Sustainability is "in. Fueled by the climate crisis and the Corona pandemic, a massive rethinking has begun. More and more entrepreneurs ask themselves: "What am I actually doing here??" – and now want to act more sustainably to give meaning and purpose to their creations and make a good difference.
But employees often fall by the wayside because the purpose is unclear to them. That’s why entrepreneurs should first clarify for themselves what their company stands for – and then inspire everyone else to do the same.
Giving the company a sustainable meaning
Many companies want their business activities to have a positive impact on society and the environment. A new generation of "impact entrepreneurs" is emerging who want to reshape business with strong visions and achieve sustainable success in the process.
In addition to the ecological dimension, this often involves social improvements or shaping the new world of work. Medium-sized entrepreneurs in particular want to go down this path. But often the team does not understand the drive behind this, or they struggle with the new structures that come with the change. So how do managers manage to inspire their team to do this??
At the beginning is the self-image of the entrepreneurs
Impact entrepreneurs are always visionaries who recognize trends early on. They act out of an inner clarity and structure and can thereby carry along their environment. That said, company leaders should first develop a few cornerstones before engaging their team.
The following four steps are important before presenting your vision to your employees.
- Define Purpose
- Develop vision and goals
- Defining the framework
- Define the strategy
Create clarity and define purpose
As a company leader, you should be able to clearly state in a few sentences what you and your company stand for. Impact entrepreneurs always have a strong purpose. With regard to employees, this could be, for example, to create a new, sustainable working environment in which they feel comfortable and can develop their full potential. To understand your purpose, ask yourself:
- Can you wake you and your entire leadership team up at three in the morning and you would all say the same thing?
- Is your purpose visible to the outside world, i.e., is it reflected in your marketing messages, in your corporate identity, but also in your internal communications?? Do customers and employees recognize the Purpose at a glance??
With your purpose, you state why you and your company are committed to sustainability. They name it: "Why I Care."
Develop the Purpose into a vision and goal statements
The term "purpose washing" is currently being bandied about in the media. This refers to companies that have elaborately developed a purpose and guidelines, but do not implement them in everyday life, or do so only inadequately. However, a purpose only becomes credible when the entrepreneur and management team align all actions and corporate decisions with it.
Impact entrepreneurs make their message "Why I Care" the standard for action by developing it into a vision and concrete goals. Referring to the previous example: You create new communication structures, for example regular Town Halls or creative workshops, where everyone can contribute their ideas and thoughts. The physical work environment can also be changed in this direction, such as shared desks or home offices. This is how entrepreneurs address the individual needs of their employees. Therefore, check:
- Have you translated your purpose into goals?
- How measurable are these goals?
Are the goals more like declarations of intent along the lines of "We want to internationalize" or have you made them more concrete?? For example, one measurable target is: "By the end of 2024, we want to bring 5 million users from three Scandinavian countries onto our platform and get them excited about new and sustainable work concepts."
Set the framework – define the "How I Care"
In the next step, you set the framework by which you want to achieve your targets. To do this, ask questions such as:
- In what ways do you want to proceed?
- What values or guidelines do you use to set out on your journey??
- How do you want to work together to achieve these goals?
- How do you present yourself to customers??
- Which partners will you involve, and how will you cooperate in the future?
Last but not least, you name concrete measures and activities with which you want to achieve the targets. Limit your goals in terms of time and plan activities for the short, medium and long term. The result is an initial rough implementation plan that determines the pace and resources you will use to move forward.
A possible strategy for the orientation towards a sustainable working environment would be, for example, that you as an entrepreneur give your employees the space to develop their own strategies and goals. In doing so, you provide direction; for example: How would you sustainably invest five percent of annual sales??
Engage the team now
Only when you have taken these four steps should you involve the team. The clarity you have gained will help you to engage the team – the proverbial spark can be ignited. Outstanding impact entrepreneurs always create a "we" feeling: they convey a belief in being part of something bigger by convincing employees of their vision and getting them on board with your newly defined cornerstones.
Transparency leads to a sense of unity
Even today, we often talk about "getting employees involved". But this is an old-world concept. It is more a matter of awakening aspirations in the employees and opening up spaces in which they can develop their own creativity.
Therefore, present the cornerstones you have developed to the team – in a completely transparent way. Make it clear which sustainable value creation goals you want to pursue and what is non-negotiable for you in the process, but let the team members add to, change, work out everything else.
However, you should also bear in mind that any change of course in an existing company will always attract doubters. Many people will be skeptical about your new approach. Therefore, instead of starting with the entire workforce, you should focus on top performers in the first round. In every company, there are always a few very good employees who are enthusiastic and happy to contribute their ideas.
It therefore makes sense to gather them into an initial "spearhead team" and start initial experiments with them in the new direction. For example, the launch of new products in a test market. Very important: You should always communicate what is happening to the rest of the workforce. If the volunteers from the first team achieve good results, the previously hesitant ones will eventually want to join them as well.
This is how change succeeds
The following points show that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving sustainable impact. But it is crucial that two points are fulfilled:
Inspire and engage
Impact entrepreneurs inspire with their message. You create the feeling in the team that you want to go along the way with them. The cornerstones you have developed will give you the persuasive power you need to carry the team along.
Involve and create freedom
You awaken the willingness of employees to put their commitment on the line. You can do this because you make your team feel that their suggestions and ideas are being heard. Today, more than ever before, it is true that if you can help shape the future, you will put your heart and soul into it.
Impact companies are sustainably successful because they are based on the conviction: "We really offer added value. We are changing the world a bit" – supported jointly by management and employees.