Who sets the values for the sustainability team?

There was a time, maybe long ago, maybe more recent, when the CEO and senior managers decided on the values of your organisation.

Later they were written up, used at the beginning of strategy documents and posted round the office.

Finally, someone sprinkled fairy dust and everyone in the organisation started to live out the values.

Is that how it happened? Just what do you do if stocks of fairy dust run out?

Maybe it starts at recruitment; I was once asked at interview if there was anything I found difficult to accept in the organisational values. I wanted the job, what was I going to say? They must have been suspicious as there was a follow up question ‘Nothing at all?’ ‘No’ I said. Did I live out the values after that? Maybe, maybe not but it certainly isn’t a fail safe method of ensuring that values are lived and not just ‘agreed with’.

The fact is that most people will consent to most lists of values – professionalism, honesty, openness, respect….  and genuinely so, but that doesn’t stop gossip, resentment, cutting corners, failure to respect.

It’s not normally the written down values that are problematic for the sustainability team. It’s the beliefs which are held without being written such as:

‘The company must always choose profitability over other priorities’ ‘The sustainable option is fine if it saves money but not if it costs money’ ‘Investments must pay back over 5 years’ ‘Sustainability is good for our image but if no one sees it, it’s a waste of money’

What is the knock-on effect of this mismatch for people working in sustainability? I think it can lead to a feeling of being undervalued or employed as window dressing or at best to the team being under-resourced.

How can the sustainability team regain their self-respect and the respect of others? One way might be to go back to the values and find one they feel may not be being adhered to.

Maybe the next sustainability team meeting could look at the organisational values and choose one or more, then complete the sentence

‘The reason we value honesty/ professionalism/respect… is …………………

A follow up sentence could be

‘Our team can contribute to honesty/ professionalism/respect… by ………….

and even

Our team feels there is a lack of honesty/ professionalism/respect…when…..

What do you think? Could this approach work? Would you just share your final sentences in the team or show them to senior management?


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