Making managers tick

10th February 2014


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  • Management ,
  • Employee engagement ,
  • Corporate governance ,
  • EMS ,
  • Engagement


Mike Franklin

Greg Roberts and Michael Brown explain how a better understanding of senior management could improve your environment management system

Leadership will rightly take centre stage in the new version of ISO 14001, due to be published in 2015. Senior management teams will have to champion the environment management system (EMS) and integrate it into business processes. This is a step change from the existing, rudimentary requirement for top management to appoint a management representative, sign the environment policy and attend a management review meeting.

To ensure the new requirements of 14001 are met, and to also benefit from an EMS that can potentially deliver greater value to the business, environment practitioners need to better understand what makes management teams and organisations tick.

Leading from the front

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development defines leadership as the capacity to influence people to achieve a common goal, through personal attributes and/or behaviours. The successful implementation and improvement of an EMS is dependent on it being adopted at all levels and functions of the organisation, but, ultimately, it has to be led from the very top.

Environment management strategies, more than many other organisational plans, benefit from devout, resolute and often pioneering leadership. It is in the vanguard in opposing the trend of short-termism in business – excessive focus on immediate results at the expense of long-term interests – because leaders need a long-term vision to manage issues such as climate change and resource scarcity.

Take Stuart Rose, former chief executive at Marks & Spencer or Paul Polman, CEO at Unilever; both are leaders who have bucked the business-as-usual trend and embraced a longer-term perspective that has placed sustainability at the heart of their respective business strategies. A less well-known figure is Timothy Parkinson, chair of the spring and wire forming firm Airedale Springs, whose vision to build an eco-factory helped to differentiate his business from its competitors and increased sales.

Unfortunately, such pioneering business leaders are still few and far between, and most environment managers will find themselves devoid of leadership with regards to sustainability. Consequently, it becomes an uphill struggle to convince managers throughout the organisation to adopt more environmentally friendly practices because they are often seen as a distraction to what managers are trying to achieve personally.

So how does an environment practitioner go about changing this scenario to one where senior management champion the EMS and see it as equal to other business objectives?

Identifying style

The first question a practitioner needs to ask is whether the organisation encourages and supports a particular style of leadership. Only by satisfactorily answering this question can you move on to develop an approach that will best influence the senior management team’s commitment to your organisation’s EMS.

There is a plethora of work on different leadership styles and, although such studies are useful, it is dangerous to pigeonhole someone as having a specific style based solely on their personal or cognitive abilities. Of equal importance are situational factors, for example the financial position of the business, the management structure and the immediate urgency of tasks. Managers are likely to adopt different leadership styles according to the situation they are in – for instance, crisis versus growth. It is useful to think of both what the individual is like and what they are dealing with at the time.

Daniel Goleman identifies six different leadership styles (see below) in his work on emotional intelligence – a way of understanding and assessing people’s behaviour, management style, attitudes, interpersonal skills and potential. Collaborative leadership styles are more suitable for work on an EMS because they can help to engage an entire workforce in a long-term vision of sustainability, while allowing individual responsibility, which in turn encourages innovation.

This type of leadership can be seen at GE, the global capital, expertise and infrastructure company, which has promoted innovation from each of its businesses through its “ecomagination” model. Its vision is to: “Imagine and build innovative solutions to today’s environmental challenges, while driving economic growth.” By engaging employees and the outside world in this vision, GE claims to have saved its customers billions of dollars through efficiency.

Leadership styles:

Coercive – the “do what I say” approach, where leaders dictate
actions and goals.

Authoritative – the “come with me” approach, where the leader

states the overall goal, but gives staff the freedom to choose their

own means of achieving it.

Affiliative – leaders adopt a “people come first” attitude, focusing

on praise and rarely offering advice.

Democratic – leaders give workers a greater voice in the decision

making process.

Pacesetting – a leader who sets high performance standards and

exemplifies them.

Coaching – leaders focus more on personal development than on

immediate work-related tasks.

Source: “Leadership that gets results”,
Daniel Goleman (2000), Harvard Business Review

Identifying the leadership style used in an organisation and appreciating the reasons behind its adoption can offer a useful insight into how to proceed with implementing an EMS. If a coercive or pacesetting leadership style is dominant, perhaps because the organisation has short-term difficulties, then environmental issues need to be presented in such a way as to address the required short-term targets or actions. For example, senior management teams will be more receptive where an EMS contributes to the business objective to reduce operating costs.

By contrast, where an organisation is looking to expand, and democratic and authoritative styles are in the ascendancy, then the EMS can be presented as a means to manage long-term growth, for example, by moving the business into providing low-carbon environmental goods and services.

Integrating the EMS

All organisations adopt an approach to managing their performance to some degree, with the aim of bringing consistency and ensuring resources are directed to those areas of the business that really matter. A performance management system sets out to establish organisational goals and objectives to ensure that a business is successful and employees perform to the highest possible standard.

Commonly, the EMS does not form part of the performance management system, so environmental objectives are not included in managers’ personal goals. Consequently, the EMS is overlooked and practitioners are unable to make significant improvement to the firm’s environmental performance. Integrating the EMS into business processes, as is proposed in the revised 14001 standard, is therefore essential. Environmental goals will rise up the management agenda because managers’ individual performance is more likely to be measured against them.

It is crucial that environment practitioners influence their senior managers during the planning and review of performance management processes to ensure the integration of environment concerns, rather than watching them become a “bolt-on”. To achieve this, the business case for environmental measures has to be developed and articulated to highlight how the EMS can assist the organisation to achieve its goals – whether they are to reduce costs, increase sales, motivate staff and/or encourage innovation.

Integrating the EMS into business practices, can also help to ensure that future goals are developed to meet an increased interest in the environment, such as developing more resource-efficient products. If the practitioner succeeds, this will ensure that the environment is considered in both departmental and employee objectives, and that key performance indicators are embedded to measure environmental performance – for example, in the form of personal objectives or departmental balanced scorecards.

Once the environment is incorporated into the performance management process, practitioners are then free to influence operational managers to ensure that environmental objectives are considered as equally important to the other measures they are accountable for.

Top 10 tips on influencing managers

  • Understand your organisation’s performance management system – What is in the mission statement? What metrics are important to the success of your organisation?
  • Understand yourself – How do you influence others?
  • How do you lead?
  • Understand the business case for the environment – Where possible, draw the link between existing organisational goals and the environment.
  • Practice articulating the business case – Not just in formal presentations but in general discussions.
  • Take time to understand your managers’ goals – Focus on those you are trying to influence.
  • Make a connection between the environment and your managers’ goals – Do they need to cut costs? Do they need to develop new products or a new marketing campaign?
  • Use the most relevant data – A marketing manager will be interested in the publicity an environmental initiative might create rather than the specifics of the initiative.
  • Share case studies – Looking at what their peers are doing will help managers to understand what is possible.
  • Report back – Highlight successful initiatives.
  • Advise managers to attend some environmental training – Learning will help them to understand how environmental issues can be integrated into business practices.

Read how BAE Systems has been using IEMA's new

"Leading with environmental sustainablity" course to engage

managers with sustainability issue

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