Leadership Coach Addresses Corporate Dilemma: Sustainability

by | April 14, 2010

Yesterday I posted my recent interview with EMC's Chief Sustainability Officer Kathrin Winkler. Our conversation touched on several issues, including how a dedicated push for sustainability would change work culture, employee-employer expectations as well as how we work on a day-to-day basis. Her insight was real and practical. Her experience, methods of engagement and challenges lead to the question of education, i.e., how would these changes in the corporate workplace get filtered to the classroom? And what can companies, young entrepreneurs and business leaders expect in the coming years?

To get some answers, I reached out to former health care executive, and currently a leadership coach and managing director of Work Ecology—a site that focuses on providing thought leadership for executives to set a foundation of thought into practice for a culture of change—Lavinia Weissman. Using EMC as our context, our discussed captured several aspects of changing an entire work culture. Lavinia felt that Kathrin's successful methods of engaging EMC's workforce with all stakeholders in mind should first, and foremost, serve well as an example for other companies looking to move toward becoming sustainable.

"Kathrin's skill of engaging the EMC workforce into the vision of sustainability is based on a simple premise: 'corporate sustainability is really about business survival: Take the long view, or your business won't survive in a failing global society or environment. Long-term sustainability affects customers, employees, suppliers, neighbors, partners, governmental bodies, and civil society. If we make our business choices based on how we interact with those stakeholders, then we are promoting sustainability."

If you have been caught in the mire of advocacy and content on corporate social responsibility, and not entirely sure how to begin addressing it all, Lavinia offered three distinct pointers using EMC as an example for corporate sustainability:

1. Kathrin's role as Chief Sustainability Officer is focused on educating and networking value between all stakeholders across sectors that build interaction with nonprofit advocacy organizations, government, and companies within the EMC supply chain to better serve their customers with products and services that value and translate sustainability as a practice, respecting the environment.

2. Her personal performance is not measured against predefined assumptions that are job description-focused. She is not chartered to drive an expert agenda of science, human resources, law, finance, marketing or operations. Instead her role is more strategic and directional across functions within EMC, which enables her to focus on a new format of education that instills a form of learning that is not about "learning from" but about "learning with."

3. Through her independent blog, The Interconnected World, Kathrin exemplifies the sovereignty of her role at EMC. She is able to successfully communicate EMC's supportive environment that encourages employees to interact in a chaotic business environment with regard for societal issues, allowing them to develop an understanding of how they can positively influence responsive change to these issues through their work. EMC's Distinguished Engineer Steve Todd also maintains his own independent blog besides regularly writing for Vault.com on high-tech careers.

Calling Kathrin a "sensemaker, Lavinia advised that Kathrin’s communication style was inclusionary and therefore, reflective of self-generative learning.

"She builds a web of inclusion and outreach based on the value she provides as a sensemaker. She provides us with the perfect example of a corporate citizen who has a form of outreach that is aligned with the principles of the Earth Charter and the Principle of Exercising Precaution to do no harm."

Besides Kathrin's work at EMC, we also touched on some sensitive issues that continue to hold companies back from addressing sustainability, like risk management, downsizing and a recessive economy.

"The Corporate Responsibility Movement has surrounded itself by engagement that is not always tied to a constructive examination of economic reform that will create new pathways of development critical to forming a rapid response to the threat of environmental degradation, and its impact on health. Also negated is the impact of downsizing and risk management that have constrained the economy and resulted in the credit and foreclosure crises, hence threatening the security of the workforce and therefore, the need for personal security, health and economic sustainability."

She emphasized that "survivors of this economy already work in companies that are not part of the corporate social responsibility movement but see that a rapid response to repositioning a company to sustain is to build programs that are responsive to environment, health and workforce issues." We left off at a note of caution from Lavinia: "Companies can continue to survive the chaos or take the proactive approach and begin initiatives that build on a new format of education that is strategically driven rather than an expert role/job driven organization initiative."

Read my complete interview with Kathrin: View from the Top: EMC's Chief Sustainability Officer.

Also, see a typical Day in Her Life. And connect with Lavinia on Twitter @WorkEcology to learn more about her work.

Do you see your workplace demands changing or see sustainability addressed differently, if at all? Are you personally involved with sustainability? Weigh in by leaving a comment, emailing In Good Company or connect with me on Twitter @VaultCSR!


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