Why Going All in for Sustainability Makes It More Likely a Business Will Encourage Its Intrapreneurs

By Emeritus Professor David Grayson, CBE

In their new book “All In – The Future of Business Leadership,” David Grayson, Chris Coulter and Mark Lee argue that businesses can no longer afford to be hesitant or half-hearted about sustainability. They have to be “All In!”

In our new book “All In – The Future of Business Leadership,” Chris Coulter from GlobeScan, Mark Lee from SustainAbility and I, argue that businesses can no longer afford to be hesitant or half-hearted about sustainability. They have to be “All In!”

Going All In means having a clear Purpose, which is authentic and inspiring, explains why the business exists and how it creates value for itself and for society. It is about having a comprehensive Plan which minimises negative Social, Environmental and Economic (SEE) impacts and maximises positive SEE impacts; covers all aspects of the business and extends into the supply-chain. Going All In means having a sustainable culture which is innovative, empowering and engaging, open and transparent, and with a core sense of ethics and responsibility. All In businesses have skill and will to collaborate extensively with a range of business, Civil Society and public sector partners; and they are advocates: they speak out and speak up for social justice and sustainable development. 

In this blog, I want to argue that being “All In” means that it is much more likely that a business will have an enabling environment which really encourages its employees to bring forward and to implement ideas that will create value simultaneously for the business and for society; in other words, to be social intrapreneurs. Why is this so?

  • Purpose: social intrapreneurs are by definition employees with a strong sense of personal purpose. Such employees are more likely to feel connection and engagement with their employer, and to be more motivated to put in the extra effort to become a social intrapreneur, if the business has a strong, societal purpose.
  • Plan: inter alia, a Plan sets out the frameworks and priorities where employee-led sustainable innovation would be beneficial and fit with the company’s priorities. A strong Plan sets some framing and guidance to stimulate employees within some boundaries – a wide canvas but not so completely boundless as to risk a management backlash against intrapreneurs (what the writer on intrapreneurism, Gifford Pinchot calls rejection by the corporate immune system!)
  • Culture: it is almost tautology to say a sustainable culture is a pro social intrapreneurism culture! A sustainable culture has several dimensions. It emphasises innovation and that sustainability and innovation are two sides of the same coin. It is empowering and engaging (think Daniel Pink in his book Drive: what motivates us is mastery, autonomy and purpose). So employees have the encouragement and capacity to lead innovation themselves. A sustainable culture is open to inputs and ideas from inside and outside as well as being transparent, ethical and responsible. Again, ethical and responsible businesses will find it easier to engage purposeful employees who see their personal values aligned with the organisation’s, and, therefore, are more energised to pursue their intrapreneurial projects.
  • Collaboration: All In businesses have the skill and will to collaborate with a wide range of partners. This means that the would-be intrapreneur will be operating in an environment where collaboration is the norm anyway; so they may get their ideas and help from existing partners of the business; or if the social intrapreneur is introducing a new collaborator, at least the company will already be well-used to, and comfortable with collaboration. In All In businesses,  “Not invented here” isn’t a term of abuse and rejection – rather a statement of the familiar!
  • Advocacy: All In businesses speak out and speak up. Employees, therefore, will be used to leadership messages about sustainable development and social justice; and will understand that the company supports these. Social intrapreneurs and other employees who might interact with the social intrapreneurs, will be more likely to know what the business leadership favours; and, therefore, less likely to scupper social intrapreneurism, under the mistaken assumption that such scuppering would be appropriate, and rewarded by the leadership.

Going All In for sustainability should, therefore, make it more likely that a business has an enabling environment for social intrapreneurism; and creating an enabling environment for social intrapreneurism is one aspect of going All In.

Champions of corporate sustainability and champions of employee-led corporate social innovation (social intrapreneurism), therefore, need to be more joined-up and be more explicit that they are all part of the same team!

David Grayson is an independent commentator on responsible business and corporate sustainability; and the Emeritus Professor of Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield School of Management in the UK. His latest book: All In – The Future of Business Leadership, co-authored with Chris Coulter and Mark Lee, is published by Routledge: www.AllInBook.net


Twiiter: @DavidGrayson_

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