Sustainability Impact metrics can waste time, money and goodwill. Lots of it. Be strategic. Learn to measure and manage the meaningful. Meaningful to your project, to your stakeholders and aligned value propositions. Don’t be lured into complex metrics that don’t support your path to value.
Value to you and your stakeholders *internal and external* must be the foundation of metrics and management systems. Don’t even think of metrics until you understand your value propositions and the internal and external value they represent.
Get this right and your metrics and management systems will help you to create more value, do it more efficiently and facilitate internal and external stakeholder relations at the same time.
When planning your Sustainability project you should have answered the WHY questions:
- What is the value for the company?
- What is the value for society and key stakeholders?
- What is the environmental impact and value.
Your metrics and management systems should help you understand, track and optimize impact and value across these dimensions; helping you to efficiently deliver on the WHY of your project.
The specifics of what to track and measure are often not so clear. That is OK. Often the process of setting up impact measurement frameworks can be as valuable as implementing the program.
Start by engaging key stakeholders, including internal stakeholders, on the value/why questions, what success will look like and what metrics will help you understand your progress towards success.
You may well find that their vision of success and how you measure progress towards it is different than yours. That is fine, good actually.
The process of understanding their vision and helping them to understand yours will not only make your impact measurement framework stronger, it will help to develop consensus and buy-in. You will have knowledge to help manage the project better.
I’ve seen many Sustainability projects, and even businesses and careers, run into big problems, and even flat out fail, because the front end work of developing consensus on what success looks like wasn’t done.
The start of a project generally has blue sky, sunshine and the goodwill to give you room to facilitate a shared vision of success and the key metrics to track, and how to track and manage them. Use this time wisely.
Here is an example
If you’ve been asked to support the development of a local school, how do you measure success? By staying on time and budget with construction? That is certainly important, and needs to be managed, but that likely has nothing to do with the WHY, the value the community was looking for when they identified it as a priority.
Before you agree to the project is the time to engage on what success looks like and how you track and measure it. What is the role and responsibility of each key stakeholder in achieving success?
- Is it the number of students?
- Number of Graduates?
- Students going on to post secondary?
- Attracting and retaining teachers?
- Or what else?
And over what timeframe.
There are no universal answers? There are some near universal questions though and if you don’t address them with stakeholders you add risk and complexity:
- Why should you do this particular project and not something else? (this discussion should have taken place during prioritization and planning, but it is worth revisiting)
- What is the value for key internal and external stakeholders?
- What indicators will demonstrate progress towards achieving that value?
- How do we track them?
- What is each stakeholder’s responsibility in the process?
Having that discussion early in the process and revisiting it regularly will help you to get the metrics and management right and will help to facilitate stakeholder buy-in and ownership.
Remember, question complexity in metrics. If you and your stakeholders can’t easily understand, capture and monitor the metrics, take a good hard look at how useful they really are. There is value in simplicity (despite what some consultants may try to sell you)
And, don’t forget to have this discussion with internal stakeholders as well as external ones. Smart Sustainability will have meaningful value inside and outside the company.
ESG, Sustainability & CSR should be as much a business value driver as it is a social and environmental value driver. If it gets out of balance it creates risk and makes the sustainability and indeed, even the business itself, potentially less sustainable.
Business is about creating value. CSR, ESG and Sustainability are also about creating value; value for society, for environment and for shareholders.
Thanks for reading
Prof. Wayne Dunn
President & Founder