How to facilitate meaningful sustainability conversations
We’ve all been there – sat in the audience while a sharp suited executive stands in front of glossy corporate Powerpoint slides and tells us how wonderful their sustainability programme is. When it comes to the Q&A, any query with a hint of controversy is skilfully deflected with a well worn platitude. And all the time you’re sat there thinking “I bet that’s not the real story.” And you’re right, 9 times out of 10 the gloss covers some really deep cracks and doesn’t extend into the darkest corners.
But how likely is it that that our speaker would stand up and list all the mishaps, outright failures and the stuff they haven’t done yet as it’s too difficult? For some brands such honesty would hit the headlines – and could pitch said executive onto the dole queue (it’s been known to happen.)
So how do you open up honest conversations and meaningful dialogue while still allowing people to share what they have learned?
My Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group relies on openness and honesty to work. We use the Chatham House Rule, which goes as follows:
When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.
This is incredibly simple, and it relies on trust, but it is very effective. We can share the WHAT but not the WHO, reducing the risk of recrimination and allowing us to share gems such as:
“We don’t have a hope in hell of hitting that target, but if I dilute it, we won’t even come close, so we’re sticking with it to keep the pressure on.”
Far more insightful than the typical public equivalent:
“We’ve hit 80% of our targets already and we’re well on our way to hit the rest.”
Typically the Chatham House Rule works better in smaller forums and those with a reasonably fixed membership so peer pressure does the enforcement.
The second rule of the Mastermind Group is “NO POWERPOINT” – if you want to have a meaningful discussion, then a 40 slide deck is not the way to go about it. Instead we have a facilitated discussion using one of my signature A0 templates and Post-Its. I’ve written about the power of workshops before, so I won’t go into details here.
And, if you are wondering, the third and last rule is “No dreary executive buffets” – we eat properly!