GLOBE 2012: Lessons in Culture Management from Interface & Virgin Unite

Brad ZarnettTwo types of memories stand out from GLOBE 2012, a renowned bi-annual Vancouver event: deeper connections forged with old friends and new connections established with others who we can now call new friends.

Those connections may have occurred while relaxing on a couch between sessions, sharing a bite over lunch, relaxing at a bar in the evening, debating after a seminar about the topics presented or even at the airport waiting to catch a plane home. GLOBE is about much more than the topics discussed or the people who attend; it’s about everything that comes together to make this a must-attend event for the sustainability professional.

It’s the culture that makes GLOBE something special.

Culture & Change Management

It is no surprise that when we discuss the recipe for sustainability leadership the answer always comes down to the same variable – culture.  Focus on culture change and your employees and stakeholders will find the answers to your toughest environmental and social challenges.  To paraphrase Bill Clinton in the 1990s – it’s the economy stupid.  Focus on the economy and you’ll win elections.  Focus on corporate culture and you’ll become a sustainability leader.

Heard the Interface story? In case you’re thinking “yes, heard it many times and while it’s a great story filled with insight and inspiration, we’ve learned all that we can from Interface,” there’s more.

In a panel discussion titled People Power: Improving performance Through a Corporate Culture of Sustainability Leadership, Erin Meezan, VP of Sustainability at Interface, and Jean Oelwang, CEO of Virgin Unite, shared stories of their cultures of sustainability with the GLOBE audience.

Interface: A Culture of Learning

Meezan described a company that is built on a culture of learning. Every employee in the company is asked for their feedback and thoughts.  How can we be more innovative? How can we disrupt the status quo?  How can we move forward with greater positive impact in the world?

She talked about Innovation Powwow’s and Global Idea Summits where ideas are not only shared but consciously harvested. Is that happening at your place of work?  Imagine how you would feel if you were asked tomorrow, “I want to know your perspective and I plan to share it with everyone around the world.”

Virgin Unite: Screw Business as Usual

Oelwang, began her talk by sharing the enormous impact that Ray Anderson had on Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin. In many ways Virgin Unite has looked to learn from and build upon the Interface legacy, she said. Oelwang talked about their efforts to get the focus back on people as “human beings” rather than as productive employees. At Virgin Unite, she said, the belief is that if you take care of people, the rest will follow

But this focus on people doesn’t mean that business entrepreneurism is lost at Virgin – quite the contrary.

They’ve developed the “Carbon War Room” where market-based opportunities to reduce carbon emissions are explored – bio fuel for airplanes is just one exciting story in this space.

In typical Virgin style, “Screw Business as Usual” is a contest for people to send stories and/or videos of their efforts and ideas about how business can operate differently so that business can define itself as a “force for good” by improving people’s lives and “protecting our shared planet.”

This idea both permeates and defines Virgin Unite.

The culture at these two companies is the key to their success. It is also a stark reminder of what an organization can do when its vision and culture are truly aligned. When these companies talk about their purpose there’s no need to talk about increasing shareholder value – it’s obvious and even more importantly, it simply doesn’t inspire people.

To solve the crisis of our planet, inspiration is needed. It is inspiration that drives entrepreneurship and innovation. Inspiration and game changing ideas emerge when we engage the human spirit.

Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, a director at Interface summed up GLOBE quite succinctly as a family – a place to see old friends, learn about trends and dream about possibilities. Positive energy and a collaborative spirit define the culture of this conference, and it’s this culture that makes GLOBE something unique and very special.

The key? To be able to bring a piece of that culture home with us and allow it to permeate our own lives.

Originally posted on CSRwire
Brad Zarnett is the Founder and Director of  Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS), a live and online forum that promotes discussion and problem solving among sustainability thought leaders.  Sustainability change agents participate in TSSS interactive events to exchange ideas, network and be inspired by leading companies that have integrated sustainability into their business practices.