We’ve run out of excuses – why it’s time to #BuildBackBetter

Posted in Sustainability on 23 June 2020 By Christine Colvin, Climate Resilience and Sustainability

Confronted with the Covid-Climate-Brexit confluence and continuing uncertainty and volatility, we need to hardwire resilience into our plans and work towards a better future.

We’re all talking about resilience and the importance of #BuildBackBetter.

The challenge now is not to lose sight of the long race, despite the relief of being able to return to some good old fashioned normalcy. National debt has eclipsed GDP and British companies are bracing themselves for the triple threats of immediate recession, medium-term Brexit and long-term climate crises. The #BLM movement has forced us to confront the inherent inequities of our most ‘developed’ economies. This time around, it’s clear that our economic recovery cannot offset the real debt onto society’s marginalised and vulnerable groups or the next generation, as too many have done before.

We’re running out of debt. With our climate, we’re running out of time. But the experience of our mammoth and rapid change during COVID-19 shows we’ve also run out of excuses. 

At the end of May, nearly 200 companies called for a green recovery plan from the government to support rapid decarbonisation and innovation for green jobs. Many of our clients are looking to strengthen their purpose, deepen their ESG (environmental, social and governance) performance and redefine their relevance with ambitious new sustainability strategies. We are seeing exciting strides from British business in the #RaceToZero, with widespread moves to renewables on our road to host the UN’s next climate talks at COP26, and big-hitters like Unilever announcing a €1 billion fund for Climate and Nature. Despite the exhaustion of continual crisis - we’re feeling inspired. It’s time to change and we know change is possible.

The Covid-Climate-Brexit confluence means that uncertainty and volatility are going to define our foreseeable future. We are trying to ensure that our ‘Better’ hard-wires resilience into our plans for more turbulence ahead. 

Resilient organisations are able to recover from shocks and prepare for future disruptions. Clearly something that the traditional risk register does not achieve at the scale of a shock like COVID-19.

Designing for resilience certainly means understanding our potential future threats, but it also means ensuring we have diversity, inclusivity, reserves, equity and connectivity – the five characteristics of resilient systems. With these, organisations can learn and adapt better to self-adjust, survive and thrive. Nearly 100 Cities, including London, New York and Singapore, already have CROs - Chief Resilience Officers. It will be interesting to see if companies follow suit.

Five resilience characteristics

We know that we need to focus on deepening the diversity of our workforce, not just to be responsible but to be response-able. The more different perspectives that we see on complex problems the more robust the solution. Emperor experienced this in our Covid response, not just in our strong gender balance, but also in seeking out solutions from our offices in different parts of the country and different disciplinary backgrounds. We now need to build a better representation of diverse ethnicities.

Having the difference isn’t enough if we don’t hear and value the difference. We have tried to make sure that our engagement has included the many voices and drawn them in with relevance and respect. Our own staff survey showed clearly that there was no one-size-fits-all for the working from home response, nor the design of our new normal. We will need a blended model that prioritises inclusion. Inclusion builds innovation that works. C-suites that monopolise the narrative miss out on the richness of perspectives around them. 

It’s obvious to say that we need reserves to be resilient. This is also viewed as ‘redundancy’ and that can be more controversial. Some redundancy in the system gives the necessary flexibility to respond to shocks, and this can come from unexpected quarters. As we all shifted to home working, the reserves in the broader system were the space and WiFi at home - normally dormant in the day, now the lifeline to remote working. Any company that has cut to the bone and optimised efficiency at the cost of all else, has little to cushion the blows. Furloughing has given us all some much needed redundancy now. We will need to think ahead to where our impact zones will be in the future.

Equity is a current hot-topic alongside diversity. We made the move to being an employee-owned company at the start of this year, and that has helped us to rethink equity in our business. Consciously introducing a more equitable balance of power means that we had a good foundation for the trust necessary to work remotely and keep pulling towards a common purpose. Better equity has bought unexpected dividends. Conversely, inequities will play out and destabilise organisations under pressure. 

Connectivity is the visceral mass of resilience. Our climate resilience specialists will talk about connectivity through feedback loops, tipping points and supply chains that collapse. As creatives and communicators we are obsessed with connectivity. The value of powerful communication that enables and enhances functional connection has become more apparent during crisis. This is the signal that has to triumph over the noise. Our pace of connection and communication sped up at the start of the crisis, and then needed to settle into something credible and predictable amidst the chaos. Communication becomes a life-raft, especially from leadership, so its credibility and surety is the ingredient-X for building confidence at the time of greatest stress. 

We are now planning for resilience into our next phase of growth and development, a phase that we know is going to be more challenging and rewarding than at any time in our 24-year history. These characteristics are just the starting point. With these, organizations can better anticipate, learn, self-organize and adapt. More than ever, we are assured that change is the only constant.

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