Personal Leadership 3: the best-laid communication plans:

Dear Leadership Diary: the next opportunity to use humanised methods with groups was particularly important: the ESG Forum where several independent teams would come together and discuss their sustainable investing projects. This was the first all-team collaboration group to be set up, as the teams are fiercely independent and internally competitive. In the teeth of much skepticism we brought the group together and had several sessions. I took care of windows, lunch, leg-stretching time and interactive exercises. In particular, we worked on a consensus communication strategy by physically cutting up the existing ESG policies of each team into sentences, and then forming into mixed-up groups to stick them all onto large pieces of paper headed up : Consensus (already clear); Aspirational (we want to be able to say this but can’t yet) and Divergent (we might never agree on this). This happened in the space of 45 minutes and raised everyone’s energy levels. This work is fast!

Maybe it’s too fast!? My intention was to follow up the ‘aspirational’ items by putting them on the priority lists, and to demonstrate to everyone that until we work on delivery of these items we just don’t have a message to communicate that anyone likes. But I don’t think others understood. We brought in the communications team and they stalled for 2 months before ignoring the output and doing something completely different. (Should we have involved them earlier or, to be brutally honest, would they have stymied the entire thing?)

Then suddenly, we have new leadership of the Responsible Investing team, and she pushes the Restart button. She and others want task lists and project plans and results, not a ‘talking-shop’. Problem is, we aren’t up to that stage of the change process yet because the teams at the centre of all this barely speak to each other. If we look at the Talik change model, we are at the ‘Enact’ stage of cultural and leadership change, not the “Encode” stage. Many of my colleagues want to jump to codification as if that will achieve the change on its own.

My role in organising the ESG Forum is ended for the moment, and the next meeting is de-humanised. A tiny room too small for the group, no windows, no water, far too many slides and one-way presentation of task lists. People talking over each other. 30 minutes over time and out of oxygen, I had to leave them to it.

So what to do? For now, retreat. Focus on running the implementation project for new EU regulations on disclosure of sustainability risks, which is something I can make decisions about. In this project, there will be food, water, natural light, walks in nature, and a focus on collaboration. And I’ll make sure this time to explain the approach- why the how is so important.

Personal Leadership 2: What can you achieve with pipe cleaners?

Dear Leadership Diary: I haven’t written for a while and many adventures have occurred. For a start, I was allowed to run a strategy workshop with 6 newcomers to our team (the so-called “Fresh Eyes” group, which I guess means the rest of us are tired of looking at the same old stuff?). With carte blanche from the boss, I used techniques garnered from various places: building 3D models as observed at CISL; walks in nature as suggested by Collaborative Intelligence (we got the key to the London park square opposite the office- not exactly wild but so much better than a conference room!); small group work and democratic prioritisation exercises as taught to me by a wonderful manager at the start of my career. She’d been trained in the probation service to deal with real people. And naturally there was plenty to eat and drink throughout the day, and the room had huge windows.

The walk relaxed us (we wanted to stay in the park), but the highlight was the 3D modelling. Strategic challenges for the team were transformed from the the same old dry words (“insufficient communication” – a handy phrase that can mean anything and is nearly impossible to refute) to eloquent collages with unmistakeable meaning. Woolen spider diagrams invoked the tangle of intra-team responsibilities. And this happened in 20 minutes flat. So in terms of productivity and enjoyability, the experiment was successful. This is the experience of translating complex information into a standard board report:

We emerged from the day with material that I then wrote up into a set of priorities from the group’s perspective. But what has happened since then? Very little. The output did form part of the wider team strategy, but very little has been implemented. Why? Everyone has a day job and none of us are accountable to each other in the traditional sense of reporting lines. So the informal ‘fresh’ group was great for idea generation, but something else would be needed for implementation. This matches dispiritingly well with comments from CISL colleagues about sustainability professionals: there’s plenty of thought leadership, but a shortage of action. Input needed: What can we do to ‘humanise’ follow-up?

Personal Leadership Opportunity: It’s not the What, it’s the How

I’ve been trying to escape the office for 20 years. Literally the physical environment of the office, the bleached floodlit anonymous supervised space where humans are packaged in tin units like robots. And the psychological office, where we meet in grey rooms without food or water to present competing intellectual arguments devoid of emotion. The emotion is there of course, poorly concealed as logic, but since it’s unacknowledged we don’t have to name or deal with any of it: the bullying, the cowardice, the checked-out passive aggression. We can just let hierarchy and bias do their important work and pass this off as a state of neutrality. So what’s the leadership challenge in this? To humanise the workplace, physically and psychologically.

Where to start? Firstly, with flexible working practices so my team can work at home whenever they want to. So far, so good. Working at home has helped them to deal with their own health crises and their children’s illnesses, without having to take sick leave or salary cuts. They still ask for permission, so my next step will be to discourage that. They can choose where to work like the conscientious responsible adults they are!

Secondly, with some basic humanisation. Water and hot drinks in all meetings. Comfort breaks before people pass out. Lunch if the meeting runs across lunchtime (Yes! It’s rocket science!). Walks in the park during work. Research shows that natural environments have a positive impact on stress levels and help people to function more effectively.

Lately we have been including nature walks in team meetings and brainstorming sessions. Does it work? Hard to assess but people enjoy it, and it prevents that after-lunch energy sag in the all-day meeting, the dreaded 2pm shift. It impacts some more than others: the introverts seem to talk more while we are walking, so it helps increase their contribution to the conversations.

Thirdly, I’m incorporating more variety into the way we run meetings. Its not the what, it’s the how. More on that in the next post.

We agree on a 1.5 degree target: now who is going to pay for the change?

The Paris (COP 21) commitments evidence a will to act, and France has been in the forefront of government action. But early moves toward higher carbon prices have caused civil unrest, even in France, from those most affected.

“…Decarbonisation doesn’t come without consequences for the average member of the public – and those impacted by those consequences can easily feel like they are being sacrificed on the altar of environmentalism.”

E3G Senior Policy Adviser Camilla Born

Getty Images / ABDULMONAM EASSA / Contributor

“The government talks about the end of the world. We are worried about the end of this month.”

Gilet Jaunes slogan cited in

Americans similarly believe in man-made climate change, but they are not willing to pay to stop it: 70 percent of Americans say they wouldn’t pay $10 every month to help cool the warming planet.

The UN Principles for Responsible Investment believes, along with Paul Gilding, that there will be an “Inevitable Policy Response” to climate change. At some ‘tipping point’ within the next 5 years, governments will start to act. But what sectors will they target and why? Paul Gilding and Jorgen Randers’ ‘One Degree War Plan’ is an example policy response based upon a 50% reduction in carbon emissions spread evenly across the 7 major emitting sectors: Energy, Forestry, Agriculture, Waste, Buildings, Industry, Transport Gilding and Randers give no reason for this allocation of the reduction work, other than simplicity.

The UN PRI notes that policymakers have a variety of options available to achieve reductions in emissions, and have given little indication about how they will choose among those options: “Policies to reduce emissions differ in their impact on financial markets, even when the broad technology pathway might look similar.” The UN PRI’s intended research program will look at the relative ‘efficiency’ of various ways of reducing emissions. It is very focused on the uncertainties around the degree of global co-operation and the potential for broad trade disruption if nations protect their economies against imports from countries with lower carbon prices.

So far, I have not found any attempt to rank emission reduction options according to the social disruption they involve. Let me know if you find any such work. I will be looking further and reporting back on what I find…