This week I delivered a sustainability workshop for the executive team of one of my longstanding clients. Engaging at this level is tough – these guys are at the pinnacle of their organisation and they didn't get there by being dupes. And they are used to questioning everything, you can't get away with generalisations or platitudes. Tough, but I like the challenge.
As we started off, the default position was, at best, cautious:
"What do we need to do to keep out of jail?"
"We shouldn't do anything which isn't cost effective."
"The new Government doesn't seem to be prioritising this."
By the end, however, the executive had decided to make the already challenging proposed targets significantly more ambitious, to drive forward work on renewable energy and were throwing around some quite radical ideas on their business model (so radical I wasn't allowed to take them out of the seminar room!) There was no sudden tipping point, but as we explored the issues, the attitude shifted decisively from being warily reactive to boldly proactive.
During the wash-up session, I mused on this change. One participant shot straight back:
"Sustainability sounds so boring – it just isn't an inspiring word. But, as soon as we started getting stuck into the issues, it turned out to be really fascinating!"
This was music to my ears as my whole approach to engagement is to get people properly involved, working out for themselves what sustainability means to them and their organisation. I don't tell people what to think – least of all senior managers. From the moment I walked up to the flipchart, pen in hand, and asked "Why should you take sustainability seriously?" I got them to do all the work, selling sustainability to themselves.
Classic green jujitsu, in other words.