Donna Kennedy-Glans: Rescuing the Boiling Frog

By May 18, 2016Latest News

In this three-part blog series, Donna provides practical advice on how to begin the sustainability planning discussion in your organization, with your stakeholder communities and with the critics. She will provide tools to accompany each blog post to assist you, as an intrapreneur, in applying the learnings.

As a corporate insider, you are no doubt noticing the radically different market reality. And, you want to support your organization’s targeting and pursuit of new sustainability frontiers and strategy.

In the past year I have spoken to thousands of Albertans. There is no denying it. Alberta is midst of a major energy transition that is impacting families and communities.  Nowhere is this being felt more than in the province’s boardrooms.  Sustainability is, more than ever, a strategic imperative.

As a corporate insider, you are no doubt noticing the radically different market reality. And, you want to support your organization’s targeting and pursuit of new sustainability frontiers and strategy.

You want to rescue the boiling frog, pulling your organization from the culture and ineffective strategies that puts its future at risk.

But how?

Let’s start by recognizing you need to build a space for a conversation. The best place to start is connecting with your organization’s insiders— fellow employees and contractors—to explore how people understand your company’s commitment to “sustainability”. Ultimately, you will want to look beyond internal stakeholders, to your supply chain, communities and even critics. But, let’s start with the insiders.

For most energy companies in Alberta, “sustainability” is a core value. It may even be included in your corporate strategy.  This word, “sustainability”, means a lot of things to a lot of people. In the market chaos we’re experiencing, “sustainability”, to some, may even refer to the very survival of the company itself.

With a clearer focus on carbon, Alberta’s companies, more than ever, need people who can take on the challenge of defining “sustainability” in ways that inspire the corporate culture and strategies needed to innovate better ways to develop and use non-renewable energy. You may be one of those people with the motivation and skills to initiate a non-threatening conversation about what “sustainability” means, and could mean, in your company.

There is already more than enough market uncertainty and personal anxiety! What we’re suggesting are ways you can safely initiate this discussion, without threatening decision-makers or undermining your co-workers. We want you to be a catalyst for positive change—not a spent enzyme.

So, how can you begin?

Let’s start by checking out your organization’s values. What does your organization say about “sustainability”, and what does that commitment really mean, today?

A Measure of Integrity is a tool I’ve used with great results and I’m recommending, to help you understand how your organization is approaching its commitment to this value of “sustainability”.  Take a look at the levels on A Measure of Integrity. Think about your organization’s reasons for committing to “sustainability”, the ways you talk about that value, and your actions:

  • If your organization is motivated to commit to the value of “sustainability” to comply or strictly comply with rules and laws (e.g. pay carbon taxes; comply with federal, provincial and municipal rules about handling water, waste, the environment, etc.), and you spend a lot of time with lawyers and regulators making sure you understand the rules and comply, your organization may be approaching this commitment to “sustainability” at level +1 or +2 of the scale.
  • Or, is your organization focused on honouring the value of “sustainability” beyond compliance with laws and rules, as part of your company’s strategy of acting responsibly and doing no harm? This may mean your organization is committed to act sustainably at level +3 or +4 of the scale.
  • If your organization wants to make a positive social and environmental return on investment, maybe even thinking about your role in a project after the project is completed or considering the impacts for future generations, you may be approaching this undertaking at the highest levels of the scale.

You may not be able to exactly pinpoint where your organization’s commitment to “sustainability” lands on A Measure of Integrity. But you can get a pretty good idea.

Mac Van Wielingen, founder of ARC Financial Corp., explores how companies look at sustainability in an excellent Conference Board of Canada report:  Companies focus on different aspects of sustainability—financial sustainability (through all market cycles); organizational sustainability (through leadership cycles); relational sustainability (with all stakeholders); industry sustainability (with regulators and industry associations); the sustainability of the communities within which we and our employees live, and environmental sustainability. In all of these aspects, Van Wielingen notes that the focus is on sustainability as the opposite of short-term-ism.

You may also be able to see gaps—especially gaps between your organization’s commitments to “sustainability” and how your actions reflect that strategic mandate. You may even have ideas about how your organization could close some of those gaps, or ideas about what limits your ability to close the gaps.

So, how is your deepened understanding of your organization’s commitment to “sustainability” going to help? With greater acumen, you can listen more deeply, ask more constructive questions and make more discerning choices. You have a better chance of pulling that boiling frog from the churning water!

When it’s time to talk to others in your company about your observations, keep it constructive. Who can you seek out to explore your organization’s approach to “sustainability” in more depth? Is there an existing group or committee responsible for managing aspects of “sustainability” performance or reporting? Is “sustainability” part of your over-arching corporate strategy, to describe ‘how’ you implement your mission and vision? How does “sustainability” surface within your own department’s mandate?

And take time to define the upside of this “sustainability” tweaking or leaping:

  • Tweaking: What refinements in how your organization’s “sustainability” talk and walk could improve your organization’s reputation, credibility, and resiliency, reduce litigation risk, and restore confidence?
  • Leaping: And, what higher sustainability targets will improve your organization’s competitiveness, access to capital and build trust? If sustainability becomes part of your organization’s strategic imperative, you will have to focus on ‘how’ to walk that talk.

Finally, remember, you are someone who is comfortable with change. Most people are not. The majority of people in an organization will wait to see the outcome of your efforts.

As the Permeation of Change Model attests, look to people, like yourself, intrapreneurs who are comfortable with change even in the absence of rules, and to others who are interested, but who may need to see some implementation parameters and process before participating.

In fact, if you don’t reach out to others during this transition, your company will likely lose fellow change leaders. So you are addressing both needs – having the conversations to shape clearer sustainability commitments and new frontiers for your organization and engaging those who will leave your organization if you don’t have that conversation.

As a change leader, sustain yourself with new inspiration and resources. I highly encourage you to follow the developments of the Energy Futures Lab. It is here where leaders from across government, oil and gas, renewables, first nations and non-governmental organizations are grappling with the same challenges you are facing.

Donna Kennedy-Glans is a former politician responsible for electricity and renewable energy in Alberta, a former energy sector executive, author, and advisor to the Energy Futures Lab.