The Year of the Peer

This post is a “New Year’s Recognition,” not a New Year’s resolution. It recognizes the reality we face rather than making new promises we probably won’t keep.  (If you really want resolutions, check out the “New Year’s resolutions for sustainability and strategy professionals” I posted last year; personally, I’m still working on fulfilling those.)

The recognition: This is going to be the year of the peer.  This year, practical, sustainable progress will depend on our success in working with our peers, both inside and outside our companies. This is not a feel-good exhortation to “play nice with others.”  It is a strategic necessity.

Isn’t this always true? Why now more than ever?  Because this year, top-down, vertical solutions are going to be very hard to find.  If you’re waiting for the people above you to make decisions and sort things out, you’ll have a long year.

The people above us are going to be too busy to settle our problems this year.  They face another long year of financial and policy uncertainties, with no clarity in sight.  They have given up on getting clear decisions from their governments, even bad decisions. They are starting the year already exhausted and frustrated. The uncertainties are too great and the margins of error too small in this market. They have zero tolerance for sibling rivalry and avoidable conflicts. They need “win-win” outcomes, not trade-offs.

If we want to succeed, the burden is on us to get our results without relying on the people above us to deliver them. This can be a challenge. I got an indication of this in a small client event in November.  Eight EHS/Sustainability leaders spent a day sharing candid insights into their opportunities and challenges. From different companies and industries, they each had different stories to tell. When we mapped the flow of messages to and from them, they found they had one factor in common: some of their biggest challenges were in their horizontal relationships inside their companies.  I’ve seen the same pattern already in the first 10 days of 2013.  I’ve worked with three of my clients in depth – and all three have great opportunities this year that depend on collaboration with their colleagues (in sales, operations and capital projects), not mandates from above.

Perhaps we should all take a fresh look at our 2013 resolutions and consider adding:

  • Map the relationships we need, not just the ones we have
  • Create the conversations that will build those relationships
  • Understand what success looks like for our peers, and how we can help them succeed
  • Create the win-win solutions that deliver success both for us and our peers

Don’t stop up leading both up and down in your organization. But think about your peers too.

Note: With this blog, I have fulfilled one resolution — I’ve now kept “Practical, Sustainable Strategy” going for a full year.  There was a gap in posting in December, but I’ll claim that as following #10 from last year’s resolutions.  Thanks very much to all who’ve helped me keep this blog going and hopefully useful, including colleagues, family, those who’ve posted comments, and my web coach Jeff Gorham.  I’ll try to keep the site alive and more useful and interesting in 2013.  I’m looking at some new things including perhaps guest blogs from colleagues. All ideas for improvement are gratefully accepted!

[Opinions on this site are solely those of Scott Nadler and do not necessarily represent views of ERM, its partners or clients.]

One comment

  1. [VP Global Compliance at major company commented to me directly]: Agree with the sentiment; a combination of distraction; perception of relative risk vs. other business challenges; and, I believe, a level of trust in what are now fairly mature EHS groups in many organizations contribute to the change in the relative importance of peer vs leader relationships. Respective priorities between peers place an absolute premium on broad business understanding, empathy for those priorities and, of course, collaboration based on relationships that are given the time to nurture. Reliance on email and even video conferences in lieu of face to face meetings in truly global companies makes this more challenging today than ever before.

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