The Purposeful story of a reformed forklift truck driver

I once drove a forklift truck in an industrial flour mill. Besides showing off our driving skills to startled millers, the main excitement for me and my fellow micro-truckers was to “accidentally” pierce the bottom bags on the pallet.  This was wonderfully messy and also created work for an army of day labourers who swept the flour back into the system. 


We, the Lewis Hamiltons of the factory floor, saw our infantile misdeeds as contributing to a form of circular economy: creating jobs to recycle the flour.  In the absence of anything better from the company, that was our Purpose.


Because the mill had no mission other than to keep our wages low and make money for others, our corporate story was built around our derring-do use of our little trucks to cause mayhem.  We pursued our Purpose with great passion, as any purposeful employee should.


Some decades later (and fully reformed) I was struck by the contrasting story told by a forklift driver at  Interface, the carpet tile maker celebrated for its purpose, called Mission Zero: to eliminate any negative effects of the company by 2020. 


James Wiesner, the Interface driver, was once hailed by a factory visitor.  When she asked him what he did at Interface, James replied: “I come to work every day to save the Earth,” adding “I don’t want to be rude, but if I don’t get this roll of carpet to that machine in the next minute, our emissions are going to go out of control. I’ve got to go.”


The difference between James’s and my trucker stories highlights the value of a well-understood and authentic corporate purpose.  But it also demonstrates how a negative story (piercing those bags) can be far more powerful than the goody-goody version, and far more damaging.  


At Context, our mission as corporate sustainability story tellers is to ensure that our clients tell good stories, not goody-goody versions. Some commentators think this is still not good enough and view corporate storytelling as a load of hoo-ha. The brilliant FT columnist, Lucy Kellaway, says this: 


“I remember ridiculing an earnest American who had written a book, Around the Corporate Campfire, in which she urged people to ‘develop red-hot, value-based stories that spread like wildfire and propel them toward their vision’. She was right about the wildfire. Indeed, the corporate campfire has spread so dangerously, it is time to call the fire brigade.”


Lucy has a point if the stories are inauthentic, pretentious PR tosh. But she is wrong to reject corporate storytelling as intrinsically silly. Especially when it comes to bringing corporate purpose to life.


Like Interface, most companies do very boring, repetitive things. They make carpet tiles, fill drinks bottles, audit accounts, kill rodents, sell groceries and clean offices. Most of the tasks carried out by humble employees are mind-numbing.  How else can you hope to instil a sense of purpose in their dull working lives unless you wield the emotional tool of a good story?  Emotion always beats the rational.  And one of the best ways to bring emotion into communications is through stories about people.


Think of Bible parables such as the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son. Communicating values such as care for our fellows or forgiveness can’t be done in PowerPoint.  There has to be an emotional element and that is best achieved through stories about feelings that the listener understands.  Analyse the best Ted Talks and you will find a story, not a set of bullet points.


You can create a corporate purpose quite easily.  But it will remain a load of gush unless it is communicated through an authentic story. And reinforced with sequels that keep the purpose fresh and real.   


Most companies claiming to have a clear corporate purpose may have the best intentions but are plagued by little Lewis Hamiltons wreaking havoc on the shop floor. Perhaps if my lowly job as a forklift driver was narratively linked to my part in bringing daily bread to my fellow citizens, I would have felt a greater sense of purpose. A good story of the miller’s mission would have helped me understand my role and helped me be a better, more productive employee.   


And then this story would have been different. 


Peter T. Knight is Chairman at The Context Group

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Employee Activism and Purpose


Patagonia is recognised by many as a pioneer in sustainable business, does their ‘employee activism’ exemplify their bold approach to purpose? It seems encouraging their employees to be activists in the community could be a core driver behind embedding purpose throughout the organisation, and importantly bringing a sense of connection to their people. How can the principles of employee activism be used in other organisations to instil a sense of purpose? 


‘Employee Activism’ isn’t as radical as it first sounds. The original inspiration for the term came from Patagonia’s support of environmental activists back in the early days of the company’s formation. Since those days Patagonia encourages employees to become an active part of their corporate environmental mission through volunteering, grant making and fundraising events. All of these activities are focused around environmental groups which the employees can choose to support for themselves. Something a little more out of the ordinary is their environmental internship programme, where employees can opt to take 2 months of paid time to work for an environmental cause. 


To find something more radical in their approach to employee engagement, perhaps we should consider the term ‘activism’. This term often has strong connotations, and may be something corporations traditionally fear, thinking of Naomi Klein’s depiction of activists campaigning against corporations. A google of the phrase ‘employee activism’ also refers me to an explanation of how social media has allowed employees to become activists for or against the practices of their employers. But how could encouraging ‘activists’ within your own organisation be sure to encourage employees to work with your corporation and community, rather than against?


