Global problem with no human solution?
Yes, perhaps. The jury’s still out. The world’s got a global problem but not the global governance needed; in fact populations seem increasingly nationalistic. The world needs a long-term approach but long-term decision-making in the democratic government context is challenging.
So personally I tend to shift this huge conundrum to the “can’t control / hope someone comes up with a smart solution” place in my head.I wonder instead if there’s anything I can do. Clearly I’m no Greta Thunberg or David Attenborough so – unless I make it a career – the answer is probably that I can do very little. But that sentence sounds rather negative so let me change it to “the answer is probably that I can do a very little”. Adding the word “a” shifts the meaning from a negative “oh well, it’ll be what it’ll be” to a more positive “every little helps”. So I resolve to do what I can.
What am I doing?
I’m trying to consume less. Now please don’t imagine I’ve become some kind of fundamental abstinent sacrificing a comfortable life for the sake of my future grandchildren; maybe I should be but that’s not yet happened. Recently I happily barrelled down several hundred miles of French motorways to spend the new year week in the Alpine snow. And then I barrelled back up again. Driving probably wasn’t as eco-friendly as taking the train would have been (I checked the prices, rail travel is so very expensive) but less damaging than flying, especially with four of us on board. (And before you think it, the irony that my personal actions are in some small way increasing the likelihood me and others may not find enough snow while on our holidays of the future is not at all lost on me.) I am: selecting food with less packaging; making more of my work lunches rather than buying manufactured and plastic-wrapped convenience products; eating less meat; switching off my car engine when previously I might have idled; covering my windscreen at night so not to run the engine / boil the kettle / spray chemicals the next morning to defrost it. I walk more and I definitely cycle more, especially now I live in a town.
Incidentally and as an aside why isn’t town-centred housing and town-centred working two huge, priority green planning policies for the UK and beyond? Everyone wins don’t they? Less need to use the car, less building in the countryside and – having customers living on your doorstep – surely the way to rejuvenate the high street retailers. Maybe I’m missing something obvious…
I make many other similar decisions in my life. This approach is fast-becoming the way I think by default … do I need to use x, y or z? Not only is this good for the planet it’s also good for my pocket. Surely if everybody did the same then the effect would be huge? So I tell those around me what I’m doing. Just like I’m doing now.
But hang on a second …
I hear you say. This is supposed to be a business blog right? Why are you banging on about the environment and your personal life? Well the point is that organisations can take the same approach to change. I spend my working life helping businesses bring about positive change e.g. streamline their operations to stay competitive, prepare for growth, buy or build smart technology etc etc. These initiatives have all started with someone’s big idea and they’ve all been delivered with a special project. These projects can be big things with big budgets and big timescales. Nothing wrong with that … significant change warrants significant investment. But don’t forget the value of the small, microchange. Just like me and my green agenda, a business’s ordinary employees might not have the wherewithal to bring about a transformation. In fact each has the ability to do only what they are able. But lots of small change in the same direction can usually make a bigger relative difference.
How can we achieve this?
Quite simply. Explain the company’s strategy and objectives to staff members. Explain to them how they can help. Empower and encourage them to act. Ask for their new ideas. Recognise their contributions and perhaps reward them too. Show – through measurement – the overall impact of their actions. Coach that microchange done together can make a big difference. You might find that this process has a benefit beyond its core purpose in that it increases staff engagement and motivation with the likely knock on effect on absence, churn, stress etc. Consider extending the approach outside the organisation e.g. to key suppliers and even to customers on the basis that everyone will win in the long run. Of course this approach shouldn’t a free-for-all, not least to avoid any unintended consequences, so establish a framework to keep some control.
So does this mean no more need for big change projects?
Unlikely I’m afraid. Actually I not afraid because that would be like a turkey voting for Christmas. Organisational microchange will not remove the need for big or even modestly-sized projects. However it will almost certainly move the organisation some of the way towards its objectives in a sustainable way.
Julian Rains is a consultant Business Analyst and Business Improvement Specialist experienced in analysis, planning and delivering business change to improve e.g. efficiency, effectiveness, quality, margin. For more information including other blog articles see www.julianrains.com.