Tag Archives: sustainability

To do or not to do what? That is the Activist’s Question

So much of this latest learning journey is brand new to me, it’s complex and a steep learning curve. If you have the interest, time and stamina please help me crawl up this incline. There are a lot of links to major resources below, hence the “stamina” thing. To fully grasp all of this will take a good deal of time and deep thought, but I hope you’ll join in the fun. Could be a wild ride once we get to the top and take off, although this is probably more like a never-ending adventure than a destination.

Adam Blakester of Starfish Initiatives notes that there are many more commentators offering opinions than activists willing to commit to a course of action. From Adam: “…we need more people to take on active roles/work in leading and/or supporting the great transition. Such roles are far more involved than recycling and going solar, as important as they are. Such roles are about influencing greater changes, creating solutions, new systems and knowledge, building capacity and a zillion more things.

In other words, more hands to the tiller and less arm-chair commentators and experts…being a good or better consumer is nowhere near enough.

Personal testimony–it’s far too easy to fall short of what’s needed: deeply committed hands-on activism. We’re collectively more aware, more concerned. But it’s far too common and more comfortable to stay at that first level—awareness, concern and some degree of doing stuff. For most, self included, it’s a matter of perceived constraints. How much can the average person do?

”I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do. So I’ll leave it up to you”. (1971-Ten Years After)

Epiphany! That attitude is old-world and must go.

Changing the things we do is critical-we’re at a worldwide environmental tipping point. But “thing changes” are superficial and unsustainable if the underlying attitudes, belief systems, habits and support systems, policies, practices do not change. And not just among a group of wild-eyed, bushy-haired “activists” but among the general population. A tall order that needs a deeply committed activist or two.

I am passionate about making an impact and I want to commit to action. It so happens that my passion has always been social change so I guess I’m an anomaly. Specifically, I’m envisioning a sustainable social –emotional infrastructure that will give humanity a fighting chance to survive and maybe thrive. While my initial emphasis is young people, kids are not born intolerant or bigoted. Those are acquired values, so there must also be a concerted effort to impact adult biases—the effort must be systemic, must reach all ages in all sectors–education, home, workplace, communities, society, government. Whew….another fine mess.

Exploring Mr. Blakester’s Starfish organization led me to the Great Transition Initiative.  and prompted me to write a GTI summary post –I won’t go into detail about GTI any further here beyond this purpose statement:

The Great Transition Initiative is an online forum of ideas and an international network for the critical exploration of concepts, strategies, and visions for a transition to a future of enriched lives, human solidarity, and a resilient biosphere. By enhancing scholarly discourse and public awareness of possibilities arising from converging social, economic, and environmental crises, and by fostering a broad network of thinkers and doers, it aims to contribute to a new praxis for global transformation.

I fully buy into GTI’s current global state assessment and its vision of a feasible preferred future, mostly because that future is the only one that gives us a chance. In GTI’s constellation of values, my passion is human solidarity. My lifetime vision: a catalyst role in a broad greater good movement (Adam’s term for this is “care for the commons”) to rediscover our humanity, which to me is a social survival and planetary sustainability issue of the highest importance. We can partially repair our torn social fabric with common threads of purpose, shared values, social norms…in other words by collectively re-connecting with our humanity. Vehicle of choice: social-emotional learning (SEL).

That big hairy vision is not as far-fetched or out of reach as it may sound.

OBJECTIVE

Build a Fourth Sector social structure with systemic emphasis on the attributes known to promote higher levels of engagement therefore greater social and emotional well-being and performance excellence. (RE Fourth Sector–see diagram 2 from the Fourth Sector organization )

I’ve taught social-emotional learning in grades 4-6. Too academic, too teachy, too canned to grab kids by their emotions, to hit their hearts and get in their heads. Needed: self-discovery and reflection / experiential learning (learn from unlearning…a whole ‘nother ballgame but related).

Education is inundated with demands—STEM, common core, standard test performance. It’s not lack of interest as much as it is lack of bandwidth to be serious about SEL. Conclusion: a purely academic SEL pathway is not feasible. Rather, a partner resource for the education establishment could provides much-needed adjunct services and support. The resource would also build general awareness and be catalyst for a systemic all-stakeholder community environment that supports social-emotional development. Enter the Caring Communities Collaborative (model-diagram 1), a conceptual framework that’s been evolving over the last several years.

