Talking Sustainability? Who are you talking to?
Every time I read a Sustainability document, I ask myself “who is this for?” If I’m drafting a Sustainability Strategy, I always ask my client “Who is the audience? Is this an outward looking document for an external audience or an inward looking one to guide key decision makers on the way forward?” Unfortunately I find most reports, strategies and action plans are written for “everybody” and that’s where they fall down.
An external audience will want to see the big picture and understand the overall direction of travel. As they will be less familiar with the organisation than insiders, they will require plenty of contextual information. Generally the document should be kept as concise as possible and not get bogged down in minute detail.
An internal audience will already know most of the context so will only require the briefest of introductions before getting into the guts of the issue. The audience will need to know what this document means to them: what they will need to do, what will they need to stop doing and how performance will be measured. Actions will need SMART targets so people know who will be doing it, by when, and how they know they have been successful.
If you mash the two together, as so many do, the external audience will get put off by the sheer bulk of the document, company specific jargon and fine managerial detail, and the internal audience may not have the patience to wade through all the explanatory passages to find the vital information they need to deliver on the plan.
As always, think horses for courses, and design each document for each specific audience. Choose appropriate content, language, imagery, data/graphs depending on that audience. Then they might actually read it.