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Reposted from: LinkedIn

Warning: Ideas discussed here are ahead of time. And yet, better be 20 years ahead than 20 years behind.

They say ships don’t sink because of the turbulent oceans in which they find themselves. Ships sink because of cracks that let the ocean within. Cracks form due to a number of reasons (captain’s inadequate judgement, team that is misaligned, and/or ship infrastructure that is poorly maintained – all of these intimately related).

Whatever the reason, a strong ship takes you through the storm, and a weak one takes you right to the bottom.

Similarly, companies do not go out of business because of challenging and shifting economic conditions, insufficient resources due to climate change, or poor integration into cultural and social landscapes. Companies go out of business because they are not fit within themselves to adapt to changing economic, social and environmental circumstances.

Just like people, companies need to build capacity on the within in order to stay afloat of adversity.

As Credit Swisse points out in their 2015 report: ‘Aiming for Impact: Credit Swisse and the Sustainable Development Goals‘:

‘the private sector is starting to realise the benefits of contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’, those being the agenda to transform the world from 2015 until 2016, and which can be considered as the one and only path to the sustainability of our planet and the preserving of its biodiversity.

As Credit Swisse rightly points out, the private sector has been increasingly pressured by the public and all other stakeholders to include social, environmental and governance (ESG) factors in not only the reporting on the business, but also the business strategic planning, business model and operations.

Meanwhile, the private sector is – as always – expected to grow. However,

growth needs to be rethought in the context of the SDGs!

Innovative business models need to be found, such that create shared value for all business, society and the environment. And this can be incredibly tricky. Why? Because for businesses to do so, they need to work with all stakeholders, those being the United Nations System in its appropriate bodies, civil society, indigenous peoples, governments and regulatory forces. In fact, all these parties need to reach out and collaborate for sustainable growth, one that keeps profits on the rise but also preserves and enhances the biodiversity of the planet.

If businesses want to stay ahead of the game and afloat of current climatic and social adversities, this is the one and only way for them to do so and be here in another – let’s say – 100 or more years from now. And is it not what we all want, an agile yet profitable business that stays afloat and not only leverages, but also drives sustainability for growth?

What such a business-public sector-government-civil society collaboration means, ultimately, is not just a series of agreements between stakeholder groups, public statements, philanthropic gifts, etc. Such a transformative collaboration can not be achieved by planning and tools we have been using so far. It can only be achieved by innovation.

For businesses to truly stay ahead of the game, and afloat of current economic, social and environmental challenges, by embarking on a journey of growth that is profitable and sustainable, they need to transform on the within in terms of business models, operations, culture and collaboration practices. This is what makes them fit for the long-term.

In other words, businesses need to develop an internal fitness, or resilience, that puts, takes and grounds them on a path of sustainable and profitable growth.

Sounds good. How to do this?


Corporate sustainability reporting is the elephant in the room here. In a recent post on Corporate Sustainability Reporting: the Case for Change I explored the leveraging of corporate sustainability reporting as a change management tool that takes companies on a path of sustainable growth. And having further explored this with Albor360 (Sustainability Services for the Chemical Industry) and Meier Marketing Global (Helping Brands Stay Meaningful, Relevant, Flexible, and Happy), we can say the following:

  • Companies should do much more with their sustainability reports than what they are doing currently. Staring with a business materiality assessment based on the SDGs, engaging stakeholders and reporting on sustainability is only the first step. The real opportunity to transform on the within and get the business on a journey of sustainable growth only comes afterwards.

To leverage this opportunity, companies should leverage the sustainability reporting exercise as an innovative journey of conversation, knowledge sharing and communications on the within and without of the business with key stakeholder groups.

  • Innovative and powerful content marketing approaches and practices should be leveraged for internal communications, to ‘sell’ key messages to key stakeholder groups and achieve engagement and bottom-up action. Meanwhile, the same can be done on the outside to reach out and engage external actors and forces, not only to enhance the company brand image but also pave the way for its profitable yet sustainable transformation.

