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October 2010

Sustainability. What is it and how do you ensure it?

Sustainability is a word we hear more and more everyday. Why? Because we fear for our future as climate change and the threat to our environment pervade all areas of our lives. Yet, it is rather unfortunate that this has only come about due to a looming crisis.

This means that, helpful though the proliferation undoubtedly is, you may define the term too narrowly. If you do you will focus exclusively on the environment and may perpetuate one of our past mistakes.

It is perhaps one of life's great ironies that the more progress we make and the more "civilised" we become, the less in-tune we seem to be with nature and our environment. It is perhaps unfortunate that, even now as we recognise this, we fail to fully appreciate the true nature of sustainability.Sustainability

You see the one thing our forebears understood and that we don't, is the mutual dependence that underpins sustainability. Webster's Dictionary may tell us that sustain means "To provide for the support of; to supply with sustenance: To maintain, or cause to continue, in existence or a certain state, or in force or intensity; to keep up; prolong: To bear up from or as from below; support the weight of," but at best it only implies this interdependency.

Why is this important? Obviously it is important because business is the primary way in which we use natural resources and thus business has a vital role to play in sustainability. More importantly, though, it is because all our commercial undertakings have an existence and a purpose that outlive us. Thus the interdependence is actually between the business and the environment. People are merely the link between the present and the future.

This has profound implications for the way we should be approaching things. It means that the following conditions all apply:-

  • The purpose of the organisation is paramount;
  • The purpose of the organisation is to adapt and survive in a manner that optimises it use of natural resources;
  • The people who work for the organisation have to honour and commit to these.

More succinctly this means that sustainability and business sustainability are one and incorporates the interdependence of the organisation with the wider world. This can only be achieved if there is total employee engagement with values that are clearly articulated, effectively communicated, and totally bought into by the employees. Employee ownership will enhance this and ensure the forces that hitherto have worked against sustainability no longer have the power they did.

HR: What's in a name?

Human Resources or HR is a term that has been almost universally used for the last three decades or more. The name depicts the function for managing employee affairs and came into vogue when it replaced the more generic "Personnel." Recently, however, the name has been challenged on the grounds that people are more than just "resources."HR

Thus, while still in a minority, a number of organisations have renamed the function "People" or "People Management." In many ways this is a progressive move and, arguably, more accurately depicts the nature of the function. Nevertheless, it still creates problems because it is:-

  • Too generic and can be confusing;
  • Not widely enough used.

It strikes me that a more appropriate name would be "Human Relations". This removes the grounds for criticism invoked by referring to people as resources while retaining the broader vision implicit in the term people.

It offers other advantages too:-

  • It would mean retaining the HR abbreviation. This would make the change more widely acceptable and easier to introduce;
  • It aligns better with the historic precedent set by Public Relations or PR.

In fact I don't think it would be going too far to suggest that the two functions actually belong together. What do you think? There are a number of good reasons for doing so.

  1. Both ultimately deal with people.
  2. Both are fundamentally about communication and both ultimately deal with perception. While the HR focus is internal and the PR focus is external the skills required are intrinsically the same. It would thus create greater efficiency and be more effective, ensuring that there is a consistent message at all times.
  3. It better accommodates stakeholder management. This will strengthen HR's strategic role to shape the corporate culture. It makes it easier to shift away from the more traditional bureaucratic role that continues to hold it back.

People are the glue that holds your organisation together. By re-branding HR as Human Relations you can build on this and create a solid foundation to shape behaviour. You can tie all the interactions in the organisation together, and engender greater organisational integrity with better talent management and improved employee engagement as a result.  

Is this what is wrong with management today?

Your mind will boggle. At least I think it will, won't it? 

Of course, I don't know, but I am pretty sure that when you read this you will feel the same way I do.

"This" is a 'management tip' that I received earlier! Now I normally find this source to be high quality, high calibre input and pretty inspiring, but today I felt badly let down. Read it for yourself and form your own opinion.Service

"Think of management as a service you provide to the people on your team so they can get on and do the work. There are many things you provide to them, from administration to leadership, and all of it could be considered a service."

So what do you think? Is it a novel, thought-provoking concept? Or is it an insult to any self-respecting manager and leader?

After all, you do this automatically, don't you?

Certainly you should be questioning your leadership capabilities if you don't - if it is anything but a gentle reminder. Why? Because:

  • The concept of the servant leader is thousands of years old. All the really great leaders in history are servant leaders who brought out the best in the people they led.
  • Success is always a team effort.

And you know that and lead accordingly. Don't you?

If I am wrong, then this is a timely message. And maybe I am wrong. Maybe I have too much faith in modern management. Maybe this is a generation that continues to wander in the wilderness. Certainly the lack of employee engagement and the so-called war for talent and the growing demand for talent management suggest I may be. I hope, however, I am not and that you feel the same way!

If, however, you think I am wrong, then please, please, please, take the advice to heart and change your approach to people management. As a manager you are responsible for the performance of your people and the more you understand and practice serving your people, the less you will have to manage and the more you will lead and the greater your results and your legacy will be.

Can't get no satisfaction? Try this new approach!

Do you sometimes feel that the law of attraction seems to work for everyone but you?

Or is it even worse than that - is it more than sometimes? Do you feel that the law of attraction never - or, at best, hardly ever - seems to work for you?

Since the law of attraction went viral and spread across the globe, the world seems to have split into 2 categories - those who swear by it and those who think it is a load of tosh! Yet few would dispute that one's state of thought governs one's life experience. Over a century ago Henry Ford said, "If you think you can do a thing, or if you think you can't do a thing, you're right." So if the law of attraction isn't working for you, perhaps you need to rethink.Satisfaction

Perhaps a good way to start is to think what attraction and satisfaction have in common. Clearly satisfaction depends on what you attract, but the words themselves provide a clue to a closer link: both end in action.

For starters, attraction is not passive. The light has to shine to draw the moth. So to get something for nothing is impossible and to expect it just because you positively wish for it, is to delude yourself.  Similarly, the word satisfaction is derived from the Latin 'satisfactus' which in turn has its roots in the words 'satis' meaning enough and 'facere' meaning to make. Consequently the etymology itself makes it clear that action is imperative.

So, where is this leading?

Well, it doesn't matter if you are an executive dissatisfied with bottom-line results and looking for productivity improvement from your people, or you are an employee looking for greater job satisfaction, the situation is not going to improve on its own. When, however, you recognise that the two issues are actually just different sides of the same coin and can be conveniently bracketed under the heading of employee engagement, you can see the potential for a single solution to solve both problems. This is why employee engagement is such a high-profile challenge. Solve this conundrum and you have a win-win where everyone will be satisfied.

And valuing people as human assets - and thus treating them as such -is the solution. It addresses both parties' needs. So what are you waiting for? There is no reason why you can get no satisfaction!