This first principle is directly tied to the confusion people tend to experience when they hear the word sustainability.
I do a lot of training and speaking on sustainability topics in hospitality, events, and travel. And as prolific as the concept of sustainability seems to be, the most common question I get from audiences is "where do we start?"
As I mentioned in an earlier lesson, people 'get it'. In fact, if someone has elected to take one of the classes I teach or is part of an organization that has invited me in to speak on the topic, then they already get that sustainability is vital to their future success. They don't necessarily need more convincing on that point but what they do need to know is "now what?"
Not knowing where to start can cause some anxiety. People sometimes treat it like it's a test and if they don't get it right, they'll mess the whole thing up.
And here's an important dynamic about helping people with the steps. I find in teaching people sustainability, a lot of practitioners are fans of teaching a person to fish. If we teach you the strategic principles and all of the science and methodologies, then you'll be able to fish for yourself. But what I hear from most audiences I teach and clients I work with is…"not only do I not have time or desire to learn to fish, I don't even have time for you to teach me how to prepare fish." What I want is…"fish!" Serve it up with sides and sauces.
Give me a completed fish dish! What this means is that people need checklists and resources that help them work step by step through sustainability implementation. As a leader, you should not feel you get extra points for inventing the wheel. You can make life easier for you and everyone around you if you lean on the many, many tools and frameworks out there. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations producing content and resources to help you with sustainability, and much of it is even free. The first place to start is a search engine. With a bit of search term creativity, you can find a few, if not dozens, of specific checklists or ideas that apply to your situation.
You may search based on your industry, for example, you could search on something like "sustainability priorities for insurance agencies" or "sustainability best practices for spas". Or you may search based on the initiative you would like to implement. For example, you could search on "how to set up a compost program at a restaurant" or "what are the benefits of reducing paper usage?"
There are so many resources out there if you just look. Many organizations like to produce one-pager guidelines that can be printed as a poster or used as an infographic to guide you through some of the more important first steps.
I recommend you also look at what the competition or organizations you admire are doing. If you search for their sustainability reports, pay attention to the top initiatives they highlight, particularly those where they are able to report on some sort of quantitative result. We'll get to that more in a later video.
If this seems like obvious advice, I agree. Yet, I have lost count of the number of times I speak with people who have not yet taken this basic first step. Again, I believe people become paralyzed with fear of getting it wrong and not knowing where to start. And when you have decided something will be complicated, you may even block your mind from accepting simple solutions and small steps.
And the key with many of the leadership principles, and indeed, influencing others in general, is to remember that what may seem simple and obvious to you is not simple and obvious to others. So if you can help them get the process started, you will experience more success and momentum.
Here are a few tips for identifying and using resources for starting or rebooting a stalled sustainability initiative:
First, when searching for resources, start with simple! Find short checklists and easy instructions. If all you can find are longer checklists, such as certification standards, then just select 1 or 2 ideas to start with. Don't get bogged down or overwhelmed with complexity if you are not ready for it. If you are ready for that, just remember that you may be surrounded by others who are not.
Second, don't worry about starting with a more tactical focus. Yes, it would be great if there were an overall cohesive sustainability strategy, but don't delay setting up a simple recycling program because you are waiting for a comprehensive long term vision and plan.
Third, in this quest for where and how to take the first step, don't lose sight of the role of the why. As I stated earlier, many "get it" at this point and accept that sustainability is important, but at this stage in the journey, you may still be working with many who need to grasp why it is imperative. Commitment is a vital prerequisite because there are going to be so many excuses – both legitimate and lame, to not stick it out. We will be covering more of those excuses as we move through the lessons, but in the where to start phase, be sure commitment is on the checklist.
And above all, the best answer to the objection "we don't know where to start" is "right where you are."
In the next lesson, we review the common excuse of "we tried that once, and it didn't work." And I will share suggestions for moving past this excuse.