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Building sustainable behaviours in organisations

Building sustainable behaviours in organisations - the roles leaders and HR can play

The high profile of sustainability in business means you may be thinking this is another blog about doing business without negatively impacting the environment. It’s not - although minimising environmental impact is an important consideration for any business.

We’re talking about building organisations that last by embedding sustainable behaviours within the organisational culture. To borrow from the phrase ‘If you build it, they will come’ - we say ‘If you embed it, you sustain it’.

So, what exactly do we mean? The point is best illustrated by contrasting some unsustainable business behaviours with those that are sustainable - and that help build for the future. We’ll then look at ways that organisations can embed them.


Long term vision vs. short term thinking

We all know that putting too much emphasis on the short term risks losing sight of the bigger picture. But that doesn’t stop businesses obsessing over the next quarter, the next deadline or sales target. This is not good for long term customer relationships or employee wellbeing.

Sustainable behaviours avoid short term targets. Your employee, customer and supplier relationships will all be stronger for strategies that plan for the long term. Talent development, customer service (not just sales) and planning with your suppliers (and treating them well) will all contribute towards a more sustainable business.


Promised values vs. hollow reality

A business that says one thing, but behaves in a very different way in practice isn’t behaving sustainably, especially if they can’t retain their talent as a consequence. For example, boasting about care for employee wellbeing while subjecting them to a long hours culture. Promised values must match reality.

Millennials in particular are known to favour businesses with values and purpose that match their own. Failure to deliver on these will alienate. Likewise, creating a ‘funky workplace’ complete with pool tables and sleep pods needs to be matched by a supportive management culture.


Coaching approach vs. sacking culture

The recent progress of the England football team from under-achievers to world-class contenders is a powerful example of sustainable behaviours. Whereas some clubs will sack their manager on a regular basis to pacify a fan base or please a billionaire owner, manager Gareth Southgate has been with some of his players since coaching them in the Under 21 team. Consistency isn’t the only reason for this success. Southgate is known to value the opinions of others and is working on his own personal development as well as his players

Organisations and their leaders who take a coaching approach sacrifice short term wins for the longer term sustainable picture, building a strong competent team around them rather than a dependant one.


Employee engagement vs. poor management

Research by Gallup titled ‘The Damage Inflicted by Poor Managers’ found that when an employee’s engagement needs are not met, there is a higher likelihood of turnover which can cost an employer 1.5 times the employee’s original salary. The study also found that engaged teams have lower turnover, 21% greater profitability, 17% higher productivity and 10% higher customer ratings than disengaged teams.

All these stats support business sustainability - and yet many organisations don’t have an employee engagement strategy - or invest in developing strong leaders and line managers capable of inspiring and taking their people with them. The same goes for understanding what motivates employees. Organisations that put the effort into discovering the core needs of their people and what actually motivates them are more likely to be able to maximise their long-term contribution to the business.


Wellbeing vs. long hours culture and burnout

Many organisations are talking about the importance of employee wellbeing, especially during the pandemic and amidst soaring levels of poor mental health. And yet, due to widespread home working and anxieties about job security, levels of burnout are much higher. Research by career website Monster found that over two-thirds, or 69%, of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home. There’s no point talking up wellbeing while practicing a culture that contributes to burnout. It’s not only unproductive - it’s going to crush any belief that the organisation is serious.

Research by Deloitte on Mental health and Employers in January 2020 found that the cost of poor mental health alone to UK employers stood at £45 billion. How many employers are checking in with home based employees, advising them on the signs of burnout? How many employers are building personal resilience and how to support others into their leadership development programmes? Employee wellbeing builds stronger levels of employee engagement and sustainable performance. It should be a priority for every organisation.


Diversity and inclusion vs. barriers to equality

A culture that supports diversity and inclusion in the workplace is good for both the business and its employees. It creates more creative and productive organisations and helps attract and retain talent. Research by McKinsey and Co in 2019 found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. So, to think that investing in diversity and inclusion is a ‘nice to have’ risks losing talent and reducing profitability - none of which help long-term business sustainability.

However, actual progress is still slow. Many organisations have no female representation on their board or leadership teams and with marked under-representation of ethnic-minorities. Training on unconscious bias is one way of helping people become more aware of how their thinking processes may negatively impact decisions on recruitment and promotion.


How can leaders and HR embed sustainable behaviours?

It starts with awareness of the value of sustainable behaviours and the realisation that desired outcomes won’t happen without change. Here are some examples.

Reward and performance management: A change in focus from sales to customer retention is more likely to embed processes that keep a customer for the longer term, which will in turn increase the revenue from that longer relationship. For example, rewarding people for developing and collaborative behaviours rather than gaming the system around short term goals and self advancement at the cost of others.

Recruit for values fit: Rather than recruiting for an exact fit in terms of meeting the job description, a focus on the type of values held by the candidate would hire people with a better cultural fit, therefore they’d be more likely to feel at home and become engaged with the purpose and objectives of the organisation. Training can take care of any technical skill sets required.

Learning and development: Sustainable behaviours and how they can be integrated into work should form part of leadership and training programmes.

Walking the talk: Sustainable values should be lived, not just spoken about. Behaviours and beliefs are only viable if supported and practiced by employees, and especially leaders. The visibility of change at a higher level always impacts on lower levels.


How Monkey Puzzle can help develop sustainable behaviours

Our programmes equip leaders with the resilience, self-awareness and strategic thinking needed to develop the sustainable behaviours in themselves - and their people. Spanning leadership, wellbeing and coaching - we develop leaders in areas of awareness, communication skills and more.

Please see our Programmes page - giving you a brief introduction to the content and key learning from each.


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