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.

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