How can a sustainable leadership practice improve organisation performance?

The pressure on business to perform is relentless, and not going to slow down any time soon. Long-term sustainability is often assessed on financial, social and environmental performance. Additional ways to measure sustainability include how organisations’ manage their people, how they innovate, and having a deep understanding of your customers and moving with their preferences. Behind all of this, can you actually identify what is fuelling your organisation? To generate all these ‘success’ outputs, how are you energising your stakeholders? It’s a question I often ask leadership teams. Responses vary from the making cuts to the bottom line, improving collaboration, new product pipeline, getting more investors, making staff abide by the values, and now slowly creeping into the conversation is the concept of staff wellbeing (yay!).

People are the critical factor in business success, I trust every CEO is willing to go on the record stating this. But who is, and how are they, being taken care of? To what extent is responsibility for people’s wellbeing cross over from individual to organisational? How are you maintaining energy levels? It’s a fine balance. Many companies are jumping on the mindfulness, wellbeing and yoga bandwagon. However, it needs to be more than creating a beanbag room, supplying books on a shelf, having a yoga instructor arrive and one person attend the session, or ping pong tables that gather dust or used by few people who are then judged for skiving off.

The practices adopted need to be more than ‘feel good’ or make your ‘best place to work’ entries shine. They need to be measured, have an evident impact on people’s energy levels, and generate return on investment back to the business to improve performance. Plus enable your people to be more efficient, more caring of one another, and taking responsibility for their health. Sustainable leadership practices can be translated into wellbeing programs to demonstrate the impact the bottom line, from reducing the number of sick days, improving productivity (via changing presenteeism/ absenteeism scores, finding better ways of doing things vs. the way it’s always been), resourcefulness to solve customer problems, thinking clearly, making better choices, handling tricky situations with more ease, to build solutions for Clients vs. see it as a debate or a Client out to get them.

How can you set up for success?

Look at the following four areas, including some good questions to ask the leadership team and then your people, to come up with what works for your organisation:

Business Outcomes; How can we get our people to recognise how their moment-to-moment choices are affecting the business long and short-term results? How can we encourage our teams to think up creative ways to attract new customers? Are we approaching sales targets with a pain or gain mindset?

Language; If we want to teach others how to breathe, pause and focus better… what language can we use? I.e. needs to be common sense, relatable, easy to do, simple to understand. How can we talk about failure (or a lost sale/ broken process/ incorrect messaging to customers) in a different way, that doesn’t breed fear? How can we talk to teams about coming into work with a pain or gain attitude?

Leading by example; What do we need to role model vs. teach? Do we have to ‘tell’ people what we’re doing or simply act differently? How are we going to give our attention to people differently?

Creating the space; Do we know what boosts and drains our team? How can we create more space in their day to work through solutions that work? What are acceptable times to respond to emails? How do we manage differences in opinion? How do we teach inventive thinking?

Critically – set measurable KPIs around these areas based on how they impact the bottom line

One creative business consulted with, using the findings of the Energy Audit, identified that the ‘way we review work’ was a drain. We looked at all angles, from the way people provided feedback, to the time of day, the frame of mind attendees were coming to the meeting in, how the meeting was hosted, and how different people’s styles of communication were empathised with. The current way of operating left people feeling personally attacked, defensive behaviours flared, time was wasted, and the audit highlighted the team were not focused on getting the best result for the work and Client vs. defending concepts or pleasing the most senior person in the room. The result, we co-created a completely new approach to assess work, using a ‘productive conflict’ mindset and tools, buy-in from the team on new behaviours, and also ensured a fun way to ‘call themselves out’ when going off track. Results have shown reviews are now more effective (less time wasted), far more enjoyable (people operating out of fight/ flight), and the ideas for Clients are getting stronger (and braver) too (translate to being ‘bought’ first time vs. rounds of changes to crack a brief).

Look at how you are working with the environment…

Below are some key truths to ask your leadership team about the type of culture you’re cultivating, to keep it on track towards a sustainable high-performing one.

Fear; Is the team operating in constant fight/ flight mode? Is the team showing up ‘wanting’ to work?

Trust; Are we being consistent? Have we set expectations clearly, and importantly are there consequences? What behaviour is tolerated by some and not others?

Open communication; Are we being clear when we communicate? Is our team listening to us? Is management listening to our team?

Mastery; Does the team take ownership of their roles? Does the team have a workspace they can manage? Is the team supported when they take action?

Mission; Do people have a sense of purpose coming to work every day? Does work have a positive impact on their wellbeing? Are the companies ambitions understood by everyone, are they contributing towards what we want to achieve?

Care; Do we genuinely care or are we just paying lip service? How are we rewarding good behaviour vs. bad?

I’ve heard rumours of Virgin call centres having a ‘stupid shit I did’ wall. I love this. A place where staff can pin up silly things they did with a customer so that the team can look at what mistakes are being made, how often (aka is it being posted up by multiple people) and how they can alleviate it happening again. People aren’t penalised for their errors, in fact they are turned into opportunities to improve and education programs to avoid the same trap for others.

Experiment a little…

How can you integrate it into your way of being?

How can you take responsibility? How can you start with one thing, and do it really well?

Taking steps to change…

If your team is bold enough to work through the above and get some valuable insights to change 2-3 ways of working, here are further questions to set up the challenge for change per area:

1.    Where/ what is the opportunity for change?

2.    Any challenges we may face?

3.    How can we make it tangible and effective in our workplace?

4.    How can we measure it?

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I’m an experienced career coach and mentor here to help you improve your mindset, motivation and momentum. I believe everyone has the power to change their lives. It starts with taking responsibility.