Looking at the impact of community investments on employees, we notice the benefits of team work, motivation, skills and reduced turnover. All industries and corporations vary in what is important for them. But maybe something which sticks out for all employees is the sense of contributing to something greater, aka purpose. Ejaz Rashid built the GivingForce portal as he wanted to use his tech skills to create a tool for multiple corporations and their employees to be part of a greater movement towards social responsibility. Activists are only as strong as the size of the movement around them. We notice employees realising that as part of a larger organisation and body of people they can achieve great things. Even if you volunteer on a short term basis, employees get motivated when they see how their contribution forms a percentage of the corporation’s work as a whole or as part of various regions and causes. In its simplest, being an activist means championing a cause. A certain strength seems to lie in corporations which strongly support one cause, such as Patagonia’s support of environmental causes or British Gas tackling housing issues and homelessness. This integral relation between the cause you support and the business you operate in seems a natural alignment for your employees, allowing them to champion your cause. 


So whilst ‘employee activism’ in its essence may be a bold way to brand employee engagement with the community, this in itself may be the real beauty of it. A current problem for CSR professionals seems to be creating an employee engagement programme which is able to withstand company change. Having a strong brand around your programme such as ‘employee activism’ creates internal recognition and senior level buy-in which remains at the heart of purpose in your organisation. Your brand needs to get people excited and talking, but importantly get people to act! Anyone reading this blog post and already engaged with The Crowd probably wants to be an active citizen and contribute to a bigger discussion on the role of the corporation in society. Why not let your people be active employees and contribute to a bigger movement on what the role of your corporation should be? Apparently millennials in particular are demanding to be more like activists at work. Maybe we’ve truly entered the age of employee activism. “Use activism to ignite purpose in your corporation.”


Marianne Hughes is Head of Client Relations at GivingForce

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Global Goals – Tell Everyone: Customers, Suppliers, Colleagues, Friends and Family!

I challenge anyone to watch the Global Goals “We the People” video and not want to share it far and wide. That’s exactly what I pledged to do when I saw it for the first time. First step, share it with as many of my colleagues at Coca-Cola Enterprises as possible.


The Global Goals were introduced to the world in September 2015, yet the vast majority of people - unless they work in sustainable development - have simply not heard of them. That has to change. 


The success of the Global Goals (also known as the Sustainable Development Goals) will depend on everyone understanding what they are, what they aim to achieve and their relevance to their own organisation or business. And the level of ambition is huge.


What are the SDGs?


The Global Goals represent probably the biggest set of BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) that the world has seen before. A 17-point plan to end poverty, halt climate change and fight injustice and inequality by 2030. Put simply, a step-change for our planet and the biggest attempt in the history of the human race to make the world a better place.


It’s a plan which 193 governments have agreed, a plan that the world wants and needs and a plan backed by leading global organisations and the wider business community. It’s a to-do-list for the planet that will only be achieved if everyone plays their part – and the business community has a critical role to play.


The Role of Business


Of course the SDG’s build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and we shouldn’t forget that the MDG’s delivered significant progress. Since the turn of the Century extreme poverty has halved, 43 million more children go to school, HIV infections have gone down by 40 and over 2 billion more people now have access to clean drinking water. It shows what can be achieved.


Whilst the MDG’s were focused on the developing world, the Global Goals have a global focus - including economic, environmental and social issues. PwC recently described the Global Goals as a “game-changer for the planet” – but only if business seizes the opportunity to engage.


Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General at the UN also has high expectations of the role of business. He said that “business is a vital partner in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Companies can contribute through their core activities, and we ask companies everywhere to assess their impact, set ambitious goals and communicate transparently about the results.” 


Introducing the Global Goals at CCE


Earlier this year I had the opportunity to run a workshop and introduce the Global Goals to 100 of the most senior leaders across Coca-Cola Enterprises’ supply chain business – including those who lead our manufacturing, procurement, logistics and cold drinks equipment operations.


At Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) we have our own Sustainability Plan - seven focus areas, 34 targets and a 2020 time horizon.  The Global Goals represent a Sustainability Plan at an entirely different scale, for the entire planet - 17 goals, 150 targets, and a 15-year time horizon. 


Our workshop was simple in structure.  I share a brief outline below to enable anyone to replicate and evolve the format within their own organisation. So what did we achieve? Just one small step, the workshop alone won’t change the world. Yet it did just what we intended it to do. Introduce the Global Goals and begin a process of building awareness and internal engagement.