Meaningful Work

A recurring parallel theme kept jumping out in my new learning journey—meaningful work:

Our mad rush to accumulate wealth and a standard of living through material things and conspicuous consumption has degraded quality of life and endangered the sustainability of humanity. The way out: “create an environmentally and socially sustainable future that provides decent, meaningful work for all.”

(The Struggle for Meaningful WorkKent Klitgaard February 2017) 

Blakester responded to Klitgaard’s article, be sure to read his thoughts if you (WHEN you!) read The Struggle.  In my opinion, priority focus is not on “work” but “meaningful”. How do people find their purpose, their calling, their One Thing? Once people understand what is truly important to them, they will be thirsty and will demand that thirst is quenched. Services, structures, systems will emerge much more readily out of necessity, driven by demand.  

WHY SEL First?

Social-emotional learning is a vastly powerful and necessary force; it is the enabler of skills development and high achievement. “Really?” This is all backed up by a huge body of research….

The higher the S-E level, the more physical health and emotional well-being increases. Hard costs incurred from the broad spectrum of physical and mental health problems drop, as do related but harder-to-measure social costs. The quality of the workforce talent pool increases and the private sector’s bottom line improves in key measures like productivity, turnover, absenteeism, attrition.

Community prosperity follows private sector prosperity.

In education, higher levels of attainment and achievement are realized by more highly engaged learners. Costs associated with “problem students”—absenteeism and disciplinary issues drop.

Education, workplace and community excellence are directly impacted by mean, uncaring people, conflict and stress.  And one effect of rude, intolerant people is bullying in school and the workplace. The ultimate effect…violent acts against others and self-inflicted harm, up to suicide.

Economic growth requires increased productivity, which in turn requires a better educated, more highly trained and skilled population. The kicker: for people to fully develop their skills and embrace training, it must be meaningful and relevant to them…they must be fully engaged. The enabler: a community of lifelong learners with a high level of social-emotional well-being.

The Caring Communities Collaborative Model (diagram 1)

 

Diagram 2: from the Fourth Sector organization

Convergence toward a fourth sector, of the best from private, public, non-profit sectors

We can and must get back in touch with what makes us human beings We can and must re-connect with our natural Selves. We can and must re-connect with others and with the world around us. It’s not just our happiness, it’s our survival that’s at stake.

We are stardust, we are golden. We are billions-year-old carbon. And we’ve got to find our way back to the garden.

 

Global Sustainability–The Great Transition Initiative

Sometimes I accidentally stumble across a well-hidden door to a mysterious building. Construction is not always tenant-ready but some dwellings are occupied. Others have completed their entire life cycle and are ready for demolition. The most recent door is to an in-process project–the Great Transition Initiative, and one specific essay in particular from the GTI website on meaningful work. A two- tweetworthy excerpt of the Great Transition Initiative (GTI) narrative from the meaningful work essay:

Our mad rush to accumulate wealth and a standard of living through material things and conspicuous consumption has degraded quality of life and endangered the sustainability of humanity. The way out: “create an environmentally and socially sustainable future that provides decent, meaningful work for all.” (The Struggle for Meaningful WorkKent Klitgaard February 2017) 

A Great Transition is needed. We have maxxed out the earth’s capacity to support humanity, moving  dangerously close to or past the hard limitations of every critical resource needed to sustain the species—water, food, land, air.

Social sustainability may be even tougher to achieve. The Great Transition Initiative  explores the future Klitgaard references. This essay looks only at what and why. The more challenging “how” including meaningful work is later.

GTI first started taking shape a quarter century ago, and their message and approach resonates with me. Their assessment of the current global state and vision of a desired future, as well as the issues and concerns driving the initiative all align with what had been percolating in my head for some time. My goal for this post is to do what I can to promote the cause, we need a vast grass roots movement. As this is important stuff. I hope this short summary will push you to the GTI project.

This is also selfishly motivated. GTI is new to me, and this will help me to better understand the issues, the framework, and where I might fit in. Lots to explore, lots of opportunity for all of us.

About that pesky rubber-hits-the-road “how”:

(1) Meaningful applies not just to work but to the  development of young people and older folk alike, and to lifelong learning and growth. Humanity has lost its mojo—stay tuned.

(2) Engagement theory and the connection to social-emotional well-being, productivity and personal achievement holds great potential.  Leveraging attributes across-the-board for all stakeholders that enable people to more fully engage is a critical “how” in the great transition. See Supercharging Engagement.  Also, Supporting data.

