Best strategies for a business are to make clear choices and the allocation of its resources, this being comprised of: ‘ the steady accumulation of frameworks promising to unlock the secret of competition advantage’ – Walter Kiechel: The Lords of Strategy, Boston MA – Harvard Business School.
A sustainability strategy forces choices delivering clear actions and positive outcomes for the optimisation of resources.
Whilst financial projections are important for allocating capital resources, and understanding trend analysis when looking at adding corporate value by creatively reallocating resources, effective implementers of sustainability, also dismantle the internal barriers to corporate strategy implementation.
Therefore, it is essential that managers should forge much stronger links between corporate strategy and other key management processes to ensure strategy results in meaningful actions. And, if business leaders, whether large corporate, or importantly SME, are to overcome the bias towards immediate short-term solutions and switch to longer term thinking, then they will have made significant progress in adopting an attitude suited to the mitigation of increasingly complex and interdependent sustainability risks… developing a cycle of continuous improvement.
So, setting a sustainability strategy is a deliberate action to achieve deliberate outcomes – lower costs, drive innovation, team building, customer service, brand and reputation, sales and marketing, talent attraction, and competitive advantage. Thus, sustainability will help deliver the ability to beat the market.
Deployment of a sustainability strategy also ensures verification of the actions to make outcomes provable in order to meet the strictest scrutiny – adding the greatest value. This process of verification, by default, illustrates the interdependence of functional areas, and so expose and deliver greatest resource optimisation.
It follows, just ticking boxes, and playing along with the market, will expose a position, which is not as strong as it may appear. And, where as it may seem that smaller and weaker competitors, as well as new market entrants, are not deemed a threat; if they are taking a divergent strategy, one that embraces sustainability – verified, robust and embedded into the DNA – they will come through and be the winners tomorrow.
Because sustainability connects, and exposes, the interdependence of structure, conduct and performance, the company embracing sustainability will reap the rewards of positional advantage, by conferring and living by the unique benefits delivered to them.
Additionally, there is a wealth of research showing companies that routinely go out of their way to experience the world from their customers’ perspective routinely develop better strategies. Sustainability is a quality stakeholder engagement programme of continuous improvement. Once embedded into the DNA of the company, the whole team shares and aspires to the ethos; customers and suppliers become involved in the process and support the strategy. This does mean that decision makers must be taken on the journey of sustainability; create experiences which help them instinctively grasp the mis-matches that may exist between what the new strategy requires and the actions and behaviour that have brought success up to this point.
Sustainability as a strategy is about optimising resource use and allocation and understanding what is working and what is not. Notwithstanding that, what does working really mean? Sustainability breaks down and modulises what is working so you can see what it actually looks like, what it means and what costs can be stripped out and processes optimised.
Sustainability is about collaboration, skills development, innovation and optimisation of the triple bottom line. Sustainability helps and guides to get specific about what you have the ability to shape, what points of influence you can begin to put in place – sustainability is invaluable.
Christopher Gleadle is a senior partner at the CMG Consultancy.