The corporate sustainability report targets and KPIs should be used to transform operations and integrate sustainability on the within of the business, that way making it fit and resilient.

  • KPIs should measure performance at different levels, including cross-unit/department/division, as well as within units/divisions/departments. This way, the very fabric of the business is innovated for sustainable growth, not just pieces of it. This makes for a healthy and well-connected business and a sturdy ship that stays afloat of current challenges.

Qualitative and quantitative measurements should both be used.

  • Examples of the former are stories and testimonials: they capture cause-effect relationships and make evident the heuristics that underlie performance, which heuristics in turn – by their engaging nature – create conditions for learning and innovation across the entire business to take place.
  • Knowledge sharing and organisational development tools such as social network analysis (of the type developed by a partner company, Innovisor) should be further leveraged to determine who the key influencers in the inside and outside of the company are, and then work with those champions to design and speed up corporate change efforts. Why? Because transformational change ultimately starts, ends, and works (or not) because of people as change agents, not because of systems, processes, or other mechanisms. In this sense:

Design thinking approaches that look to co-create strategies and forge an emotional and spiritual connection between the business and those who make it happen, as well as those who determine its relevance and those who depend on it, should also be increasingly used.

  • Last but not least, the right systems, in terms of infrastructure, IT and measurement, should be developed, co-created as appropriate and mainstreamed throughout the business in a participatory and engaging manner, leveraging content marketing and social media approaches and tools, and putting people at the centre.

With all this in place, a business is in for a journey of sustainable growth for the long term with a number of benefits: improved brand image, enhanced profitability, sustainable business models and systems, happy stakeholders, to say the least, and a lot more that can not be even projected to start with.

And, with all this in place, there is a growing and evolving conviction on the part of employees and stakeholders that this business, by growing, also develops the society and preserves the environment where it operates, in an ESG kind of a fashion.

The more the business can continually strike an ESG balance, and the more it uses the corporate sustainability reporting exercise as one key and integrative lever on this journey, the more we are convinced it is the kind of a business that is in it for the next 100 years at least which is, as you can imagine, very, very appealing to customers, consumers and investors. It is good for you now and it will be good for you tomorrow. And not only that, it makes you feel good too, no?!

Do you share these ideas? Myself, Albor360 and Meier Marketing Global would love to hear from you if you do. Do you have better ideas? Do you want to get on a sustainable growth journey? Please contact me.

We can travel with you, answer your questions and discuss opportunities for your business sustainable growth.

With you, we design and operationalise corporate social responsibility change management programs that leverage the various stages and opportunities of sustainability reporting. We empower you to get on a path of transformational discovery of what sustainable and profitable growth means for your business, and how about we do this for the 100 years from now?


Embedded Sustainability: The next big competitive advantage

By Chris Lazslo and Nadia Zhexembayeva

Greenleaf Publishing 2011

I put together a summary of Lazslo’s and Zhexembayeva’s book as part of my LEAD Europe training in leadership for sustainability. The book is very good and so the summary worth sharing with you here.

The book is organized in two parts: business strategy and change management.

1.    Business strategy – This part explains why embedding sustainability creates business value.

There are three distinct but interconnected trends that are putting increasing pressure on business to be sustainable. Whether business managers like it or not, business has to transform. These trends are as follows:

  • Declining resources (i.e., fish, and other natural capital rapidly diminishing),
  • Radical transparency (i.e., increasing number of activist organizations and NGOs using social media to catalyze change) and
  • Increased expectations (i.e., employees wanting to work for ethical companies; customers not willing to pay a premium for sustainable products, but wanting smarter products with sustainability at their core).

Lazslo and Zhexembayeva argue that the most adequate way for business to transform with sustainability at its core is by Creating Shared Value (CSV) for both stakeholders and shareholders.  Pursuing both stakeholder and shareholder value creation means value is created for both business and society. Responsible business does not have to compromise profits. CSV creates increased competitiveness by getting business to embrace what is sustainable whilst realistic and possible. CSV also ensures that business invests not only in the present but also the future.

