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A positive culture cares for the planet

A positive culture cares for the planet

  • 11 October 2021
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

The pandemic caused an unprecedented change and the IPCC reported accelerated climate change. Organizational culture directs how organizations respond. A positive culture helps to navigate the necessary transitions. A positive culture is a planet culture. Long-term success and return on investment aren’t possible without care for our climate. What’s your contribution?

This is a time of transition. The pandemic caused an unprecedented change and the IPCC reported accelerated climate change. The world is VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. Everything’s connected thanks to technology that helps information to travel at the speed of light, people by aircraft, and goods by bulk transport. Our lifestyle and associated greenhouse gas emissions influence the climate in the most remote places. We’re all on this planet and there’s no planet B. 

We have to change faster than expected if we want our children, and further generations to thrive. What’s the connection with organizational culture? Culture directs how organizations respond to these transitions and how successful they will be. What’s more: positive cultures are planet-cultures. There’s no long-term success possible without care for our climate.

Our responses to this transition time vary. People experience fast change, loss, fear, discomfort, uncertainty. We’ve been working from home - juggling life and work in one crowded space. The pace was high and the pandemic called for fast adaptations. Many are exhausted. Now, there’s hybrid working - calling for a new round of new routines, juggling between home and office with ongoing changes and challenges.

Global challenges and transitions

Added to that is the division in societies between anti-vaxxers and those who are vaccinated. There’s tension in families and between friends about distrusting or trusting science, the government, the elite, and so on. What’s true and what’s fake news? Healthy dialogue deteriorates into a hostile debate. Listening is replaced by shouting.

Meanwhile, the climate report issued by the IPPC in August and the news footage are not encouraging. Climate change is real and is caused by humanity and our greenhouse gas emissions. We see rising temperatures and sea levels, extreme rains, storms, floods, and droughts. This is alarming, especially if you already feel tired after 1.5 years of adapting to pandemic change. Stress levels are high, spirits are low for many people.

The IPCC report didn’t bring new information, but the gathered evidence was “in your face”. It made me briefly wonder if working on developing positive organizational cultures was the best contribution I could make. Shouldn’t I change my profession to save the world?

(By the way, are you looking to increase your positive impact? There’s a ton of things you can individually do to slow down climate change. It’s a number game. The more individuals adapt their lifestyles, the more it helps. We are all responsible. Maybe you think: “Why would I adapt as others party on?” It may be a recognizable feeling, but it’s not a valid argument. Change starts with you as you influence your close connections and direct coworkers with new mindsets and behaviors. But let’s look at culture and organizations here.)

Planet Earth is the bottom line

So, what have these pandemic and climate challenges to do with organizational culture? The answer is: everything. Organizational culture directs the “way we do things around here”. It also defines how we think around here. Both the habitual thinking and doing of organizations can and must improve to help solve our global challenges and adapt to the crazy rate of change. 

Planet Earth is the bottom line. It’s our home and only “resource”. If climate change is not slowed down in time, our resources will be exhausted. Production of goods and services will become more expensive, transport will become difficult and expensive, societal unrest and division will increase, migration will increase, energy supply will be less stable. In this wild world, making a profit and return on investment will be harder as resources become scarce and societies are in turmoil. 

Hence, businesses and profits are subject to climate change as well and they suffer the consequences. It’s a number 1 business priority to become part of the solution and help climate change slow down. In my opinion, it’s also a moral imperative to do so.

Businesses can do a lot to help. Organizations worldwide are emitting the majority of greenhouse gas. We are the employees, leaders, consultants, suppliers, or customers of those organizations: the airlines, the manufacturing plants, the oil and gas industry, the big farmers, supermarkets, transporters, the big tech corporations, governments, and so on. How we spend our money helps - how we vote helps - and how we influence our coworkers, managers, families, and friends helps.

Positive cultures are planet-friendly

We can help organizations grow into their new role as climate contributors. It’s a moral and business imperative for organizations to serve the community. Why are they on earth? What’s their purpose. vision, mission, strategy? Organizations and teams that “start with why” unleash the power of purpose.

The four elements of a positive culture can help organizations transition to the next phase. These elements can also help individuals regain hope and agency, by the way. 
Positive cultures flourish because of 1. positive awareness, 2. connection and collaboration, 3. learning and autonomy, and 4. a shared, meaningful purpose.

