It is easy to sit up and take notice. What is difficult is getting up and taking action.
Honoré de Balzac
But even then, how do we know if we are taking the right action?
Of course, the answer to that question is somewhat relative to our context but it must always be connected to the bigger picture too if our actions are intended to be positive.
This reveals something of a paradox that can exist for us when working for an employer, particularly one to which we feel connected and work for with dedication and loyalty.
The setting of individual targets can be a useful lens through which we can focus our teams and garner the strengths of individuals. When they take ownership of a goal that has been set and agreed upon it can generate a fresh vigour to achieve, driving a sense of urgency to meet the deadline and smash that target. Awesome! On to the next achievement, perhaps bigger, better than the last!
On it goes, over time building up and driving growth, setting the business apart from all others. Yes! Isn’t this what business is all about? Go team!
And so we often adopt the same approach to setting our sustainability goals, reduce x amount of carbon, recycle x amount of waste, plant x number of trees.
Tick, tick, tick, all the goals are set, boxes are ticked and teams applauded when they achieve.
But what happens when those targets conflict?
Increasing sales may mean generating more waste that is not recyclable because the biggest selling product wasn’t redesigned from the outset.
And externally, has working towards the targets set meant an increase in impacts on a near neighbour, do we still regard that as success?
That, as a measure is most definitely relative. To the organisation measuring its own sales and achievements it may look like success but if it was detrimental to the wider community there is a major reputational risk to be considered as society decides whether the business is truly a success or not.
Very often we raise the question to ourselves ‘what does success look like?’ The question should be expanded to consider to whom it refers. What looks like success to the organisation may not look like it to those who bear the impact of our operations.
When determining what our actions should be they are nothing without factoring in the values we have defined, our strengths in how we can go about planning their delivery and we must have courage to question ourselves about whether they are ‘right’, ‘just’ and truly a sustainable way forward.
Our paradox lies in whether we actually do create a working space in which our colleagues and our peers may challenge the status quo, raising concerns and presenting ideas for new potential routes that we could take.
If we don’t, we will find that we can set all the sustainability targets we wish but never make the progress we desire. What success looks like only matters if we can also determine what the path to achieve it looks like, and enable the right actions even if it means a fundamental change in direction.
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