Sustainability Strategy: First Things Last
Last week, straight back from my US sojourn, I had to get my jet-lagged, sleep-deprived brain quickly back in gear for a progress meeting with a major client. We’ve run two sustainability strategy workshops for them, one at the operational level and one at the executive level and it’s now time to bring all that together into a whole.
During the discussion, the client suggested it would be helpful to have a ‘horizon diagram’ showing the timeframes for different initiatives, with the vital enabling actions in the first tranche.
Both workshops had used a backcasting method which starts at the desired end (10 year objectives) and works backwards to the present day. During the workshops (and the write ups), we arranged the stages from right to left as we produced them, so they could be read ‘forwards’ in chronological order from left to right, ie present day to 10 years hence. This means we already have two horizon diagrams which we can meld into one (with a little pixie-dust added).
If we had tried to construct a horizon diagram starting from present day and working forwards, the ‘first things’ would determine the direction of the strategy, not the objectives. There would be no guarantee that those first steps would take us in the right direction. The tail would wag the dog.
So, while in practice you need to put first things first, in planning you’ve got to leave them until last. That might sound obvious, but I’ve watched plenty of people try to do it the other way around.