In this guide:
- Corporate competency models felt irrelevant
- What works is soft skills
- The Inner Development Goals
- & Opportunism
- Links to resources
What are the key skills that you need to create change, build relationships and bring people with you when you are leading on sustainability in your organisation?
In this guide Richard Profit shares his experience of leading on sustainability at PepsiCo and about his research into sustainability leadership while studying his masters at Ashridge.
Corporate competency models felt irrelevant
Every time I was presented with a corporate competency model, it didn’t feel relevant to the work I was doing or authentic to me and my passion. I thought “there’s got to be more than that!”
At Ashridge I came across the idea of relational practice and the different skillsets that are essential for creating change and building relationships and taking people with you. I started bringing these into my work and into our team that was trying to effect change within PepsiCo.
We held regular retrospectives or debriefs, where we picked apart what worked and what didn’t work. And if it didn’t work, why not? When it did work, why was that one different? Why was it successful when something else failed?
What works is soft skills
We found that when things are successful, there are a common set of factors. And in every case, the things that made the difference were the soft skills, not the technical expertise or the knowledge, and not the hierarchy or power dynamics.
These were exactly the same skills that the researchers I was reading at Ashridge has also identified – people like Joyce Fletcher, Patricia Shaw and Dexter Dunphy.
Where the standard corporate competency models felt irrelevant and artificial, these soft skills that we were identifying felt completely authentic and natural to me.
Instead of working towards an artificial definition of success that was imposed on us, these soft skills allowed our innate human nature and competency to emerge and flourish.
It seems to me that if you can harness, encourage and promote innate skills that sit within somebody, so they can succeed and be powerful in their role, it much better than saying you can only succeed at work if you tick off these five things that someone from Harvard or Boston Consulting Group has said are important.
Fundamentally it just felt a much more authentic approach to leadership competency.
The Inner Development Goals
At Realise Earth we used the sustainability skillset that Rich developed in our programmes, but we’ve recently switched to using the Inner Development Goals – because of their global recognition.
The IDG framework sets out the skills and mindsets that are considered essential for leaders working towards sustainability. Developed by over a thousand researchers, experts and practitioners in leadership development and sustainability, including Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer and Renée Lertzman, the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) are supported by companies such as Google, Spotify, Stena, IKEA and OX2.
These are very similar to Rich’s approach – not least because they’ve been influenced by much of the same research that Rich was drawing on.
Relationship to self
Caring for Others and the World
Below are the full descriptions of each the 5 dimensions and 23 skills and qualities, reproduced from the IDG report, along with some comments and reflections from Rich.
Being: Relationship to Self
Cultivating our inner life and developing and deepening our relationship to our thoughts, feelings and body help us be present, intentional and non-reactive when we face complexity.
Inner Compass Having a deeply felt sense of responsibility and commitment to values and purposes relating to the good of the whole.
Integrity and Authenticity A commitment and ability to act with sincerity, honesty and integrity.
Openness and Learning Mindset Having a basic mindset of curiosity and a willingness to be vulnerable and embrace change and grow.
Self-awareness Ability to be in reflective contact with own thoughts, feelings and desires; having a realistic self-image and ability to regulate oneself.
Presence Ability to be in the here and now, without judgement and in a state of open-ended presence.
You need to have a really good understanding of who you are so that you can be authentic with yourself, and use that as a source of power for your interventions and work that you’re going do.
Thinking: Cognitive Skills
Developing our cognitive skills by taking different perspectives, evaluating information and making sense of the world as an interconnected whole is essential for wise decision-making.
Critical Thinking Skills in critically reviewing the validity of views, evidence and plans.
Complexity Awareness Understanding of and skills in working with complex and systemic conditions and causalities.
Perspective Skills Skills in seeking, understanding and actively making use of insights from contrasting perspectives.
Sense-making Skills in seeing patterns, structuring the unknown and being able to consciously create stories.
Long-term Orientation and Visioning Long-term orientation and ability to formulate and sustain commitment to visions relating to the larger context.
At first sight this seems more conventional, and stuff that we’re used to – most of our education systems around the world are based on developing cognitive skills. But many of these skills actually take us further, into the post-conventional.
Awareness of complexity is so important, because things are more complex than any of can comprehend. We all need to realise that we can’t actually control everything, and to think you can is a myth.
You have to be comfortable with the uncertainty not knowing what’s going to happen. At the same time, you can use this to your advantage: You don’t know what’s going happen, so try making interventions and see what happens. They might grow and develop into something bigger and more powerful.
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Relating Caring for Others and The World
Appreciating, caring for and feeling connected to others, such as neighbors, future generations or the biosphere, helps us create more just and sustainable systems and societies for everyone.
Appreciation Relating to others and to the world with a basic sense of appreciation, gratitude and joy.
Connectedness Having a keen sense of being connected with and/or being a part of a larger whole, such as a community, humanity or global ecosystem
Humility Being able to act in accordance with the needs of the situation without concern for one’s own importance.
Empathy and Compassion Ability to relate to others, oneself and nature with kindness, empathy and compassion and address related suffering.
This is about your relationships with, and caring about, others, including your team members, your peers, your community, the rest of the organisation and beyond.
But it’s not just about human relationships. It’s also about how you relate to, and care for, the natural environment, the animals and plants that you share the planet with.
This is relevant to you, and should be important to your organisation, because if we have an unhealthy or damaged relationship with nature, it’s going come back and punish us in one way or another.
