“Judge people on what they do, not what they say” is a pretty good mantra to follow in life. When it comes to building a more sustainable future, that goes double for big business. In the latest of our ‘Decade of our Lives’ series, Vizibl brought together two procurement leaders to discuss the need to put words into decisive action.
In a conversation hosted by Caitlyn Lewis, founder and managing director of Supplier Day, Bayer CPO Thomas Udesen, and Jacklin Wienczierz, Head of Supplier Sustainability and Climate Initiatives at Clariant International, outlined the fundamental principles of turning sustainability objectives into action.
Both are highly qualified to comment on the topic, with both Bayer and Clariant emerging as two major protagonists in the quest to make global business more sustainable in both the short and long-term.
So, what did we learn from the discussion?
Make the big picture clear
It’s obviously essential to get buy-in to any sustainability strategy – but what’s equally important is painting a clear picture of why a coherent approach to the issue is essential in the first place. It’s a point that Wienczierz is keen to emphasise.
“Making clear that there’s a common understanding of the goal and linking it to the bigger picture [is so important],” she says. “Make that bigger picture clear to everyone in the organisation. It’s very important to make sure you get the buy-in from stakeholders and management level and the workforce, but it’s really important that everybody understands the goal and defines their contribution to it.”
How that picture is painted shouldn’t be limited to one group, either. A key communication skill is telling the same story in a different language to as many groups as possible. Some people respond to lengthy reports, others to more visual prompts. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Making your communication channels as broad as possible is absolutely essential to achieving that.
Create an environment where imperfection is accepted and embraced
We all want perfection, or something approximating it. But Udesen argues that this can be damaging and might even serve to stifle innovation. After all, if people are intimidated by the thought of failing to make something absolutely perfect, why would they try anything new in the first place?
“In many organisations people are afraid to take steps in case somebody accuses them of some degree of imperfection,” he says. “Everybody knows the world is not perfect.”
He’s not wrong. Udesen points to the example of as many as 160m children globally working in some kind of forced labour. You couldn’t find a starker illustration of just how far short of perfection we’re falling. Facing that issue head-on, though, shouldn’t be something that business leaders are afraid to do.
“We need to create an environment where leaders are able to show courage and also vulnerability,” he says. “We need leaders that are prepared to say ‘we don’t know if there is a problem, but we’re committed to looking for it’.”
Agility is key – build an organisation that reflects that
Being nimble and able to adapt to change is a crucial element of success. And nowhere has this been better demonstrated than at Clariant, where Wienczierz has fostered not just an agile organisation, but an agile mindset in those working towards their common goal.
“It’s absolutely important to understand that we can all contribute to a better future,” she says. “You can’t repeat the goal too many times. You need to get the right people on the right project.”
“Build up small teams to deliver fast, if the team is too big it can be unwieldy. I’m totally convinced that the agile mindset is so important.”
Feedback is also critical.
“Feedback is one of the crucial tools,” she says. “You need a constant feedback loop as part of your process – make it easy to share learning, you need a human-centred approach.”
It’s tough to solve complex problems if you’re reliant on a workforce with a single view of the world. Different opinions and ideas need to be encouraged. In fact, they’re integral to any successful project or process.
“You need to have people with diverse perspectives and you need to create an environment where they’ll be listened to,” says Udesen. “If you have the right cultural environment this helps you with every kind of movement that happens in an organisation.
“You need to not be hung-up on what you’ve done in the past ten years because the capabilities needed in the next ten years will be different.”
As we look to the future, the lessons of the past are clearly important. But mapping out a more sustainable way of working demands an entirely different approach.
Our next Decade of our Lives webinar featuring Anke Hampel, Global Innovation and Sustainability Director at Tetra Pak, will be taking place on the 25th May at 3PM BST. Register for your free ticket now.