CREDIT WHERE DUE! Italics are excerpts taken directly from GTI. 

**********

Where are we?

“Great transition” refers to a set of core concepts for understanding the contemporary world and shaping its future.

We’re a frog in a water-filled saucepan that’s slowly heating up on the stove top. We’ll be boiled alive before it registers that a life-threatening change is slowly taking place and we really should consider hopping out. The stage has been set for a potentially deadly clash of radically changed current state vs deep-seated past perspectives and practices. Something has to give.

GTI calls our current status the Planetary Phase of Civilization—the profound shift in the condition of society and the dynamics driving change: threads of interdependence—economic globalization, communications technology, and climate change are among the most salient—are binding people, places, and the wider community of life into a single social-ecological system.

These powerful forces are exerting all kinds of pressure on global systems. However….the worldviews and institutions of the past persist…counter-tendencies—local initiatives, post-consumerist subcultures, sustainability and justice campaigns, public awareness and concern, visions of another world—may portend a rising social force for addressing the systemic challenge of the Planetary Phase.

Operative word = “may” portend a rising social force. This isn’t something we can leave to chance.

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run…..there’s still time to change the road you’re on (Zeppelin, of course)

Where are we going?

…contrasting paths into the future are possible, distinguished by the ways social-ecological crises and our collective response play out. These global scenarios fall broadly into three types: evolution, degeneration, and transformation.

(ONE) Evolution, Let It Play Out which quite likely would lead to degeneration. Basically doing the same old same old. Evolutionary / Conventional Worlds scenarios …incremental responses to 21st century challenges …free market solutions (aka: profit before people and planet, greed, corporate control, short-term focus on profit-earning action and results) and international cooperation for sustainable development (barrier: the uptick in populist movements, nationalism). However, the efficacy of market and policy adaptations is sharply constrained.

Translated: the probability of the same old same old working in this new global environment is slim to none. Or, per GTI:  a state-centric geopolitical order undercuts global imperatives, while the dominant development paradigm privileges profits over needs and economic growth over ecological resilience.

NOW                                   NEED

State-centric                       Global Imperatives

Profit                                   Need

Economic growth              Ecological resilience

 

The risk of evolutionary drift followed by catastrophic descent is all too real, yet by no means inevitable.

Where do we want to go? Make the Transition to Transformative

The only viable path toward sustainability and nothing less than survival of the species, is transitioning to a new paradigm redirecting the global trajectory toward a socially equitable, culturally enriched, and ecologically resilient planetary civilization. A walk in the park, right?

Very Macro “HOW”

Individualism to Human Solidarity

Consumerism to Quality of Life

Domination of Nature to Ecological Sensibility

  1.  The ascent of a constellation of values—human solidarity, quality of life, and ecological sensibility—to moderate (neutralize or eliminate are more appropriate words, but “moderate” is a start) the conventional triad of individualism, consumerism, and domination of nature.
  2.   Upon this normative foundation, governance and economic institutions can be redesigned to balance the imperatives for unity and diversity, to nurture social cohesion and eradicate destitution, and to support human well-being and a vibrant natural world.

Which is the toughest challenge–(1) to fundamentally change human nature and our core values / social norms?  Or (2) to change the strongly entrenched power base of systems and structures? Regarding the first challenge, humans are rabid about protecting the core of who they are and what they believe. Second challenge…those in economic and political power are violently protective of their gravy train. No rose-colored glasses. This isn’t a no-brainer.

OK…so how about what needs to come first—change people (1)  or change systems / structure, policies / practices (2)? My opinion: If you try to change something while retaining old mental models, perspectives, paradigms, values and norms you’ll go nowhere fast.

So, what would the Planetary Phase of Civilization look like?

Far from the end of history, a Great Transition would be alive with peaceful political contestation, cultural expression, and scientific exploration. Even as it opened a new and hopeful chapter in the story of civilization, a Great Transition would face the lingering scars and instabilities of a fading past and the unfathomable struggles of a distant future.

Maybe it’s out there but from what I’ve seen, the GTI project could use a stronger, clearer, more compelling narrative that everyday people will readily embrace. Create the case for change then build a critical mass of awareness and commitment. Schein’s burning platform works for me: if people are leery of making a blind leap of faith toward the new world, set the old world on fire (in a manner of speaking, not advocating arson!).

