Do you really want to make sustainability everybody’s responsibility?
Interesting piece in Guardian Sustainable Business yesterday, predicting that 2015 would be the year when businesses made sustainability part of everybody’s job description.
On first reading, that sounds great. But is it really, in practice?
I haven’t had a job description for over eight years, but I recall there was always some vaguely worded phrase such as “uphold the values of the organisation” which was never mentioned again. If this sustainability proposal is implemented in this way, then everybody would get a bullet point “Contribute to sustainability.” Full stop. Job done.
And what would change? Nothing.
To make a difference, you need to translate your overall sustainability objectives so they are relevant individual job roles. And if you are going to do that for everyone, that is a huge task. And how long are you going to spend agonising over the job description of, say, a receptionist who doesn’t make many sustainability-related decisions throughout a normal day?
The 80/20 Rule tells us that, in general, a small number of people have disproportionate influence on any outcome. So it makes sense to spend your limited time and energy on that cohort. As Ramon Arratia of Interface puts it:
We tell our employees about Mission Zero and what they have to do, but we only engage intensively with employees who carry influence on sustainability. Engagement for the sake of it doesn’t have any value. So we identify the people with biggest influence on Mission Zero and try to enable them to use that influence in a positive way.
This is classic 80/20 thinking. Focus your efforts on the small number with the largest influence rather than trying to reach everybody with a diluted effort. I give another employee engagement example in the introduction video for my new book.
Don’t forget that if you want to learn more about 80/20 thinking and sustainability, we have a webinar on 28th January on that very topic. More details here.