We are excited to be joined this week by guest contributor and partner, Jon Woodhead, who is the co-founder of Challenge Sustainability. His team provides consultancy services to international companies on sustainability strategy, reporting, and communications. And he has collaborated with us and written this to advise team’s on how they decide on their values, using them to deliver on the business’s values whilst making a better world.
And all business owners have a number of choices to make to decide what their company will look like as it evolves over months and years. Some decisions are operational, whether to design a new product line, enter a new market or a new country, hiring or firing staff, or investing in new equipment.
Other decisions go deeper and are less tangible, tricky for a variety of reasons. Like the business’s ethics, sustainability, how it contributes to issues like climate change, etc. Decisions that can seem fraught with risks.
‘Analysis-paralysis’ is a common, and real phenomenon, particularly for smaller companies without the resources to rely on third-party advice. So when it comes to sustainability, how can you simplify decision-making? Sustainability is not just about climate change. For sure, all businesses need to demonstrate action on climate change, even if their own direct greenhouse gas emissions are small.
In the face of a climate crisis, everyone needs to do their bit. But there are also many other aspects of sustainability where a business needs to decide what approach to take. Human rights, ethics, racism, and equal opportunities, supporting disadvantaged communities, health, and safety, fair wages… the list goes on.
Taking a ‘value-led approach’ sounds good, doesn’t it? But what does it actually take to define your team’s values?
Get your whole team together and ask them to list out their own personal values. Don’t be too prescriptive at this point, it is important to listen to everyone. Provide a long list of suggestions around all the different topics that might be relevant to your company’s ‘sustainability, and ask the team to give examples of how they live out those values in their daily lives.
Start to group the words together and rank them by importance. There are lots of ways to do this, but one way is to compare the importance to the company’s financial success, with the importance to ‘stakeholders’. Stakeholders in your company can be anyone from investors, employees, suppliers, even ‘future generations’.
Creating a shared set of team values across a team can take a long time. What looks good on paper one day might seem completely wrong the following week when you’ve had time to think some more. Iteration based on feedback is hugely important.
Don’t just try and define your team values using single words. Use full phrases. And consider which teams reflect your company’s mission too.
The high-level words might look and feel written, but what happens when you try and apply them to your everyday business. What will change as a result? What are the implications that you need to anticipate? Do they raise some trade-offs or unintended consequences? Put simply, your team values should reflect how your team will behave in pursuit of your company’s mission.
As an example, a question that often comes up in conversations about a company’s responsibilities for sustainability and how it might impact the supply chain is “how many workers need to get hurt before you would decide to stop working with a supplier?”. For companies with values that indicate care and responsibility towards worker safety and wellbeing, turning a blind eye is not an option.
Engagement and encouragement to improve is often the preferred approach, but being clear about when more direct action is needed, even if it increases costs, is an important test on your team and its company values.
During times of great uncertainty, strong values have provided direction and shown a practical way forward. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen how some companies have put their values to work, diverting resources to manufacture ventilators, source PPE, and retain staff through a variety of means including furlough.
Dilemmas involving team values are often not black and white. They require careful deliberation. Debates and conflict can be a sign of a healthy company if they are conducted in an environment of trust. Trust can be supported by everyone following the same guiding principles (values).
Having a clear set of team values will often act as a lighthouse in these situations, showing the right way forward.
Practising what we preach, at Challenge Sustainability we’ve decided to join the dots by working with One Tribe. The One Tribe platform offers a way for brands to link their online sales with action to protect rainforests. Every online sale and lead that is tracked through One Tribe protects 100 square metres of the rainforest, home to approximately 5 trees.
One Tribe’s partner rainforest charities have protected more than 23 million acres of rainforest since the 1980s. Challenge Sustainability has decided to join this movement and we will be setting up ways to work together with One Tribe to build uptake and make our own contributions towards climate action.
A massive thank you to Jon and the team for putting this article together for the One Tribe community. We hope it helps those members still figuring out what their team stands for and how they can give back to the world, through One Tribe or any of the hundreds of other social and environmental platforms around the world. If you feel One Tribe could be an option for your team, talk to Jon or check out our tool for businesses.
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