. Once staff realised that the company had a poor image for managing external – and internal – stakeholders (ie them), many left, leaving a significant gap in the company’s workforce. A proactive strategy that considers the role of staff and the impacts of their operations on the wider community would negate this from occurring.
And also can play a significant role in improving productivity Strategic CSR results in engaged staff that are intrinsically motivated to give their best for a company.  If staff see that the company is committed to maintaining good relationships, staff will want to work hard.The kind of reputation a company creates for CSR will play a significant role in shaping employees’ engagement and subsequently, productivity.  A study by Towers Perrin1observed that companies with high employee engagement had a 19% increase in operating income and almost a 28% growth in earnings per share.  Conversely, companies with low levels of engagement saw operating income drop more than 32% and earnings per share decline over 11%.

That company described above, instead, has a complicated problem.  As award conditions in the company are pretty good, many disengaged staff are staying on. The funny thing is that the company raves about its low turnover rate- but many of those remaining are veryunproductive, just waiting each day to go home.


1 Towers Perrin, 2008, Closing the Engagement Gap: A Road Map For Driving Superior Business Performance.

What is your turnover rate? Days to fill a position? Is your company’s image affecting these?

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Does Corporate Sponsorship Really Work?

Recently, I received an online petition seeking support to use funding that would otherwise go towards Australia Day fireworks be used instead to help fund rebuilding parts of Queensland affected by the floods and cyclone. A worthy cause, certainly? But would it be effective?

How often do you hear that the money does not get to those who need it? That it gets trapped in some bureaucratic vortex?

Similarly, many organisations believe that they can build their image and reputation through setting aside some money for sponsoring community events and clubs.  Does this really result in shared value? Does the community club or cause benefit? And does the organisation really benefit?

If organisations wish to build on their existing image and reputation, they need to be a lot more strategic when it comes to investing in the community

Organisations should target causes that are of relevance to their operations They need to accept that there should be tradeoffs and reduce the spectrum of causes to be supported.  How can offering a few hundred dollars to most applicants deliver value? It is just spreading the effort too thin.   Investment should be made in issues that relate to the sponsoring organisation’s area of operations, the kind of work that it does and the social and/or environmental impacts (positive and negative) it may create.
Indeed, they would be better placed calling on their competencies Doesn’t it make sense that there would be greater potential for success if anorganisation offers its expertise to assist the community with solving a problem that is of relevance to both parties?  Or better yet, use the skills that make the organisationunique (ie what the organisation does better than anyone else).
Because sponsorships are generally an ineffective waste of money. Throwing money at well-meaning members of the community to solve issues is theeasy way of trying to improve society.  Yet, it delivers minimal benefit.

If you ask most non-profits what they need, they need capabilities they don’t have to solve their problems rather than just rely on their passion.  They need the capabilities that most public and private sector organisations have.

It doesn’t build image and reputation Edelman’s recently released Trust Barometer identified only a 54 % level of trust by the community in Australian businesses.  Companies just aren’t trusted the way they used to be.

Hence, the community can often see through companies handing out sponsorships. It is often viewed as greenwash, trying to buy favours with a switched on community.  The goodwill won’t stick.

It doesn’t contribute to retaining – or attracting – staff Staff also see through it.  Sponsorships have low involvement from the organisation and hence, create minimal interest.

If you want to impress staff, allocate some of their time to relevant causes, creating an environment where they can genuinely contribute.

And it doesn’t result in reduced costs when dealing with a concerned community I know of a company working in regional NSW that is in a big fight with the community. They thought that sponsoring the local sports team would be enough to quall the anger. Nope! The sponsorship has done nothing because it shows minimal commitment to the community. Again, organisations need to offer their time to a community and its causes.
If this strategic approach is followed, the benefits can be significant – if your organisation can move beyond the old way of doings things The benefits are significant and can include:

  • Improved reputation and trust with your stakeholders;
  • Reduced costs associated with managing stakeholders and their issues – because they trust you;
  • Greater attraction – and retention – of employees;
  • More innovative employees, resulting from interacting more closely with relevant stakeholders on relevant issues and learning from one another;
  • Greater productivity; and
  • Enhanced competitiveness.

As always, I really value your ideas. So keep them coming.

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Meetings Make Me Want to be Physically Sick

I hadn’t even considered writing an article about the effectiveness of meetings – or the lack thereof.  That was until I was stood up by a friend because they were stuck in a meeting that went an hour over schedule (at least that was what they said!.

I’d love to hear what you think but I think we are generally terrible at doing meetings.  I’m not even going to suggest that I am an expert in this area; I just think that we are poor at getting anything out of meetings yet we hold so many each day.