Lazslo’s and Zhexembayeva point out that business strategy tends to focus on adding and removing costs, making trade-offs, mitigating risk, reducing energy and waste, differentiating products, entering new markets, protecting and enhancing brand and influencing industry standards. In all these, it does not normally look at resource  and natural capital availability and value chain security. This is despite that resources are declining and value chain security is rapidly diminishing.

It is good practice to look at business strategy as an opportunity:  i.e. pursue change proactively, systemically and aim for zero harm and positive benefits. Sustainability strategy should be no exception. Pursuing sustainability may be about a radical and disruptive move-away from the classical business paradigm. Pursuing sustainability should be inherent to the business, as well as motivating and aligning employees around a common vision for sustainable business. In this, product differentiation and radical innovation (facilitated by methods such as The Embedded Sustainability Cloud) are key.

2.    Change management – The second part of the book outlines the methods, competencies and processes for embedding sustainability.

The authors point out that embedding sustainability means incorporating health, environmental and social values into the business with no trade-offs in product price and quality. Embedding sustainability means a radical transformation in values, mindset, consciousness and behaviors. Here are some of the key messages:

  • Building transformative relationships is at the core of embedding sustainability. Cooperation with competitors is a source of gain.
  • Developing new competencies such as design, inquiry, appreciation (open mind) and wholeness is important. Leadership and design thinking should join forces.
  • There has to be on-going cultivation of an inspiration-ideation-implementation cycle of feeling-thought-behaviour. This cycle, if inspired by values around sustainability, can be deeply transformative. Topsy Turvy (reverse brainstorming) and appreciative inquiry are useful methods to cultivate such a cycle. Same goes for learning the language of systems thinking and practicing lifecycle analysis.
  • In order to get change to stick in, we must harvest the low-hanging fruit, balance short-term with long-term thinking, monitor and evaluate and remain open to change and circumstance.

The messages the authors put across in the book are simple yet sophisticated. To sum them up, the authors quote George Orwell who once said that industrialization has cut the soul of man, but he did not notice it for many years. In a similar way, the paintings of Tamara Lempicka from the industrialization age show lots of beautiful however sad and empty people surrounded by grey and cold buildings. In my mind, embedding sustainability in business and our lives is key to achieving not only a comfortable balance with our environment, but also a new way of living life. We can do it.

I recently had a chat with a small organisation (the name of which I am not going to mention) about the nature of leadership and how servant/facilitatory/transcendant leadership helps to cultivate a learning organisaiton.  Here are some of the points that we mentioned:

Participatory/servant/facilitatory/transcendant leadership:

  • not a ”standard” top-down sort of leadership
  • key components are facilitation, collaboration and sense-making
  • sense-making is framing what is happening in a context that binds it and accords it well with the mission and purpose of the organisation
  • sense-making is important as it keeps the whole team aligned and motivated and makes it clear how all team members have an important and valued role in the process
  • sense-making would normally rest on the organisation’s vision, in fact more so on how people see this and identify with it
  • sense-making is also about harmonising tensions and viewpoints -> if you can do that, you are a good sense-maker and leader
  • important not to assume sense is always clear to people who are part of the team … sometimes we think it all makes sense but only to us. … servant leadership in this sense seeks to empower all to lead by continually making sense for them and facilitating a process of on-going learning
  • in servant leadership, everyone is a leader and the challenge is to find a way of cultivating that sort of a mindset within the team
  • servant leadership has loose boundaries -> everyone one leads just not all team members at the same time, based on expertise and skill and other circumstances
  • in servant leadership, there is an on-going appreciative inquiry going on in the group
  • servant leadership is about listening and coaching each other based on skills and strengths
  • facilitation is essential in leadership to ensure all team members buy into what the organisation is doing by contributing in the way in which they want and can do best
  • facilitation in leadership creates conditions for a learning organisation by the leader/leaders being sensitive to what people think and how they want to work
  • facilitation in leadership is both about people and the team (two different types of organism)
  • you need individuals in order to have good teams, meanwhile people usually want to identify with groups and teams that help them bring out the best of themselves -> this is what a facilitator does (bringing out the best in people) and this is what servant leadership is about
  • facilitation as part of servant leadership is about being comfortable with ambiguity – if we are not, we can not lead!
  • true and genuine and the most productive collaboration is based on interest and motivation. servant leadership cultivates people’s interests and encourages people to follow their gut provided that it makes sense for the group/team to do so (here link with sense-making)
  • servant leadership is also about humility
  • to be there, servant leadership is cultivated (facilitated, brought-in, encouraged) in a team, group, organisation
  • good leaders are those who know themselves well, know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are and understand how others in the team help them optimise the strengths and work on the weaknesses -> they see how they and all others are essential for the group/team and therefore also them to exist -> they see things as part of a complex system with many cross-cutting layers to it: technical, personal, emotional, etc. …

Emotional aspects of leadership:

  • for all of the above to be taking place effectively, it is important to understand and accept effective leadership is about leveraging and steering our emotions
  • effective leadership actually rests in our emotions and how well it works is based on how well we know ourselves as individuals
  • if we know ourselves well we can well leverage ourselves to serve others -> servant leadership
  • based on all that, every single servant leader is different because s/he is a different individual -> what is important is that they are bringing out the best in themselves in order to serve the group and wider collective
  • emotional support is part of leadership and essential for building trust
  • good leaders can give support to others when they need it

Group think:

  • group state where all team members do alike even if they do not necessarily think alike
  • good to have but only to an extent -> a learning organisation is not a group think organisation
  • group think may feel quite comfortable but could well be stinting our learning
  • a certain dose of group think is necessary and good for any team and organisation though
  • servant leadership has the role of cultivating a dance between group think and individual think, a nice mix of keeping things comfortable and keeping things on the edge

Maximum size organisation:

  • size of organisation and number of people is important as it defines the skeleton of the organisation/organism
  • leadership and related approaches are essential to giving life to this skeleton and actually making it work – > just skeleton is not enough (obviously)
  • focusing too much on the skeleton but perhaps not so much on what would go around it in terms of flesh and blood to give it life such as leadership, motivation, learning, cultivation of interests etc., is not good enough
  • need to make the skeleton and organisation work well for the people who are part of it -> start cultivating an appreciative inquiry mindset amongst the members of the team … see above notes on servant leadership

Remote working:

  • working remotely is different from working in the same office
  • for example, it is much easier to come across as rude and insult people online than face to face
  • remote working takes away some important aspects of the communication process (i.e., visual, face expression, overall state of mind and being, and lots of other tacit cues) which, when they are not there, can make communication (much) more difficult
  • important not to assume others understand us online in the same way as they do when they have us face to face -> usually, even the most intuitive and sensitive and sensible of people may not
  • it can be particularly difficult to do sense-making and serve-lead remotely, unless the group is aware of the challenges and figures out some solutions, such as skype chat windows, skype calls, and other ways of keeping synchrony and motivation present
  • remote working, in order for it to work well, is about a certain shift of mindset, both individually and collectively
  • remote working process works well if facilitated
  • team/group members can take turns to facilitate remote working


  • in order to be comfortable in delegating, there needs to be trust within the group, as well as openness to experience
  • when we delegate, we accept the output/outcome may not be as what we originally envisage -> could actually be better -> if not, we intervene to make is as what we originally envisaged
  • delegation is key in cultivating trust, developing capacity and pushing team forward

Hope this helps! 🙂

I am a big fan of Share Fairs. Having been part of the team that organised the 2009 Share Fair at FAO in Rome, I have seen the potential Share Fairs create for positive change in how organisations work within and with each other. Now already 1,5 years after the Rome Share Fair took place, it is possible to see positive changes in how people at FAO work and want to work. More and more people are interested in using approaches that are dynamic and participatory. That is just so great and the ShareFair did a lot to tangibly demonstrate the value of integrating knowledge sharing methods and tools in the work of international organisations.

Yesterday a FAO colleague, Sophie Treinen , held a FAO brown bag lunch on good practices in organising, facilitating and following up on Knowledge ShareFairs. In particular, she talked to us about that in the context of a Share Fair that just took place in Cali, Columbia in which she participated.

Here are some of the lessons learnt that emerged from the Cali Share Fair:

– use ”knowledge trees”: people always eagerly add ideas and suggestions to the tree’s leaves thus producing a very nice and complex statement of what the Fair means to those who participate in it;

– ensure Fair gives something to the communities where it takes place, therefore link it to locally based projects and initiatives (i.e., fair trade bags, materials printed on recycled paper, materials produced by local women, etc);

– keep in mind connectivity may not be too good outside of the place where the event takes place and therefore do not organise too many events around the building;

– keep number of stands manageable, not more than 25;

– ensure there is a bar or some other place where all participants are able to convene around the clock: very important for comfortable networking;

– ensure some fun activities take place too, like local music or something else similar, or even sharing of local music to further encourage the spirit to exchange and learn from each other;

– make use of guided tours of the market place;

– organise scavenger hunts;

– keep in mind that world cafe works very well after people have presented their projects, not so much before;

– allow space for a feedback session every morning during which participants get to say what worked well the previous day, what did not and what they’ve learnt;

– make sure all video sessions are facilitated; unless there is some context to put the video in people will not come;

– allow space for a Q&A session on knowledge management which will have to be hosted by people with experience in the subject matter;

– especially when multiple languages and lots of local people and communities, use graphic facilitation;

– make sure Fair is followed up on properly based on its aims and objectives; ideally, do a social network analysis during the Fair and invest resources in continually facilitating flows of information and knowledge after the Fair has taken place (only this will ensure it will have achieved its purpose);

– integrate Share Fairs in the skeleton of how organisations work and provide appropriate planning and budget support, as well as integrate Fairs into the organisation’s aims and objectives.

Hope this helps! 🙂

I was recently asked to contribute ideas to a training of trainers in IT.  Was a super interesting challenge considering I had to bring my Psychology background into play and mix it well with my more recent experience in Knowledge Management and Knowledge Sharing. So great! Give me more please. 🙂

The result was a set of ideas covering the span of learning styles, action learning, use of scenarios, learning from feedback and world cafe.  Each of these ideas follows below. As you will see, each of these ideas is a suggestion for how to sensitise trainers in IT to personalities and system dynamics of learning. I wish to do more such work in the future.

1/ learning style overview and discussion

Useful links:
Online Learning Style Survey

Purpose: Explain trainers that research has shown people have a variety of preferences in which they like to learn and also a variety of abilities in which they can learn. In this way, sensitise them to individual differences.

I. You could start with explaining the following classification:

II. Then ask people to discuss in pairs their learning styles. (The trainers of trainers/facilitators could do this for a start.) Explain it to them that some people have a preference for all of the learning styles, with one preference slightly more than the rest (I am like that). Other people can have a marked preference for just one or two learning styles.
After they’ve discussed in pairs, ask for highlights and reflections. After this, point it out that the fact somebody has a learning style preference does not mean they can not also learn using the other style approaches. However, if they have to do that a lot it detracts from the quality of their learning experience and makes them less interested and therefore less effective learners.

III. If you want to take this a stage further you could explain the Kolb’s experiential learning model:

According to Kolb, learning has four stages:
Concrete Experience (feeling)
Reflective Obzervation (watching)
Abstract Conceptualization (thinking)
Active Experimentation (doing)

Based on this Kolb has put forward the following learning style types:
diverging (feeling and watching)
assimilating (watching and thinking)
converging (thinking and doing)
accommodating (doing and feeling)

Kolb’s framework’s language may not be as accessible as the one further above BUT his framework might be good to mention, still. This is not so much because of his learning style classification but rather because of his learning stages. Feeling-watching-thinking-doing and then all over again is what people, teams and organisations do in order to learn and keep learning. Understanding the different stages of the learning process is important to design trainings that really achieve the purpose of learning.

