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March 14, 2008

Corporate Strategy and Sustainability

When you work in Corporate Communications a good part of the year is spent one way or another being involved in, or at the very least thinking about, strategic planning.

You spend a lot of time trying to narrow down an organization's 3-5 year goals by engaging staff and stakeholders, narrowing down the focus, trying to figure out the best ways to communicate the vision to the entire organization in a way that they might actually buy in, and most significantly, aligning the messaging into the future so that your vision is reflected in key messages that are unified on the web, in annual reports, in e-mail, in essentially every communication that goes out to every medium.

I've honestly never seen it work all that well. Maybe I just haven't been in the right place.

Huge amounts of money can be spent on the process, taking significant amounts of time and in the end, the report gets written, the branding is completed (or not) and the messaging takes shape but no one is ever quite sure how that exercise really translates in any meaningful way into the daily reality and a change in behaviour of individual employees.

I've always thought that a key part of the process was missing and that part was the part that clearly iterated how the plan would impact an employee's way of being. For example, if the receptionist couldn't repeat the vision for the organization in the same way the president could but in a way that was meaningful to her/his work then the exercise hasn't succeeded.

So, it seems that the missing link is translating, for employees, what any new Strategic Plan means to them in terms of how it will impact their daily work, their interaction with clients (whether those "clients" are babies at a daycare, high school students, venture capitalists or artists).

At Globe 2008 yesterday, I came across a small consulting company called Visible Strategies. They've developed a new software package called "See-it" that supposedly enables an organization to strategize on issues of sustainability and social responsibility in a way that allows measurement and involves a lot of multi-media visualizations, instead of just words.

I think it's a good idea because it's not enough anymore to just be focused on the tasks associated directly with a business. It seems that now, and into the future, you will be expected to show the ways in which your business, whether that be a department at a university, an international corporation or a small mom and pop operation is aligning its purchasing choices, its recycling behaviour, and employee habits. You will be expected to show in a tangible way how you are using your collective power to impact both environmental and social change. And those two things have to be explicitly incorporated into the overall strategic plan.

Smart companies have already begun to do this it would seem.

The reason this is so important is because it begins to get people thinking, not just at work but in their own personal lives, about their interconnectedness. And, once they begin to think about that then they might begin to translate that through a change in behaviour.

If you are not in the habit of regularly donating your time or some amount of money to a cause other than to your own personal financial betterment, have you ever asked yourself why?

If you take away the excuse, which in my opinion is always an excuse, that you just don't have the money or the time, then what would the honest answer say about your real values?

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