There is such an opportunity for meetings to become more effective and efficient from the outset to the very end

Prepare for the Meeting Winging it does not always work for those initiating meetings.  If you want people to do something for you, look organised (see below for more detail).
What is the purpose of the meeting?  And what are the outcomes sought? Make it clear to participants what is the reason for the meeting? Is it to inform? Is it to influence participants to do something for you?  And what is it that needs to be achieved?

It helps set the tone and clarify expectations if this is discussed at the start of the meeting or preferably, beforehand.

Don’t wait for the stragglers – just start the meeting We have all been there – well, we’ve all had incidents when we have not been in a meeting when it started.  Yet, so many people are repeat offenders.

If it is frustrating trying to find a common time for a group of people, then it becomes irritating when that time is cut short.  Instead, set expectations by starting meetings without them.  Oh, and when stragglers aren’t there, give them plenty of actions….

Manage the babblers (those that talk for talking’s sake) Personally, I use yellow cards – but in a fun and respectful manner.  I ask participants for their permission at the start of meetings to hold up the yellow card if I think someone is, well, getting too far off track.  It is then up to participants to decide whether the babbler can continue or if we should move on….It works and it gives everyone a chance to have their say.
Managing introverts versus extroverts Extroverts are wonderful at working off each other and contributing plenty in a meeting.  That is their nature.  Yet, the introverts can contribute plenty; they just need to absorb issues first.

One way of giving the introverts a fighting chance is to provide plenty of material to participants well in advance of a meeting so that the introverts can come prepared with ideas.  But be prepared to use the yellow cards to set breaks in the extroverts’ conversations.

Another way to give all participants a chance is to split a large group in to smaller groups and spread the new groups apart from one another.  You can get them working on the same issue or different issues.

Provided that ground rules are set and someone has clear responsibility for managing the rules, it offers the benefit of getting so much more out of a group within an allocated period.

Stuff that could be read or discussed elsewhere Have you ever been involved in a meeting where a conversation is dominated by say, two people that is irrelevant to the purpose of the meeting?

Bring out the yellow card – or whatever works for you!  Once you have the attention of the perpetrators, ask them to hold the conversation outside of the meeting. You may even want them to report back to the wider group on what decision was made.

Review – actions At the end of a meeting, a five minute review can be so handy.  It enhances effectiveness by simply determining if the purpose was met as well as checking if the outcomes sought were indeed achieved.

As always, I really value your ideas. So keep them coming.

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Communicating with Staff: It’s Not Just About You

Over the past few months, I’ve talked about:

  • The importance of integrating corporate social responsibility considerations in to your organisation’s overarching strategy;
  • The need to have a genuine strategy in the first place;
  • Creating performance measures to monitor and evaluate that are more than just project milestones; and
  • The fundamental necessity to engage staff.

Yet, if communication is poor, this will amount to nothing. And while I concede that I wrote something on this some months ago, it will always be a huge problem.

Communicating with staff cannot rely on simply firing off an email and expecting that it will hit the mark like an arrow. Leaders need to be more strategic than that.

Any communication with staff inevitably involves competition No matter how important you are to your organisation, staff are also being communicated at by countless stakeholders through scores of emails and meetings attended every day.
Meaning that if you send out many different messages, staff can’t absorb them Will you have time to even absorb this message of mine?!

Staff simply don’t have time to give messages more than a quick scan.  (In fact, that is why I write my key messages in headings and on the left hand column – if you don’t have time to read most of the text hopefully you will absorb that which is written in bold.)

Communication needs to be more strategic…and two way
Just what is it you are trying to achieve? Before you can communicate, you need to think about whether your aim is to:

  • Inform, influence or engage staff; or
  • Solicit a call to action,

because this will set the tone for how you communicate.

Whose interest are you trying to attract? Are you trying to attract the interest of a select few? Or different demographics?
What forms of communication will work best? Social media or emails, for example, are not a one size fits all approach to effective communication.

I was involved in analysing the results of an internal communications survey for a company a few years ago.  It will come as no surprise that, broadly speaking, e-newsletters and twitter appealed to younger workers while noticeboards appealed to older workers.  Having said that, face-to-face communication appealed to all workers.

Consequently, use an array of communication forms to reinforce each other.

Communicate, communicate,communicate! (Just be strategic about it). I don’t mean communicate a lot of different messages.  Have you ever heard that old adage it takes about 32 times of communicating a message for somebody to absorb it?  What I mean is use the different forms of communication to reiterate a select few key messages.

And structure communications from the reader’s perspective – make it brief; make it interesting; and make it relevant to staff.

