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Successfully Developing Triple Bottom Line Sustainability: #3

November 2, 2010 1 comment

This is the third of six contiguous Blogs dealing with TBL Sustainability to be published over the next few weeks. All these Blogs are being co-developed with my colleague and TLA Associate Tia Carr Williams. In this third Blog further cultural implications of Sustainable Advantage (SA) are explored.

“It is not who is influential that counts but who acts as a catalyst for conversation” – Keith O’Brien

Sustainable Advantage (SA) has been discussed in Blogs #1 & 2 of this series dealing with TBL Sustainability. It is clear that change is fundamental to SA, and change is a constant continuum – a flowing circadian dynamic that yearns to be harnessed. The ability to purpose the momentum of change is colored by an organization’s prior experience of change. When starting to contemplate SA as an organizational change opportunity, and how it might be managed, it is useful initially to spend time reviewing and learning from previous change-related experience, and re-assessing the organization’s culture and design.

Change takes root best in a culture of innovation that incorporates an inclusive collaborative mindset, and that embraces change as an organic evolutionary process of co-production. As emphasized in Blog #1 of this series, a decentralized organization has distinct market advantages over a wholly centralized organization. In particular, the sense of incorporation from many perspectives in a decentralized organization creates a balance and an harmonious relationship with change, rarely the case in current or previous models of ‘change management’.

How well or badly churn has been integrated into the daily work flow is also an indicator of sustainability potential. Churn is typically viewed as deleterious from an organizational harmony viewpoint, but for a decentralized organization focusing on SA, churn is integral to its change momentum, and new and existing incumbents can champion innovation from a place of congruence, comprehensively cognizant of choices and challenges.

An organization seeking SA must cultivate a culture enfranchising sustainable principles and innovation at its foundation. There must be a synergistic co-operative culture that fosters thinking on how everything can be improved. Management must seek a balance between financial viability and strategies to gain and maintain market uniqueness through environmentally sustainable practices, including product and process innovation, as well as the development of sustainable supply chain management. There must be a motivational visionary strategy allied with a deep human context structure, and workforce integration systems of high efficiency, capability and efficacy. Costs must be reduced, and there must be task agility for optimal productivity. Leadership is at the heart of a healthy organization, but it must beat with the ring of authenticity – people will follow where their heart is engaged.

This kind of strong organizational culture confers a fundamental and unique advantage. If building and sustaining an innovation culture focused on commitment to the organization’s goals remains central to all activities, the potential for sustainable success is increased immeasurably. To promote creativity the organization’s leaders must pull the culture into being by giving the right incentives to key people, encouraging them to think creatively, and with every achievement, giving them the confidence to think ‘out of the box”. This can only be accomplished where the environment supports such activities. ‘Soft spaces’ within the formality of the corporate environment nurture such engagement to great effect; it is no surprise that the factors that most strongly predict rapid change, adaptation, and innovation introduction, are related to collegial, participative and open organizational systems, and cultures that permit joint problem solving without boundary interference. These are the kinds of decentralized organizations where individuals have the freedom to take risks and develop new ideas, be creative, and challenge existing organizational norms.

In the upcoming fourth Blog of this series, the implications a Triple Bottom Line approach to SA will be explored.