Business management

Motivating your team to make a difference

Creating real change to benefit both people and planet takes a team effort – but how do you get that team on board? A panel of experts shared their insights at a recent event from a Blueprint for Better Business.

Changing attitudes, one person at a time

But living that purpose authentically can require a reset in the way they think, behave and act; a challenging transition that can only be achieved with the engagement of the whole organisation. Individuals become part of the process, participating, innovating and agitating in ways that will bring about the full alignment of the organisation with its purpose.

This was the subject of a recent webinar hosted by a Blueprint for Better Business, in which three representatives from the business world – Rishi Madlani, head of sustainable finance and just transition at NatWest; Jo Alexander, purpose engagement manager at BP; and Lydia Hascott, head of intrapreneurship at the Finance Innovation Lab – shared their experience as agitators for change.

Madlani’s first encounter with climate was earlier in his career while working on investing in renewables. A few years ago, he realised that however much he loved financing wind farms, the balance sheet and the power of the bank were far greater than these individual projects. He began seeking out what that purpose could be and how it could grow.

“I wanted to create that strategy for the bank, and the last few years have seen us go from niche to mainstream,” he said. “My job has changed from being an internal activist to now having to deliver what we have committed the bank to do, which has been a phenomenal journey.”

Embedding change right across the organisation involves challenging people and, for Madlani, being “a bit of a pain”. “It's what motivates me, my team, and others as well,” he said. “It’s why we have 2,000 people joining our Sustainable Futures network. It’s a top-down, CEO-led strategy, but also grassroots upwards. I’m changing the organisation, a person at a time, and building my carbon army throughout the organisation.”

Six years ago, Jo Alexander left her role at BP, where she had spent 11 years looking for oil and gas. Always passionate about climate change, she had become unable to reconcile her role with her values. But last year, with BP’s new purpose of ‘reimagining energy for people and our planet’, she rejoined the company, this time to agitate for change – a huge challenge, given the size and complexity of the organisation. The key, she says, is recognising that change starts with you.

“Change happens faster on more local levels than global levels, so in the world of systems change I can change myself faster than I can change my team, my organisation and my entire system,” she said. “Becoming purpose-driven is not a straight line; it’s big steps forward and little steps backward, and I’m constantly having to judge what is the best way for me to make an intervention or influence that will move us in the right direction.”

Championing ‘systemic intrapreneurs’

In her role, Lydia Hascott is supporting individuals across a range of financial institutions who are trying to make change happen, whether or not they have a senior-level mandate or a job description that allows them to do that. They are what’s known as systemic intrapreneurs.

“They are innovating the challenge to create change in some way, and they are systemic in that the purpose of that innovation is not to capitalise on the market opportunity, but to fundamentally bring about systemic change in the system that they’re part of,” she explained.

Whether it’s finding someone’s personal purpose, organisational purpose or divisional purpose, you must be constantly looking for that in every individual

Rishi Madlani
Head of sustainable finance and just transition at NatWest

Hascott described three different archetypes of the systemic intrapreneur: the pioneer, who does the technical work of designing a new climate policy or strategy; the champion, with more formal power in the organisation, who can provide access to resources, mandates and permissions; and the guide. Seen as a bit of a maverick, a guide has the ear of important people and can help other intrapreneurs, particularly the pioneers, to navigate those internal channels, and open the right doors at the right time.

A lot of the work of systemic intrapreneurship is understanding the motivators of senior decision-makers, and why they may be perceived to be blockers of change around climate strategy, for example. Is it because they really value their job, or because they feel they have a mandate to protect the organisation from risk?

“It is important to really understand that,” said Hascott. “They become internal campaigners, building awareness and trying to convince people that the ultimate goal is for these things to become everybody’s job, where sustainability, or diversity and inclusion, or biodiversity becomes a mindset that every single person in the organisation needs.”

Keeping the conversation going

All three speakers emphasised the importance of building and maintaining connections and networks, both internal and external and saw them as an important source of support in keeping agitation on track.

Throughout lockdown last year, Madlani aimed to speak with one person internally and one person externally every week for a 15-minute chat over coffee. He said: “People are always leaving the organisation, and new people are always coming in, so the work is constant. But climate is a team sport.”

Alexander describes that network support as crucial for keeping her honest in answering questions such as ‘Am I making enough of a difference? Am I doing the right things?’ “It’s challenging, but it also feels good to be engaging,” she said. “It’s not all about the mission that I hold; it’s about who am I serving, and am I representing them?”

Hascott drew on her experience in the banking sector to highlight how the movement of people within an organisation affects this change work. “In organisations like banks, restructuring, promotions and redundancies happen all the time,” she said. “Just when you think you have your key ally, all of a sudden they’ve left. The challenge is encouraging your key ally to make changes quickly so that if they do leave, the work that you’ve done relationally isn’t completely undone.”

According to Madlani, the key to agitating change successfully is patience, but, when that window of opportunity appears, being absolutely ruthless in getting everyone on board, and using different techniques for doing that.

“Whether it’s finding someone’s personal purpose, organisational purpose or divisional purpose, you must be constantly looking for that in every individual,” he said. “It’s not necessarily what they can do that day, or at some point on that purpose journey, you have to know when that person’s personal purpose will come into play. Never write anyone off, because you never know when they’re going to come and save your bacon.”

Watch a video of the webinar here.

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