And don’t forget the power of stories Don’t always be just clinical and logical with your messages and thinking.  You have a better chance of getting the attention, and engagement, of staff if you aim at the heart – not just the head.
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CSR and Delivering Purpose

I wrote an article last year about the need for purpose, for organisations or even personally.  It is something that I am passionate about as I meet so many people who just have no idea what to do with their lives and so many organisations that seem to have forgotten what they were created to achieve in the first place.  And I think this is important because it, potentially, can give so many a reason to get up in the morning.

But how can CSR help?

Organisations that have a strategic focus on CSR – and deliver on this – are able to engage with staff and stakeholders effectively in understanding their purpose

Successful organisations accept that there need to be tradeoffs Cutting back on feel good CSR initiatives facilitates your limited resources delivering improved results.  It also clarifies, internally and externally, just what it is you are trying to achieve.

If your organisation was doing everything from e.g. tree planting to raising money for medical research through to volunteering for every worthy issue under the sun, do you really think staff and external stakeholders have a chance of understanding what your organisation is trying to do by this?

And that their CSR efforts must be aligned with their strategy Similarly, only working on those issues that relate to an organisation’s real strengths and capabilities, can result in genuine contributions to social and environmental issues.  And by genuinely delivering results in areas that are of strategic importance to your organisation, staff and the community again understand what is being achieved – and what it is that your organisation was created to do.
They also reap the benefits These efforts reinforce what makes your organisation different from its competitors, making it:

  • Far more competitive because the organisation and what it delivers will be hard to imitate
  • Far more productive because staff are engaged and productive and the organisation has a good reputation within the community, reducing time spent dealing with community concerns (because they trust you which is not something to take lightly)
  • Far more innovative because staff are working with, and learning from, external stakeholders on relevant issues who approach relevant problems from a different perspective,

to name a few.

Isn’t this far more attractive than the commonly implemented alternative of spreading efforts too thin and achieving nothing more than greenwash?
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Houston, We Have a Problem: Engaging Your Staff in Strategy

I’ve talked previously about the need for organisations to have in place a genuine strategy – one that sets direction clearly. And I’ve also talked about the opportunities to incorporate corporate social responsibility into the strategy to strengthen competitiveness, transform performance and enhance employee branding, to name just a few.  Yet, this amounts to little if staff don’t come along on the journey…

Any organisation’s executive needs to genuinely involve and engage its employees if it is to implement its strategy

Middle management should be involved in developing strategy Determine how middle managers can play a role in strategy development eg invite influential managers to your internal strategy conference or involve them in a reference group or taskforce.  Contrary to popular belief, executive teams don’t have all of the answers to transforming performance, primarily because they receive little feedback internally on the key issues faced at the coalface – issues that affect strategy.  That is where middle management plays such an important role.
Staff should be involved in determining how to achieve strategy in their units Where possible, an executive should provide the boundaries within which an organisation is expected to deliver its strategy and then leave it to managers and staff to determine how they will deliver the strategy.  This approach has a far better prospect of engaging staff than the common alternative of executive teams spelling out not only what the strategy is, but also the measures, targets and initiatives that are expected to be implemented.
Strategy and its execution needs to be communicated How can I make this clear enough? Sell, sell, sell!  Don’t assume that staff understand your strategy and the thinking behind it because you have sent out an email with a PowerPoint presentation attached.

Use roadshows, use briefing kits…use whatever but just ensure staff genuinely understand how they should contribute to delivering your organisational strategy.  More on that in another article.

Staff must have the capability and confidence to implement a new strategy The better organisations have managers that support, coach, communicate with, and empower their staff to facilitate change.  Otherwise, you can have the most clearly defined, progressive and well-communicated strategy ever and still fail if staff don’t have the skills and self-belief to deliver.
And evaluation of delivery requires monitoring KPIs not simply milestones It is vital to have measures in place that indicate how the business is performing.  If it is not measured, it is not managed, right? Yet, you cannot get an understanding of how performance is improving and what levers need to be pulled if you only monitor project or initiative milestones, as many organisations do.
Otherwise, forwarding employees a strategic plan created word-for-word by an organisation’s executive at a swish offsite conference without any involvement of employees has a good chance of failing
Middle managers will stick to their old habits Strategy will only be the focus of the top layers of an organisation if middle managers don’t agree with it.  And then how will you get the attention of frontline staff?  An executive mustrely on its middle managers to get so much delivered
Staff won’t be engaged and won’t give strategy priority If staff haven’t played a role in formulating how the strategy is to be delivered or all they know about the strategy was given in a PowerPoint presentation, then they won’t feel compelled to shift their existing habits and take on something new.
Staff won’t have the confidence to deliver improvements to performance and productivity For many, a shift in job design is met with angst, resistance or denial.  Why? One key reason is that people often feel like they are being pushed out of their comfort zone to use skills they may not necessarily have. Consequently, so many changes in organisations fail because staff revert back to the old ways, which will not help with performance improvement
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