A mandate for change

Jul 15 2010 by John Blackwell Print This Article

Our political leaders are not the only ones who have been handed a mandate for change. Leaders of organisations and institutions everywhere have a unique opportunity to transform the way the world works.

Over recent years, corporate life has been jolted by a series of seemingly insurmountable wake-up calls uncertain energy supplies, climate change and an all-consuming economic crisis to name but a few.

When confronted with such adversities, history dictates that leaders must innovate. To do so, they must be willing to think and perceive in new ways, and break out of stodgy old patterns.

We find ourselves at this point not 'merely' because the crisis in our financial markets has forced action but because we've reached a tipping point as far as energy supplies are concerned. These are not simple disconnected factors that are driving a mandate for change, they represent the convergence of highly complex global systems.

Drawing on recent research, let's consider some of the stark facts.

Organisations must find innovative ways to decrease power use by 30-35 per cent over the next five years or face the prospect of enforced power outages.

In the UK alone, electricity consumption has risen by 86 per cent since 1970 and demand is projected to rise by a further 50 per cent over the next five years. Yet by 2015, due to retiring power stations, the UK will lose 40 per cent of its generating capacity.

The UK is not alone in facing this energy crisis. No country, irrespective of its economic sophistication, is immune from the challenges of diverging energy supply and demand.

Energy supply is directly coupled to the environmental challenges we're facing. It's widely accepted that the major global economies have just four years left to get on a path that keeps global warming below a 'manageable' 2C rise.

And just consider that the way we work. Our commuting, our use of technology, and the wasteful way we use office space together account for 60-70 per cent of all environmental emissions and 60 per cent of all electricity generated. Remember, too, that electricity production is responsible for 41 per cent of energy-related CO2 emissions,

Putting global warming into a financial context, it's projected that a 4C global temperatures rise would cause $20 trillion per year economic damage or eight per cent of the entire global economic output.

As if this were not enough, further complicating the mix are society's rapidly changing attitudes and the role of government legislation. Whether it's down to being armed with better understanding of scientific opinion or a greater sense of social justice, today's workforce perceive organisations as regarding the ecological cost to our grandchildren being worth far less than the cost to our generation.

This is having an enduring impression on where and for whom we are prepared to work. For example, research in the UK suggests that around three-quarters of us would willingly make significant lifestyle adjustment to avert climate change and more than eight out of 10 would not work for an organisation that does not have a socially just policies.

Governments around the world are responding to public pressure by introducing draconian legislation to enforce climate change targets. By way of example, the UK's Carbon Reduction Commitment legislation commits organisations to an 80 per cent energy reduction path by 2050, with harsh fines and even prison terms for directors who fail to comply.

The excess and waste associated with 'the way we work' has not escaped this glare. A new economic landscape has emerged one that has fundamentally reshaped the way we assess the value and worth of all businesses.

This new economic landscape demands that organisations must fundamentally behave differently or risk being pilloried by the public. And central to this reform is overhauling the old work practices in favour of the new fast and agile expectations.

Organisations must commit to maintaining the frenetic pace of reducing power use and ecological emissions year-on-year until the environmental balance is restored. Leadership teams are expected to make decisive "no regrets" judgments and live with the consequences, correcting the course as necessary. This is especially challenging for consensus-oriented organisations that find decisive action difficult.

Risk and transparency also requires a new approach, one where organisations must clearly articulate their decision-making processes. Transparent management and governance is expected, with all in the boardroom having clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

This state of affairs offers a unique opportunity to overcome corporate inertia and dismantle the barriers to transforming work. However, tackling this tsunami of workplace reforms needs care to avoid solving the wrong problem really well. Quite simply, when confronted with such sweeping changes to work habits and conventions, it is all too easy to lose the focus on the strategic imperatives.

A clear understanding of people-space-culture-technology interactions is required to successfully innovate new futures. Opportunities for workplace innovation and investment must be continually modelled to balance the need to act quickly while engineering the agility to stay ahead of, or at least to keep pace with the fast-changing dynamics.

The same applies to metrics you apply, because "you get out what you measure". Set targets and people will strive to achieve them at all costs, ignoring the bigger picture or the unstated goals that the targets were attempting to meet.

And lastly, your interventions must at all times reflect the bigger picture. Recent research has highlighted that changing the way we work has a much greater impact than things like offices and IT. In fact, reforming staff work practices delivers an eight-fold gain compared to investing in smart building design or green IT initiatives.

This is not demeaning the ecologically sound building design advances, or the excellent innovations that are greening technology, it's simply that they cannot evolve at a sufficient pace to plug the gap we're facing.

To keep up, we work harder. However, to win the ecological and environmental battle, we must work smarter. Smartworking offers the most tenable and attainable answer.

It takes full advantage of the opportunity to dismantle barriers to transformation, overcome corporate inertia, and embrace the mandate for change for creating a more agile, collaborative, and connected business.

Transformation has never been easy, but against this setting, it's going to be more possible than usual. It is not only capable of delivering a more profitable and productive business, it makes the world a better place to live and work.

more articles

About The Author

John Blackwell
John Blackwell

John Blackwell is a sought after global thought-leader on effective business operation. His is author of over 30 management books and a visiting fellow at three leading universities.