Positive awareness

The first step in regaining hope, courage, creativity, and agency amidst the challenges is Positive awareness. Positive means an orientation toward exceptional, virtuous, and thriving. Just look at the Positive psychology research that’s available. Simply summarized: people who feel positive, see more options and take action. It’s not helpful to get depressed or discouraged about the current challenges. Thank your feelings of worry and concern for warning you. Next, focus your attention on:
*  what goes well
*  what elevates, energizes, and inspires
*  what is virtuous, good, or the right thing to do
*  what is extraordinary 
*  the positive potential of a person or situation or organization 

This positive outlook will help you and your team(s) see steps forward. What’s possible? How can we pull it off?
Positive does not mean that you deny what is negative - nor does it mean never giving negative feedback. The positive mindset is not weak or without boundaries either. It means setting new criteria and boundaries for contributing to a sustainable planet and minimizing damage to the environment.
(Currently, default organizations detect what goes wrong, over-emphasize potential risks, play it safe, micro-manage, and operate from a damage-control perspective).

Connection and collaboration

We need to connect and collaborate to increase our positive impact. We develop a collaborative culture with positive relationships and authentic communication to help our coworkers be at their best. People work better together if the team or group is safe, open to new ideas and different perspectives. If that team is inclusive, participative, transparent, and supports its members. In a high-trust team, collaboration comes easy, as does learning. When we connect it’s safe to speak up and ask the question that bugs you or offer your perspective that deviates from the norm - adding to the collective intelligence in the team.
The safer the team, the better its ideas, and the more you can implement and contribute to sustainability and serving your clients and community.
(Currently, default organizations with hierarchies often don’t feel safe. There are leaders and direct reports, an uneven division of information and power, scarce resources. It’s easier to be cautious than to speak up. Lack of connection and trust slows everyone down and produces mediocre ideas and outcomes).

Learning and autonomy

We develop learning, development, and professional autonomy by trusting others as professionals, seeing the potential of others, and being tolerant of mistakes as learning opportunities. In such a culture, it’s natural to feel ownership and co-create the results from an “inner locus of control”.
The more ownership and agency you feel the more you’ll do to solve and adapt. The more ownership, the more you learn. Resilience and agility increase. It’s easy: do what you can and learn from what you do. If organizations would embrace this mindset and behaviors the world would look different. 
(Currently, default organizations are slow or stuck because of their structure, systems, and processes).

Shared, meaningful purpose

Last but not least, what makes people go the extra mile? What brings out their best? A shared, inspirational, meaningful purpose on how we contribute to the world, the society, community, and organization. Work will feel like a calling. People experience positive meaning: “We contribute to the lives of our customers, our coworkers, and our community, and to the world by ..… We minimize global warming by …. We save ….”
This contribution to the greater good is even more important for the millennials at work (read Daniel Pink’s book Drive). Future-proof organizations go beyond their narrow financial goals and rewards and widen their perspective. One planet with limited resources doesn’t support endless economic growth and its greenhouse gas emissions. We’ll find new business models, smart sustainable solutions and might redefine our core values: what is a meaningful purpose?
How can we stretch the purpose to the long-term and widen it to benefit more actors than direct shareholders and clients? (Currently, default organizations focus on their bottom-line from a short-term perspective.)

Part of the problem or the solution?

Every organization currently contributes to the problem or to the solution. Becoming part of the solution fuels the ideas and energy in your organization. Whether it’s contributing to technical solutions to slow down climate change, or minimizing the damage or impact that your goods and service have on the earth. This is not a superficial layer of “green marketing”. It means a deep re-evaluation of core values to truly walk the talk. 

The financial bottom line is important for organizations, but it shouldn’t be the single goal. A healthy profit is a side effect of working in an ethical, sustainable, high-purpose organization that contributes and serves humanity. 

New core values for all positive organizations might include serving human life, respect for current and future relationships in and outside of the organization, respect for the environment, serving customers and communities in the long run, and adding more value with fewer resources. Organizations should maximize sustainable solutions and minimize any damage in producing, transporting, and delivering products or services.

How you and your organization add to (slowing down) climate change is a powerful part of the shared, meaningful purpose of future-proof organizations.

A positive culture is a planet-friendly culture.
What’s your contribution? Please share your insights and actions below in the comments.

© Marcella Bremer, 2021. All rights reserved.

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