The one question you need to ask of every Sustainability project
I was down in Manchester yesterday for a session with a client I haven’t worked with for years. They had called me in ‘to pick my brains’ about employee engagement. In the past I’ve found such requests a bit of a double-edged sword – on one hand it is great to get paid to share your knowledge, experiences and opinions, but on the other you can leave them with a whole load of exciting sounding but abstract ideas and no way forward.
To avoid the latter, I structure such engagements like a coaching session. I start by asking them the killer question – to define the ideal solution looking forward. “If this is 100% successful, in 5 years’ time what will it look like?”
That might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who start with a process rather than an objective. That’s a bit like a DIY enthusiast grabbing the first tool in their toolbox and using it no matter what the task entails. You don’t want to be wiring a plug with a lump hammer.
The answer to this question sets the direction of everything else in the discussion. Not does it point us in the right direction, but, psychologically, it makes the journey feel much more achievable. When we look at the present day opportunities and threats, we get more of the former and the latter seem much less ominous. Throughout yesterday’s session I repeatedly referred back to the ideal solution.
Planning the route is where I break with the strictest form of coaching, as I make recommendations from my experience working across a wide range of businesses from a crazy golf course (honestly!) to multinational aerospace companies. Coaching purists will be sucking through their teeth at that, but I give a series of options and recommend the one I think is best for the client. This makes sure they still have ownership over the agreed way forward.
But the key to success is really pinning down that ‘ideal solution’, even when, like yesterday, the client had put some thought to it already. Whether I’m asking that question of a group of stakeholders to define the outcome of a Sustainability Strategy during a backcasting session, or of an individual client on a 1-2-1 coaching session, getting the desired outcome pinned down will increase the chances of success many times over.