Winning Sustainability Strategies Require Strong Company Culture

Developing and measuring a culture of sustainability within your organization
Culture of Sustainability
Publ. date 11 Feb 2019
Great leaders are said to be instrumental in driving change and embedding sustainability in the core of the business. However, although leadership from the top is essential, engagement from the organization through a culture of sustainability is key for the effective roll-out of sustainability programs. But what determines a successful company culture and how can this be measured?

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The example of Interface: Embedding culture into company credentials

A strong organizational culture is often sparked by great leaders with the ability to articulate purpose into a vision and ambitious goals that are shared throughout the entire organization. Within this field, Ray Anderson is regarded as one of the pioneers on the path of changing entire companies to become more sustainable. As the founder of Interface, a sustainability frontrunner in the carpet industry with annual net sales of almost $1 billion, he set the course for creating a company that not only delivers economic value but also creates social and environmental value. From the beginning, Anderson listened to employees and put emphasis on connecting them to the business. 

Starting the journey of sustainability with Mission Zero with its ambitious target of having zero environmental impact by 2020, by now the company has started to work on an even more ambitious mission to become regenerative or, as Interface has framed it, Climate Take Back. Based upon this new mission, the organization required new goals, targets and ways to engage employees. In order to do so, Interface has institutionalized the culture that has been originally initiated by Anderson across its workforce. The main tools applied are storytelling, informal trainings, and an in-house learning system. Performance evaluations of employees include a review of performance related to the business and sustainability values of the company.

Measuring culture? That’s impossible!

But how to measure the effectiveness of culture? To do so, Interface is one of many global companies that use the Denison Organizational Culture Model. The tool provides companies with a measurement framework to improve the understanding of cultural dynamics linked with organizational performance. The Denison model is designed as a survey of 48 questions around 4 traits that are each defined by 3 management practices:

  • Mission: Strategic Direction & Intent, Goals & Objectives, Vision
  • Consistency: Core Values, Agreement, Coordination & Integration
  • Involvement: Empowerment, Team Orientation, Capability Development
  • Adaptability: Creating Change, Customer Focus, Organizational Learning

Based upon the responses of the questions on management practices, the tool links culture to performance measures such as growth, profitability, quality, innovation and customer and employee satisfaction. 

In most companies, the challenge for senior management is to find and maintain the correct balance between the four traits that sometimes seem contradictory to foster long-term performance within their company. The four traits link with sustainability through a meaningful long-term direction, a.k.a. purpose (mission and consistency), listening to the trends in the market place (adaptability) and the engagement of employees (involvement). The development and successful implementation of corporate sustainability strategies require leadership capabilities that are typical when leading major change processes. Successful sustainability leaders, such as Ray Anderson have succeeded in bringing about this cultural change that is required for the development and implementation of effective sustainability strategies. 

Need help in measuring your company’s culture of sustainability?

In case you are ready to start measuring the state of culture in your own company, Finch and Beak can help you. Our approach that is based upon the Denison Model and helps companies focus on what matters most and leaves time and budget available to create transformative change and impact. Contact Lars Gielen, Consultant at Finch & Beak, at lars@finchandbeak.com to find out more!

Image source: Pixabay
Download source: Denison website

About Lars Gielen

Motivated young professional with specific expertise in strategic management, circular economy and business model canvas. | lars@finchandbeak.com

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