Humility is worth picking out. For me this is about accepting that you, and humans generally, aren’t actually the most important things here. It’s about letting go of ego – personal ego, and species ego – that is over-dominant in our culture.
Are you struggling to engage colleagues with sustainability? There is a way to turn your colleagues’ disinterest or grudging acceptance into active collaboration and support for your organisation’s sustainability initiative.
We’ve distilled 20+ years experience into five key steps in our Get Buy-In to Sustainability Quick Start Guide:
Osbert Lancaster, director, Realise Earth
Collaborating Social Skills
To make progress on shared concerns, we need to develop our abilities to include, hold space and communicate with stakeholders with different values, skills and competencies.
Communication Skills Ability to really listen to others, to foster genuine dialogue, to advocate own views skillfully, to manage conflicts constructively and to adapt communication to diverse groups.
Co-creation Skills Skills and motivation to build, develop and facilitate collaborative relationships with diverse stakeholders, characterized by psychological safety and genuine co-creation.
Inclusive Mindset and Intercultural Competence Willingness and competence to embrace diversity and include people and collectives with different views and backgrounds.
Trust Ability to show trust and to create and maintain trusting relationships.
Mobilization Skills Skills in inspiring and mobilizing others to engage in shared purposes.
Many of these are social skills that people are probably familiar with like communication skills. But some are less familiar and need more attention, like co-creation skills.
This is the idea that a team of people can co-create solutions and strategies that will be more effective than if it’s designed and developed by an individual leader who nominally might have responsibility for this.
Why do we conventionally assume that one person will have all the answers and a team of five or ten don’t? I believe you are more likely to find solutions and answers by drawing on the experience and collective wisdom of ten people than you are just relying on one.
Coming back to communication skills, the real power here is in listening skills. If you listen significantly more than you’re talking or communicating, you will pick up the nuances that are really important for creating change and and effective interventions.
One of my colleagues once said, I think this comes from Bill Torbert’s work, “Inquiry over Advocacy”.
Inquiring and asking questions is significantly more powerful that advocating a position – not least because you will elicit so much useful information. Whereas if you’re advocating a position, you pretty like get someone’s back up and create resistance.
So if you can reframe what you are doing into an inquiry, you can actually start drawing out what’s important to them and also get clarity about what’s important for you. And that creates the potential for collaboration.
Acting Enabling Change
Qualities such as courage and optimism help us acquire true agency, break old patterns, generate original ideas and act with persistence in uncertain times.
Courage Ability to stand up for values, make decisions, take decisive action and, if need be, challenge and disrupt existing structures and views.
Creativity Ability to generate and develop original ideas, innovate and being willing to disrupt conventional patterns.
Optimism Ability to sustain and communicate a sense of hope, positive
attitude and confidence in the possibility of meaningful change.
Perseverance Ability to sustain engagement and remain determined and
patient even when efforts take a long time to bear fruit.
This is all about actually talking action. Things like creativity and optimism are all important, but I think what’s really important is courage and perseverance.
It’s never going to be an easy road trying to create this sort of change we need. And so you need courage and perseverance to keep pushing, to keep going, to try again and try again.
And you need courage to be brave in your interventions. Someone once said to me, “Well, what’s the worst that could happen?”
And I said “They could sack me.” And he replied “Well, you’ve been saying you want to leave anyway!”
So I tried it, and what was really interesting was that the more provocative I got, the more people would listen to me and want my support on delivering change.
In big corporates, there’s often a culture of fear, or of not wanting to rock the boat, of not wanting to fall out of line.
But I found that if you are provocative and speak your truth, you are actually saying things that many other people are not prepared to say, but that the senior leadership wants to, or needs to, hear. It’s actually welcome when you think it’s not going to be so.
I’m not suggesting you should put your job on the line, but it was that experience that led me to believe that courage and perseverance are essential.
Opportunism – the missing IDG?
There’s one aspect that is missing from the IDGs: opportunism in my view. We need to be aware of opportunities that arise, and able to take advantage of them when they come.
It’s also about lighting many fires to see which ones catch, and then you follow the bigger fires. Because you don’t know where your interventions are going be successful. Create lots of interventions, identify which ones seem to be gaining traction, and then pursue those further.
And linked to this is: Go with the path of least resistance. If something’s too hard, it probably is. So try something easier, particularly in the early days when you’re a small team.
Because when you’re trying to gain momentum and build trust, it’s easier to go where the energy is until you can get the momentum going. Then you’ll be in a much stronger position to work on the more difficult challenges.
In the next podcast episode and guide, Rich offers practical advice about how you and your team can go about developing these skills – and make more progress on sustainability.
Links and resources
If you want to dive into some of the literature that Rich mentioned, here’s a reading list to get you started!
- Dunphy, D., Griffiths, A., Benn, S. (2007). Organizational Change For Corporate Sustainability: A guide for leaders and change agents of the future. 2nd edn. Abingdon: Routledge.
- Fletcher, J. (1999). Disappearing Acts – Gender, Power, and Relational Practice at Work, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
- Meyerson, D. E. and Scully. M.A. (1995). ‘Tempered Radicalism and the Politics of Ambivalence and Change’. Organisational Science, 6(5): pp. 585-600.
- Senge, P. et.al. (2004). Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London.
- Shaw, P. (2002). Changing Conversations in Organizations – A Complexity Approach to Change. London: Routledge.
- Shepard, H. (1975). ‘Rules of Thumb for Change Agents’. Organization Development Practitioner, Nov 1975: pp. 1-5.
- Torbert, B. and Associates. (2004). Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco