COVID-19. Black Lives Matter. These critical issues are taking up most of everyone’s attention and bandwidth right now. I have been trying to take my own advice–to step back and see the big picture–by pondering deep questions such as:
- How do we keep sustainability alive?
- How do we use this moment in time to emphasize the “people” part of the triple bottom line?
- What is the intersection between our work and this global call for health, justice, and equality?
- Step back and see the big picture
- Take action, but try something new
- Refresh your messaging
- Get visual
Step Back and See the Big Picture
One of Ronald Heiftetz’s key principles in Leadership Without Easy Answers is the concept of getting “off the dance floor” to gain perspective from the balcony. Between sheltering in place and BLM, there is one thing I am clear on. Now is the time to slow down, step back, and see the big picture. We are being asked to own our part, both at the personal level and organizational level, assess the system we are part of, and refresh our plan for action. This is an opportune time to update your strategy to take into account social equity, uncertainty, new priorities, limited resources, and potential new partnerships with allies, employees, stakeholders, and suppliers. All crises come to an end–don’t miss the opportunities.
Questions to explore at this stage include:
- What opportunities are possible in this time of uncertainty and change?
- How can we take more personal responsibility?
- How socially responsible and resilient are our operations and supply chains? Are we addressing racial equality and inclusiveness?
- How are our relationships with the communities where we operate?
- How do we want to engage our employees?
- Who are our key partners and allies right now? Who is missing? Who are potential new allies/partners?
- What daily practices will encourage our leadership to stay grounded?
- What lessons can be captured right now?
- What action/intervention (strategies) can we take right now?
- Given our “new now” environment, what do you want to ask employees, suppliers, and stakeholders to do?
Take Action, but Try Something New
Real change can’t happen from the balcony. Once you gain perspective and develop a strategy, you need to get back onto the dance floor and test things out. As explained in Leadership on the Line, “You take action, step back and assess the results of the action, reassess the plan, then go to the dance floor and make the next move.” Both personally and organizationally, now is the time to take a risk, try something new, and be willing to fail. Business as usual just won’t cut it these days.
Rather than let your sustainability initiatives die, now you can seize the opportunity to revisit your priorities and build a deeper and more authentic connection to employees, stakeholders, and suppliers. Just like sheltering in place may have highlighted issues in personal relationships, these chaotic times are exposing systemic problems. Now is not the time to isolate and work within a silo. Bring people together. Take a chance and convene a diverse group (employees, peers, and/or stakeholders) for a dialogue where you take the time to learn from each other, identify the issues and values that you have in common, and explore potential projects or campaigns that you could work on together. This work might not be easy, but listening to diverse perspectives and partnering with new allies can be catalysts for positive change.
Refresh your Messaging
You might get only 10% of your target audience’s attention these days. I recently attended a webinar on climate change, and the presenters used the same messaging that was being used before COVID-19–so all my ears could hear was “wah, wah, woh,” ala Charlie Brown’s teacher. To connect with your audience right now, it is more critical than ever to refresh your messaging so it is relevant and taps into current concerns and values. There is a desire for change right now, so be sure to share a specific call to action. The more you can hone in on who you want to reach and what they care about, the more successful your engagement efforts will be. As you listen to diverse perspectives and expand your allies, what you learn can inform your messaging as well and make it more accessible.
It goes without saying we are all pretty distracted these days. There is more information than ever coming at people right now as everyone is spending more time online. Communications, be it a report, social media, or a virtual presentation, need to be authentic and engaging—to tell a story from the heart. Written communications and virtual presentations will have a greater impact if they incorporate potent images and visuals.
A key strategy for capturing attention is to tell a visual story with infographics. With today’s short attention spans, transforming analytical, quantitative data into images that tell a compelling story is critical. This year for UCSF’s sustainability annual report, Green Impact distilled the longer online report into a two page infographic that captures UCSF’s key sustainability accomplishments in a visual image that is aligned with its core brand. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you develop an infographic:
- Gather solid data and get clear about what your top messages are.
- Use original, impactful images. Stock images won’t make the impact you are seeking.
- Choose images and messaging that spotlight personal connections to sustainability and incorporate people and faces if possible.