Engaging the Board around sustainability is a key challenge for sustainability professionals. Many see initial enthusiasm and support dwindle into casual interest or reluctant tolerance. Few can say that sustainability has a guaranteed slot on the Board agenda. So how can we get the Board to see the business value?
- There isn’t a problem
Let go of the idea that there’s something wrong with them or with you. That limits your thinking to ‘problem solving’ and you need to be open to opportunities to communicate. Communication is the key.
- Directors are no different to the rest of us
Let go of the idea that ‘Director’ means that they are different to the rest of us. They may have more initial influence, but you will convince them with the same techniques that you use for anyone else whose attitude matters to you. The technique will be the same, but the message will be different.
- Involve them in a story
We all love a story that we can relate to and that has a good ending. So, you need to create a truthful story that is exciting, compelling and inclusive. Include opportunities to prosper in the low carbon economy for organisations that adapt quickly. Do your research and find your potential for new markets. Clearly no-one knows what the future holds, but good research coupled with strong conviction will get attention.
- Sell your story to each director individually
Having set the scene for an exciting future in your business, you need to understand what ‘exciting’ means to each director. Your task is to tell your story in their language, relating to the hot buttons of the listener. What’s in the story for them to support your proposition? In each case reaffirm the core story but reshape it to the listener.
- Engage the Board in the need for an organisation-wide initiative
Boards see their role as making decisions that have organisation-wide consequences. If you discuss technical solutions, the directors will form the view that sustainability is a technical, not a strategic issue. Be bold and discuss the need for organisation-wide changes in attitude towards sustainability. Every Director has a valid opinion and extensive knowledge about human behaviour and will contribute fully to the conversation. Then you’ll truly have Board engagement and the possibility of creating an impact on the entire organisation.
Haydn Young is an independent energy management expert and founder of The Energy Club.
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