Internally, the feedback has been positive. I’ve received many subsequent requests for multiple copies of an internally-produced Global Goals postcard that people can use with their own teams. 


As an output from the workshop we’ve recently developed a simple Infographic to demonstrate the strong alignment that already exists between CCE’s own Sustainability Plan and the Global Goals. Another small step in building awareness. I’d encourage everyone to talk about the Global Goals. Share them with colleagues, suppliers, customers and partners. We have much more to do in the future, but awareness is a good start. #Tell Everyone.


Global Goals Workshop


Step 1 – Introduce the Goals

Step 2 - Provide an opportunity to deep-dive into individual Goals

Step 3 – Ask three questions. Capture and map answers against Global Goals

  • What can your organisation do in the future to support the Global Goals?
  • What is your organisation currently doing which aligns with the Global Goals?
  • Which of the Global Goals has greatest relevance for your own business and value chain?

Step 4 – Ask participants to identify three things they will do personally to bring the Global Goals to life with their own teams and day-to-day business

Step 5 – Show “We The People” video.


Joe Franses is Director, Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability at Coca-Cola Enterprises

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Will the SDGs enthuse or confuse employees?

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are an opportunity for business and employees to engage with a global movement. As part of Global Action Plan’s regular “harnessing the power of people” roundtable at The Crowd, we considered the potential for the SDGs to capture the imagination of employees and inspire action to bring about a better future.


Now we’ve distilled what we heard at April’s Crowd event on the SDGs, to give you our five ways that SDGs can engage employees.


1.  A unifying banner. Companies already have many activities driving their contribution to sustainable development. The consensus around our table was that rebranding these existing (often) successful programmes to align with the SDGs would direct efforts away from delivering on the existing targets. Lord Malloch-Brown in his opening speech went to lengths to point out that the SDGs are not meant to be a set of reporting targets that companies must align with, but rather a long-term movement towards an attractive global vision. What he sees as the purpose of the SDGs in this context, is to collate all businesses’ varied CSR programmes to show how they contribute to the future vision. It is not intended that companies will report on the 160+ detailed targets that underlie the 17 SDGs.


2.  A community of advocates. Passionate environmentalists who volunteer in Global Action Plan’s programmes often need to know that they don’t act alone. They know that their efforts can change their world, but their sphere of influence is small compared to the entire globe. Being an environmental advocate is often a thankless or undervalued role too. Knowing that there are others pushing environmental change is important to maintain morale and enthusiasm, and if they get to share their frustrations and challenges with each other, they will progress faster. The SDGs, by creating a common language and common goals, offer people the chance to feel part of something huge that is changing the world for the better. They can also celebrate the actions of advocates around the world and see their progress celebrated in return.


3.  No-nonsense targets. Reminiscent of the NSPCC’s Full Stop campaign, the SDGs are similarly ambitious and unambiguous. 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere. 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. 11. Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The importance of setting targets for a team of employees to aim towards was raised often in the roundtable discussion. The conclusion? That the vision of the SDGs (which will take decades to reach) are a long-term overlay to the more immediate steps a company’s employees might be targeting on that journey (e.g. cut our carbon emissions by 5% this year).


4.  Scope for innovation. Leading businesses have flexible innovation programmes, often for recent graduates, in which the participants are presented with relevant societal challenges, but also welcomed to propose their own directions. The SDGs are a well described, well prioritised and comprehensive list of the global challenges in which businesses operate. Imagine a company having an innovation taskforce focusing on every one of the 17 goals. This could lead to an incredible set of business ideas for new products, new markets, staff benefits, cost savings and supply chain resilience improvements.


5.  Spoilt for choice. There are 17 SDGs. Can we handle that many messages? A recent survey quoted at the event found that only 1% of businesses planned to address all 17 of the SDGs. And can we as individuals be engaged by this many goals? The consensus in discussion was that this is a lot to handle at any given moment, but universal action to improve all goals is not necessarily the point. I imagine that most of the 30 million employees in the UK would be engaged by at least one of the goals, and will likely agree that they would like to live in a world where these 17 goals have been met. With 17 to choose from, employees can all surely contribute. And personally, I would be delighted to know that my colleagues were ‘looking after’ other goals, whilst my efforts were going towards tackling challenges in the one or two I could contribute towards.


The SDGs are a bold vision of what the future could and should become. Their use in engaging employees in CSR activity is to spark enthusiasm, ideas and action in our working population, alongside celebrating progress across the world. Businesses can simply align (not rebrand) their existing CSR activity to the appropriate goal, and benefit from participating in a global movement.


Chris Large is Senior Partner at Global Action Plan.

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