The truth is organizational bottlenecks can thwart the sustained adoption of impact-oriented goals. The informal organization, the relationships and mindsets that animate internal processes and people, often operates at a different cadence than the sustainability integration strategies envisioned by leadership teams. This misalignment can impede the delivery of business value in a company's day-to-day operations.
The most effective means of planning for sustainable outcomes hinge on two core elements. First, prioritizing transparency in both internal and external stakeholder engagement. Second, leveraging the power of gamification to identify and build consensus for impact-oriented targets. Both contribute substantially to overcoming the challenges.
The Value of Transparency
Transparency possesses inherent value by nurturing an internal culture of accountability driven by inclusivity and cross-sectional innovation and shying away from negative connotations shrouding reputational risk. Furthermore, the expanded definition of reputational risk underscores a need to align corporate decision-making with organizational incentives and stakeholder commitments. Nowadays, reputational risk is a fluid construct, not static in nature.
Not only does transparency foster trust between stakeholders and the organization, but it also creates an opportunity to identify areas of improvement.
Additionally, it is important to recognize that reputational risks are not limited to public relations issues or corporate scandals.
As we’ve seen with many large organizations over the past several years, a lack of transparency can be detrimental to both the short-term operational success as well as the long-term reputational success of the organization.
By proactively and publicly revealing potential risks, organizations can proactively mitigate risk and ensure the best possible outcome for all parties involved. According to the team at Slack, “transparency has never been a more valuable asset in talent acquisition” (1).
The Power of Gamification
Gamification is an essential tool in driving stakeholder engagement. It involves utilizing game elements in the digital environment to incentivize stakeholders to participate and adopt behaviors that increase performance and achieve desired outcomes. It is often used as a powerful lever to motivate, engage, and reward stakeholders for their participation.
Gamified enterprise processes can raise group-level behaviors and scale individual projects into sustainable decisions that maximize momentum and buy-in. Integrating participatory learning via gamification exercises is an impactful initial step toward creating organizational incentives for inclusivity and accountability.
In the program on Circular Economy and Sustainable Business I lead at the University of Chicago, I have encountered numerous examples of how in a game setting, teams are able to operationalize sustainability objectives and build an eye for proactively engaging across functions to reach those objectives. Gaming emerges as second nature for building resilience through human curiosity.
How to ensure business success
What ensures its success when a business adopts environmentally or socially responsible practices that directly impact its operations or ecosystem - its customers, employees, peers, or locations? Whether driven by sheer business interest, alignment with corporate purpose, or regulatory mandates, the company's ability to respond effectively dictates its chances of thriving. In essence, how well the organizational fabric adapts to the new challenge determines the likelihood of success.
Our previous blogs identified culture as a vital catalyst in enabling organizations to achieve their business sustainability commitments. However, the informal organization – encompassing the relationships and mindsets that drive internal processes and people – can sometimes advance at a different pace from the carefully defined sustainability integration strategy. This variation emphasizes the importance of comprehensive strategic planning and management to achieve long-term business value.
Processes are people
Over the decades, I have retained one simple yet powerful takeaway from my graduate courses in operations research with Professor Retsef Levi at MIT: “Processes are people.”
At first, that idea may suggest a lack of control over planned corporate program rollouts. But it brings attention to the need for dynamic observation of intermediate outcomes as the rollout progresses.
“Processes are people” calls for a mindset that can live with more approximate answers and less definitive solutions, leaving room for experimentation. Yet it invokes a continuous learning environment and dynamic fine-tuning of accountability and outcomes in the organization’s sustainability journey.
Effective planning for sustainable outcomes hinges on two core elements. First and foremost, prioritize transparency when engaging with internal and external stakeholders to define a business's sustainability goals and targets.
Secondly, gamification can be a powerful tool to identify and build consensus toward impact-oriented objectives. Whether the target is environmental sustainability, requiring a long-range view spanning decades, or social measures, contingent on shorter-term action items, these steps can pave the way to lasting success.
Adopting “transparency first” as a guiding principle to motivate the informal organization, and leveraging persuasive game design to elevate sustainability awareness, establishes a fair competition between corporate ambitions and sustainability commitments whilst fostering an inclusive mindset.
You can access The Impact Challenge in open source here to learn more about transparency and gamification for impact-driven businesses.