At the end, you can ask for comments and reflections. How will the trainers take Kolb’s learning framework into account in order to do better when they train people in IT?

2/ experiential learning vs conventional training

Purpose: Explain trainers the difference between action (active) and passive learning. Explain that most people like having a variety of ways on offer in which they can learn so that they can at different times pick the ones that suit their learning styles and preferences. Explain that conventional training is usually training removed from contexts in which skills and knowledge being taught can be applied and therefore often irrelevant. Explain that conventional training, sometimes in only small doses, can bring a lot of value however only when combined with lots and lots experiential learning.

A useful quote from a page on this:

”It does this because it is centred on the individual – not the training or the surrounding system. It works on the basis that people can and should be developed from the inside out, not the other way around. In merely transferring and conveying knowledge to a person we do very little to help them grow as individuals, and when we starve this need most people quickly begin to lose confidence and hopes of becoming someone special in life.” (Kolb Learning Styles)

I. You could start with the following diagram (hope it displays properly, you can also see it when you click on the above link):

conventional training

experiential learning

training-centred/focused – theoretical learner-centred/focused – really doing it
prescribed fixed design and content flexible open possibilities
for external needs (organisation, exams, etc) for internal growth and discovery
transfers/explains knowledge/skills develops knowledge/skills/emotions via experience
fixed structured delivery/facilitation not delivered, minimal facilitation, unstructured
timebound measurable components (mostly) not timebound, more difficult to measure
suitable for groups and fixed outcomes individually directed, flexible outcomes
examples: powerpoint presentations, chalk-and-talk classes, reading, attending lectures, exam study, observation, planning and hypothesising, theoretical work, unreal role-play. examples: learning a physical activity, games and exercises, drama and role-play which becomes real, actually doing the job or task, ‘outward bound’ activities, teaching others, hobbies, pastimes, passions.

II. Then you could give an example of an experiential learning cycle concept:
1. Start with action/activity – i.e., do it
2. Review the action/activity to develop understanding
3a. Identify positives and continue doing the action/activity with confidence AND
3b. Identify needs for improvement, then develop ideas to improve and overcome challenges, then select and apply the improvements
4. Keep going through the above three in a cycle, on-going
The above concept positions learning not as a linear activity (i.e., you do something and then you’ve learnt something and basta), but rather as a constantly evolving spiral combining the above three streams and building and building on top of each learning stage.

(I can almost hear you thinking the above is too abstract! 😀 Try to understand it. I think it is important to go with it though. You can bring it down to practice at the end of the exercise.)

III. Then you could bring this down to practice by giving an example from your own experience where you’ve learned about something (a programming language?) in this way. Was it that you learned best when you had to meet real demands by the way in which you program the solution? Try to think of an example, then open it up to the group for discussion.

IV. Then you could invite people to think aloud about how they would change the way they train based on the above. In general? (Perhaps they would change their approach and listen more rather than speak …?) In specific? (Perhaps they would change the way some aspect of the training is delivered …? Perhaps they would ask trainees about their needs before starting to train them?)

3/ scenarios
Have you thought of suggesting the use of scenarios as part of the training?
For example, if you want to train a person in some skill (programming language … or …?), you can think of a story to contextualise the skill. The story would have a certain set of challenges that the trainee has to overcome in order to accomplish a certain task and in this way gain the skill. You can ask the trainers to think of such stories they could themselves use as part of what they train people on over the coming days.

4/ feedback
It is very important to gather feedback from the trainers after the end of the training. Are you going to? Perhaps use a feedback form. That way you would learn from what has happened and know how to improve for next times.

5/ world cafe
Ideally, if there is a day free after the end of the trainings, you could get people to talk to each other about what worked well and what they found more difficult. You could run this as a world cafe. That way they would learn even more and better about being better trainers, after they’ve been trying to do so for some days.

Thank you!! and happy training!! 🙂


July 2018
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