Achieving a strategy always requires change, and change requires courageous leadership. There is little point in spending time crafting grand strategies for your organization if you aren’t prepared to lead and engage your employees to make the changes that will be necessary to achieve those strategies.
While most companies have some kind of long-term strategic plan in place, the reality is that many focus their attention on short-term quick fixes. From the outside they may appear to be working with sustainability issues, for example, but on the inside their employees can see that the company is actually just doing the bare minimum to have “a license to play” and claim to be a sustainable company. This is unfortunate not only because the company is missing out on the wealth of advantages of working sustainably, but also because a disconnect between strategy and reality seriously undermines employee engagement and motivation in the mid to long term.
“We’ll start implementing the strategy when things settle down a bit.”
I can’t tell you the number of times that I have heard this phrase. But the problem is that the vast majority of organizations, “things” never settle down. There is always more work to do than there is time to do it. Either the new strategy is important and you should start now, or it isn’t and you should stop pretending that it is, because your employees are watching. When all they see is the same PowerPoint slides over and over again – month after month and year after year – but no real change, they lose confidence in you and in the company as well. When that happens, the best and brightest usually leave for greener pastures.
The trick to avoiding this situation is to figure out how to lead the organization in a way that addresses your short-term goals without putting off your long-term ones. Doing this requires courageous leaders who dare to challenge both themselves and the whole organization and who are committed to establishing both an innovative company culture and a value-creating structure.
As a leader, it’s dangerously easy to spend most of your time either sitting in meetings or putting out fires. But a good leader does more than resolve daily challenges – he or she must also prioritize “forward”. To see what can really help your company move in a sustainable direction (economically, socially and environmentally), it’s often necessary to step back a little bit from the established methods of working and measuring performance and look at the bigger picture.
An innovative culture
An innovative company culture is one that is open to change, made up of people who are willing to adapt the company’s values to fit the future. People in an innovative culture accept that today’s solutions are not tomorrow’s, and try to understand how the future will affect them and their business.
A value-creating structure
The starting point for a value-creating structure is an understanding that everyone in an organization contributes to achieving common goals and that every employee has the potential to lead. A value-creating structure supports managers and employees to focus on the right things and work toward both short and long term goals at the same time. There must be space in the structure for the individual and the group to reflect, challenge themselves, learn new things, be curious and think bigger than they do today. A value-creating structure is flexible, motivational and visual to drive progress toward both short and long-term goals.
Now more than ever, our troubled world needs courageous leaders who dare to step out of their comfort zones and try new solutions without being certain of the outcome. These leaders understand that complex problems demand creative yet simple solutions. They’re on the lookout for obstacles that might stand in the way of reaching the goal and aren’t afraid to deal with them. Perhaps most importantly, the best leaders know that they must work together with others to succeed. They understand that motivation alone is not sufficient to get employees on board – they must inspire their employees to create the movement that will create real change.
I strongly encourage all of my clients to build a company culture in which sustainability empowers their business strategy and innovation. Because strategy alone will never create a sustainability leader – strategic leadership is key.