I am driven to further the GTI cause by boosting awareness in my own meek and minor way, to help make it absolutely clear that it’s life-threatening for the frogs to stay in the pan of water on the stove. To make the case abundantly compelling that to continue in this current reality is certain disaster and will eventually lead to certain extinction. That should be a pretty solid dose of WIIFM.

There’s already a good deal of thought and effort by many to secure a decent future for mankind, on a planet that we haven’t totally messed up.

The big need is grass roots…1) awareness and concern; 2) committed, involved activism-grassroots implies effort from many; 3) collaborative effort, synergy. Too many splintered initiatives can be counter-productive…where do I start, what do I do, who and what can I believe in? And 4) a sense of urgency to change the path we’re headed down.

There’s already a good deal of thought and effort by many to secure a decent future for mankind, on a planet that we haven’t totally messed up.

The big need is grass roots…1) awareness and concern; 2) committed, involved activism-grassroots implies effort from many; 3) collaborative effort, synergy. Too many splintered initiatives can be counter-productive…where do I start, what do I do, who and what can I believe in? And 4) a sense of urgency to change the path we’re headed down.

If you hear the calling share the word about GTI and find your own well-hidden door you’re your own mysterious building. We must build broad awareness by lots of people dropping pebbles into their own little pond. Ripple Power, baby!

Next Up: more in-depth how as proposed by the GTI project.

The Natural Order of Things

I’ve been on a mission to develop a working understanding of the interrelationships among and the dynamics of impact and influence; values and values-based leadership; engagement, well-being and the Greater Good. In doing so, I’ve tried to stay objective, formulating a hypothesis then setting out to refute it—trying to prove my hunch wrong.

But every path I followed ended up at the same destination, the hypothesis refused to go down in flames: organizational sustainability begins with me. For a company to achieve performance excellence and sustainable maximum results, it must invest in helping people connect with what is truly important to them personally. What drives them—not at work, but what is their life’s mission? What values influence their daily actions and help them set personal priorities?
Without people who are well-connected and personally aligned to their personal purpose and values, excellence and sustainability and all that other bottom line stuff is simply out of reach.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. But I’d love to see alternative views, so what do you think? The whole thing is a bit long, here’s a link to The Natural Order–the whole enchilada.

Workplace Stress-Five Easy Pieces for Leaders

A recent article’s headline caught my eye: High-stress workplaces equal lower productivity, say experts, this line in particular:
“Organisations are finding that work cultures focused towards high pressure and competition environments often lead to high staff turnover and ultimately poorer business results.”

Makes sense to me. The logical causal chain creates a reinforcing loop, more like a whirlpool of water swirling down the drain: stress leads to health issues > health issues trigger absenteeism and lowered productivity from those who work ill > absenteeism and lowered productivity cause increased stress levels from falling behind / catching up / pulling extra weight. All this leads to burn-out and people leaving. Or even worse, burn-outs staying and going into survival mode, a short-term coping strategy at best for the company and the burn-out alike.

The evidence is compelling and I could cram this whole article full of factoids. Stress is not only killing us, but it does incredible damage to organizational performance. Go here for more about Stress by the Numbers-Indicators and Impacts.

Deloitte’s third annual Global Human Capital Trends 2015: Leading in the New World of Work (a heavy hitter) reports that “…companies were struggling to decrease workplace stress, simplify business processes and reduce complexity….66 per cent of respondents believed their employees were “overwhelmed” by today’s work environment and 74 per cent cited workplace complexity as a significant problem.”

We see the enormity of the problem, yet we do very little to resolve the issues.

Stress Management Makes Good Business Sense

I was born and raised in the Midwest where we are born with the tribal knowledge that contented cows give more milk. Translated: when people are less stressed they perform better, produce more and better results. Beyond that, there are other good reasons to be mindful as a leader of stressors that impact your people. These five stressors are in your control, and there is little to no cost involved in doing something about them.

(ONE) “74 per cent cited workplace complexity as a significant problem (Deloitte)”
Systems and processes grow and morph over time when we’re not looking, through a continuous stream of small and seemingly insignificant modifications and tweaks. Tweaks add up. Stress can go through the ceiling from attempting to make over-designed, obsolete, ill-defined processes work. What better reason to analyze and improve the way the work gets done? Lean techniques, especially process mapping, can pay back in buckets by not only increasing throughput and productivity but by reducing stress. Especially if you involve those who know the work best.

