Industry Voice: Many harbour significant scepticism over the private sector's commitment to climate action, but coordinated business planning can change that, explains Project Management Institute's Ashwini Bakshi
"The pledges are amazing, if anybody actually acts on them." This comment from senior Greenpeace campaigner Charlie Kronick after COP26 last year reflected the sentiment of many towards corporate climate commitments: scepticism.
Most climate plans remain heavy on statements of desirability rather than action. With the planet up against the clock to reverse decades of environmental damage, talking no longer represents progress. It's time to focus instead on stakeholder engagement, coordinated planning across business pillars and - ultimately - organisational and personal transformation to build a realistic path towards net zero.
Complex change - such as the remit we face on climate - can only be achieved through projects, the modern vehicles of delivering complex change in measurable ways. This is the defining factor for the 'Project Economy', the era in which organisations deliver value to stakeholders through successful completion of projects, delivery of products, and alignment to value streams. How leaders navigate this paradigm shift will determine their success in the coming years, and their project management principles must be suitably adapted to ensure they do not fall behind.
Adopt a gymnastic mindset to enable progress
The climate crisis is a challenge like no other previously faced by British business. Professionals must now look beyond tried and tested processes and consider revolutionary approaches to meet their objectives. This is a mindset we call ‘gymnastic' - focusing on outcomes over process - and is currently adopted by only a third of UK businesses. It cultivates agility throughout an organisation, essential when facing a complex, developing challenge such as environmental sustainability.
The electric vehicle (EV) market is one example of a sector forced to adopt agility to drive progress. The constant emergence of new technologies, new collaborative partners, and booming consumer demand means that manufacturers can no longer lean exclusively on traditional processes to generate growth. Only by adopting a hyper-agile gymnastic approach can they take advantage of new opportunities to progress their business and meet EV adoption targets.
Developing changemakers with climate at their core
To successfully integrate gymnastic principles into their organisation, leaders need to build teams of professionals equipped to turn ideas into reality. We call these people changemakers.
Changemakers proactively own their development and continuously improve by deploying a holistic skillset of power skills, business acumen, and expertise around new ways of working. ‘Power skills' is our term for ‘soft skills' - of which adaptability, collaborative leadership and possessing an innovative mindset are examples. Power skills form the foundation of a changemaker skillset and shift the focus away from more technical ‘hard' skills, which have traditionally dominated recruitment priorities.
For businesses to make progress with their climate agenda, it is important that sustainable principles are integrated into the heart of their project management. From setting objectives to measuring success, sustainability must be considered at all stages. Such a monumental shift can be daunting but, by placing climate at the core of changemaker development, businesses can integrate sustainability into the heart of their internal culture. As project teams do not work in isolation, sustainable operating practice must be embedded throughout an organisation's way of working. As we have seen with digital, sustainability will become soon become a non-negotiable.
Ultimately, businesses need to empower their people with the skills, opportunities, and working environment to take responsibility and contribute to a more sustainable future. By building teams of climate-aware changemakers - deployed within a gymnastic framework - leaders can structure projects in a way that will evolve ambition into action and shape a greener tomorrow for their organisation.
Ashwini Bakshi is managing director of Europe and sub-Saharan Africa for the Project Management Institute.
To read more about the project management principles that can facilitate the transition to net zero, please visit: https://www.pmi.org.uk/
This article is sponsored by Project Management Institute.