Leading out from inside our bubbles

16 Apr 2020
SOURCE:
Robert Perry, Manager, Sustainable Leadership, Sustainable Business Council

Photo by thinh nguyen on Unsplash

As Easter ushered in week 3 of the lockdown, I read an article looking at how some of us – those who aren’t juggling kids at home or setting forth each day as essential workers - have been given a surplus of something we’ve always craved but have proven we don’t know how to deal with: time.

So while I was trying to singlehandedly boost Whittaker’s bottom line, I thought about my own lockdown experience and those others shared by others across SBC, BusinessNZ and our member community.

It’s been suggested that we are actually dealing with two contagions — the Covid-19 virus itself and the emotions it stirs. I’m sure you’d agree, lockdown has been an emotional rollercoaster and (spoiler alert) it will be for some time to as we transition towards recovery. Trying to make sense of all that’s happening to us right now – as well as to our organisations and loved ones around us, can be challenging and at times overwhelming. So it’s no surprise that worry, fear and stress conspire to undermine our ability to think clearly and rationally, manage relationships effectively, and make smart, informed decisions. The very things we need right now. Making sense of change over time can also inspire creativity. But these feelings are not exclusive to Covid-19.

We know everyone is at different stages on this journey, and our members are noticing the impact in different ways. It’s important to acknowledge the effect of all of this on us as people, on top of the business challenges that this presents, and I salute this lovely piece by Gerri Ward and Dawn Baggaley, two of our sustainability managers along with our former ED, Abbie Reynolds.

Right now, we have some big questions to ask ourselves. For instance, how can we use this as a time to reset and ‘bake in’ sustainability thinking into core business? More and more members are talking about how we move into recovery without reverting to BAU (whatever that looks like).

How do we forge a pathway towards sustainable, resilient, regenerative development that delivers positive impacts for people, planet and prosperity? This is an opportunity for us to show our collective leadership as businesses.

So how can we help our members respond to the leadership challenges associated with Covid-19? While these may seem like uncharted waters, the fundamental principles of sustainability leadership still apply especially: communication, collaboration, new ways of working and taking the long view. Our friends at Catapult offer suggestions via their Leadership Playbook specifically for this current context.

It’s been humbling and incredibly inspirational to see business, community and political leaders epitomising these ‘leadership plays’ in responding to the challenges of Covid-19. Here are just a few stories from SBC members that demonstrate effective leadership in practice.

I’ve already talked about the importance of clear and deliberate communication. Our BusinessNZ colleagues have come together by embracing technology. It’s been a little bumpy – and Zoom has shared sights that should never be seen! But we are now using a range of technologies such as MS Teams, Zoom, Google Docs and email to support collaboration, sharing information, problem solving and ….. fun! Such technologies have enabled SBC to develop next year’s programme plan even more collaboratively, with clearer outcomes and in record time.

We established structured daily team calls. The important feature is that these calls are regular and predictable, and that they are a forum in which our colleagues can engage, and that their concerns and questions will be heard. The trick is to set out a clear regime for what, when and why each technology should be used so expectations can be managed.

Secondly, there are a number of examples of innovative partnerships and collaborations - both logical and unexpected to tackle specific challenges in the community. For example Vodafone is providing families that don't have the internet at Otahuhu College with access to their children can learn. Z Energy has given St John a month of free fuel to help keep ambulances on the road throughout level 4 lockdown.

A number of organisations are embracing new ways of working. Most recently AECOM launched a virtual public consultation tool. SBC is also very excited that this years’ Sustainability Leadership Programme 2020 will now be a highly interactive online experience using Zoom Meetings. Kudos to Catapult and the support of our 35 participants.

Taking the long view: Vector acted fast and hard, to keep essential services during lockdown. And it has done so with foresight. One key lesson has been to constantly look ahead and not discount any scenario; if it should happen, how would we respond? A second lesson is to do your planning through the right lens. Is it a technical issue, for example, or is it a complex community issue which needs a diversity of skills and perspectives?

Vector is already seeing quite different profiles emerging on how and where energy is being used across Auckland. So they are already in contact with overseas regulators about the impacts they’re seeing, and how that might affect future investment decisions.

Check out more leadership stories.

Please share your stories about how your organisation is addressing critical sustainability challenges during the response to COVID-19 or using this time to reset and ‘bake in’ sustainability thinking into core business. Email us: sbc@businessnz.org.nz

Robert Perry, Manager, Sustainable Leadership.