Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t need a lengthy job description for your role but could summarise it entirely by the four words: Do the Right Thing? In my role as chair of a medium sized charity, I was recently working on the pages and pages that provide a job description and person specification for a new CEO, prior to the assessment day (conducted entirely through Zoom, of course). Writing the JD was a pretty feeble attempt to make the world stand still for long enough to capture exactly what the leader of our organisation needs to do and be. Naturally, the document ends up like an appeal for a superhero. You cannot write a precise algorithm (sorry to bring up the A word) for managing a complex organisation which is constantly adapting to the changing environment around it. But maybe you can say to someone who is keen enough and skilled enough to take on the role: just do the right thing.
Such a lot is assumed in that statement. It means that in every circumstance, the leader has to make a judgment from the options open to her, and choose the right one. Do I turn down the request from the sales director not to put up prices in September because she is desperate to encourage her new hire, who has the chance to secure a three-year deal, to win the deal, even though I am really keen for the board to see boosted revenues in Q4 and the team’s deal wouldn’t even hit our books until next year? Do I overrule the marketing director’s choice of marketing manager because I can see that he’s trying to clone himself, and the alternative candidate is clearly super organised, if slightly dull in interview? Must I really take disciplinary action against a senior member of staff who is accused by a much younger member of staff of making her feel very uncomfortable on the dance floor at the office party last week, even though no one else has mentioned it to me? Am I willing to pay for the environmental audit the HR director is pushing for, when it costs a fortune, isn’t legally required, and will probably tell us we need a whole new (very expensive) approach to our waste management?
And the list can go on and on. The world is changing rapidly, and the leader must be better and better informed across a wide range of subjects, particularly in times of crisis. How do I ensure I treat contracted and non-contracted staff fairly without causing a cash crisis? What do I do about the two (previously highest performing) members of staff I know who are clearly NOT working from home? Get it wrong, and you’ll soon enough notice the abuse on Twitter or Facebook or Glassdoor. Get it right and, apologies, you’ll probably still be criticised. Leading a business is all too often akin to walking a tightrope, trying to keep the needs and expectations of increasingly sectionalised parties in balance.
Please let me depress you just a bit more before I bring any joy. Once you are able to start thinking more expansively, rather than managing the mature phase of the current crisis, how can you do the right thing when it comes to creating a cleaner environment for the people impacted by your organisation? Consider the following:
- The worst impacts of climate change will be irreversible by 2030
- The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years
- More than a million species are at risk of extinction from climate change
- Insects could vanish within a century at their current rate of decline
- Two-thirds of extreme weather events in the last 20 years were influenced by human activity
Businesses and government should be looking to prioritise actions which create a low carbon future. The Covid19 crisis has given us a brief snapshot of what a future climate crisis could look like. We need to act, and this recovery can provide a starting point.
When I left my role as CEO of The Key, I had a very vague notion of what I wanted to do next. At 57, I felt too young to retire. I studied for a professional certificate in Coaching at Henley Business School, which took about nine months. I had many cups of coffee with various outfits that wanted to have a chat. I ended up being persuaded to help two organisations that are both bang in the middle of the carbon reduction movement. It has made me realise how I used to think all this stuff was tree-huggery and rather fringe. Now, I see it as a fundamental aspect of what we are doing in business.
If we are to do the right thing, then we should lead the sprint towards reducing carbon emissions. I encourage you to consider the following:
Without paying (of course), get your lighting audited to find out how you can improve its efficacy in every area of the building/s, and find a means of paying a monthly service charge for newly-designed and installed lighting rather than having to fork out on a large capital outlay. Estimate by how much you are going to reduce carbon emissions and get your staff involved in this. Compare this to something tangible like trees, so they can get a sense of the scale of what you are attempting. I know a business in Walton on Thames that has become completely carbon neutral. The organisation I have been working with in this regard is eLight.com. I like the fact that they are a listed company, design a bespoke solution for each company, and use the best lights on the market. They are not always the cheapest, therefore, but their solution will last longer than those of competitors. I should point out that there are other companies out there that are also trying to lower carbon emissions in schools. Just choose wisely.
Reduce your Carbon Footprint with better lighting. Doing nothing shouldn’t be an option.
Educate your people to realise that driving alone to work each day is hugely polluting. If you have lots of staff, consider offering a bus/coach, where one vehicle can take forty plus people. For an organisation that manages route planning, coach choice and driver-checking, think about Transport2.com, which uses a clever app to keep people informed as to where the bus is at any time. Better still, encourage folk to walk or ride. Get nerdy about cycling: make it attractive and impressive. I can bore for Britain about my Brompton. 6-speed, mind you.
Find a way of permanently raising the agenda of carbon reduction in the minds of your staff, so that they are all looking out for how to push their own houses towards carbon neutrality. Just before the lock down, we had solar panels installed on our roof at home and yesterday our Tesla battery app told us that we provided 100% of our electricity directly from the sun. It made me feel pretty good about what we were doing for the planet. Imagine if you could do a deal with a local company to enable many of your staff to use sustainables in this way, for a discounted price.
I am not a member of the Green Party. I wear leather shoes. I fly when I go on holiday. So, I’m not your typical advocate of pushing a carbon reducing agenda. But I passionately believe that this is what business leaders should be thinking about. When we do so, we are doing the right thing.
The transport solutions company (I am no longer involved in this) can be found at https://www.transport2.com/