Home > Leadership, Press Cuttings > Sustainability; an alternative view

Sustainability; an alternative view

Over the last few years we have seen sustainability appear as a major topic and it has become a word that people like to chuck into conversations and business proposals and to have included in policies. As with most words that get overused it tends to lose its meaning and therefore its power; ironic that, at least in this context, because if you think about what the word really means, I’m saying that it has become unsustainable. Most people today will probably associate sustainability with the environment (another word that has seen its meaning shift through wide usage), but I still like to use it to describe the practice of keeping something going.

I got onto today’s train of thought talking about charity, or more specifically charities and, as these things do, one thought led to another. The first one was around what happens to the benefit; we’re all familiar with the expression “give a man a fish” etc, but how many of these charitable efforts have actually been successful? Or are they just sustaining the problem? Like most businesses, charities have two parts; one that is selling and one that isn’t. In the case of the charity, the selling part, as far as I am describing it here, is the bit bringing in the money: It’s the people that sell the charity to donors. The other part is the one that distributes the benefit.

In the context of the discussion that I was having the issue was just how often charities suffer the same blight as other organisations in that they can grow a large and often unnecessary function in between these two parts. Sight gets lost of what the real objective of the organisation is and the bit in the middle takes on an importance and a life of its own at the expense of its parent. Just as I talked last week about a process becoming a trap if it wasn’t right, many organisations end up with more focus on the process than on doing the job.

In the world of music sustain is about how long you can keep a note going; we talk about sustain with regard, perhaps, to an organ or a guitar and we refer to the time before the note decays. And that use of the word decay is very apt in terms of today’s Musing, for what happens to organisations so often is that a form of decay sets in and spoils the connection between the two halves. The ability of the one to sustain the other begins to rot away.

So my point is that we should be looking to improve the sustainability of our own organisations, be they public, private or third sectors, by removing any areas that will be susceptible to decay or rot and to apply lean principles to sharpen the connection between the two parts. Whether you are selling products, providing services or delivering benefits, whatever your organisation’s reason for existence, the other part of the organisation should be focussed solely on supporting that activity.

Try an internet search for Trireme. You’ll find it is one of those old ships with banks of oars. Forget for a moment what it meant to be chained to one of those oars, but consider how all of those folks could get a ship that size moving at up to 8 knots. That is the power of all rowing in harmony. But if you don’t all pull together you will go nowhere. What we need to see more of is everyone making a sustained effort focused on delivering objectives and results.

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