(TWO) Confusion over purpose, goals, methods.
Believe it or not this is a genuine issue highlighted in numerous studies. It’s the lowest of low-hanging fruits and is low cost, high impact…for cripes’ sake, lead your people! Show them their target, make sure they understand the importance of hitting it, verify they have what it takes to get the work done: information, instructions, tools, time…all the right resources. Then let them perform and be there if they need you.

(THREE) Feeling unnecessary, unappreciated, alienated.
People need to know how they are doing, need to feel they are part of something that is worthwhile. We naturally assume no news is bad news. Or worse yet, we fall apart under a constant barrage of criticism without specific and sincere thank you’s to balance things out. We will pressure ourselves to do more and worry, worry, worry while we’re at it. Which leads to sub-par performance and even more criticism, pressure, worry.

We’re loyal to a fault, lovable mutts who’ll do anything to please their master in hopes of earning a treat or a pat on the head. We show unconditional love even when we get nothing but scolded for something the damn cat did. When we are conditioned long-term by nothing but negatives, if a rare reward comes along out of the blue it shocks and excites us so much that we may pee uncontrollably.

(sorry, you could have probably survived without the dog analogy even though it’s mostly true, at least up to the “pee” thing)

(FOUR) Forgetting to Feed and Water the Plants.
Most people want to be all they can be (certainly not all!). Most people get stressed out if they perceive they are going nowhere. Worse, they begin to question their worth. Give them opportunities to learn and grow!

(FIVE) Not Letting the Rabbits Run
Squirrels climb trees. Ducks take to water like…well, a duck taking to water. And rabbits run. A rabbit will swim if forced to, and will maybe survive. A duck can exert a short burst of respectable ground speed. But these animals are best suited to do what they do best, and they love doing it.

Poor fit is a major stressor. Unfortunately, a leader does not always have the luxury of following the natural order in making assignments. People are sometimes forced into a role that doesn’t fit them, and they may do a respectable job in the short run. But they are very likely to be miserable and will very probably burn out long-term. Leaders, find out what species of animals work for you and what their capabilities are. And find out what they love to do, which means you may have to talk with them and build a relationship (!). Assign and develop them accordingly, as much as possible. Strengths-based leadership makes a world of difference.

Engagement and Stress are Inversely Related!

All of the above stressors are in the hands of a leader. The reducer suggestions are actionable, and they all happen to be enablers of a high engagement work environment that supports performance excellence. So stress management is good business. Reducing workforce stress increases engagement levels, just as leveraging known enablers of engagement reduces stress, both of which make organizational sustainability more attainable. “Really?” you say…

“Sustainability” is more than recycling, reducing carbon footprints, being mindful of pollutants. Organizational sustainability is making sure the company itself lives a good, long life. And corporate social responsibility is more than an occasional cancer walkathon or read-with-kids program. Social responsibility is tending to the well-being of the community, starting with the community that is your workforce. It’s one big reinforcing loop:

-> engagement -> stress reduction -> sustainability ->

Stress by the Numbers-Indicators and Impacts

(this is support data for another post addressing workplace stress)

Stress Indicators and Impacts

  • Deloitte’s third annual Global Human Capital Trends 2015: Leading in the New World of Work: “…66 per cent of respondents believed their employees were “overwhelmed” by today’s work environment and 74 per cent cited workplace complexity as a significant problem.”
  • 2012 Workplace Survey (American Psychological Association): 41% said they “feel tense or stressed out during the workday” up from the year prior’s 36%.
    38% of employees can’t stop thinking about problems like emotional, health, financial and job concerns (annual wellness report, Employee Assistance Program provider ComPsych)
  • Stress costs American businesses $300 billion dollars a year (World Health Organization)
  • Stress is the most common cause of long-term absence and several other productivity deflators (CIPD’s 2014 Absence Management Survey)

From ComPsych’s 2012 Stress Pulse Survey:

Effect of stress on daily productivity
41% lose 15 to 30 minutes of productivity a day
36% lose one hour or more each day
23% report their productivity is not affected by stress

Effect of stress on attendance
55% miss one or two days a year to stress
29% miss three to six days a year
16% miss more than six days a year

Effect of stress on effectiveness
46% come to work one to four days per year when too stressed to be effective
30% show up that way five or more days per year
24% say stress does not influence their effectiveness

Effect of personal tasks on daily ¬productivity (FYI)
41% lose less than 30 minutes a day to personal tasks
40% lose 30 minutes a day
19% lose more than an hour a day
Source: ComPsych Stress Pulse survey, October 2012.