I’m currently in my fourth and final semester in the Wake Forest University Schools of Business (Formerly Babcock Graduate School of Management) Executive MBA program. Our capstone, of sorts, is known as the Management Practicum. Dan Fogle, our faculty sponsor, has set the requirement for this year that all of our team-based practicum projects must have a sustainability or environmental theme. There has been great enthusiasm among the cohort for this and I’m excited for my specific project.

Wake Forest University Schools of Business

Wake Forest University Schools of Business

I learned today that Wake Forest recently received accolades for its attention to sustainability by the Aspen Institute. According to the news release, The Schools of Business rank 43rd among the Global Top 100 Schools and have been among the top 50 since 2005. Projects, like our practicum and the hiring of a sustainability director are real signs of applying these themes to the curriculum in a meaningful manner. We had the opportunity to meet with Dedee DeLongpré Johnston, WFU’s new sustainability director this morning and lunch. She provided a good forum to validate the ideas of our projects, as she’s certainly been someone with her “ear to the ground” on these topics for a while.

The projects among the class certainly are wide of field, even within the scope of the “green” universe. Some of the topics include:

  • Solar power rollout in the US and remote locations in Central America
  • Lean manufacturing with a focus on reducing environmental impact
  • Environmentally preferential sourcing policy development for municipalities
  • Groundwater conservation in India
  • Improving environmental impact of large data centers

I can’t talk much (yet) about my team’s project, but it involves Eco-labels such as Cradle2Cradle, LEED, and GreenSeal. The topic is actually very closely tied to this article from triplepundit. The question of whether government intervention is required as the impetus of implementing sustainable practices is a huge one. Our team is monitoring closely developments in the State of California, the EU, and China to come to a conclusion on this that might predict the strategic direction firms in all industries must consider. This is a matter of real business, whichever way this particular question falls. I’m pleased that I’ll be wrapping up the MBA in December knowing that we’ve tackled one of the most important business questions in my generation and all those to follow.

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I recently read an article in the August issue of Valley Business Front by Anne Clelland. Her article deals with the question of what to do with a “meddling” employee who frequently questions management and even goes as far as suggesting changes to the company mission statement. Anne’s advice for this situation is:

The greatest gift leaders can give their employees is to draw a clear line between employer and employee, designate who’s to do what, and do the leader’s side with authority, credibility, and consistency….and lead the company so well that the meddlers can stop worrying about whether they’re the coach or you are, and be the true team players you hired in the first place.

My thoughts immediately went in an opposite direction.

In my mind, there are two likely reasons for an employee to “meddle” – 1) They actually have good ideas and are looking to take ownership in their organization, or 2) Management really has no idea what they are doing or hasn’t clearly communicated the vision. In both cases, the meddler is really an asset. The question is how do you capitalize on it.

In the first case, the employee is an idea factory. The mutual frustration exhibited would stem from a lack of a meaningful outlet . I’m not saying any employee in any company should be allowed a seat at every board meeting, but any employee in any company of any size should have a clearly defined path of influence on their area of responsibility. There are plenty of examples in many industries of this in action – line workers suggesting better locations for tools for increased efficiency, bus boys suggesting new recipes, and so on. If the CEO’s suggestion box is full, it’s probably because the lower level managers aren’t listening to their direct reports.

The second case likely stems from a lack of company identity. Perhaps an employee suggests a new mission statement because they have no connection to the current one. Communication of the mission and vision is much more than simply repeating it in email signatures or putting it on banners. The mission needs to be real. If a manager has to “draw a line” because they are challenged, it’s because the common goal is unclear. In a case where you might be tempted to say the meddling employee simply doesn’t fit and should be removed, you must think of why that employee was hired to begin with. It probably has something to do with an ill-defined culture and corporate mission.

In today’s world, no company, from a mom and pop grocer to a mega-conglomerate, can rest on their laurels that what get them here will be what keeps them in business 2 years from now. Cycles and spin-up time for new technologies are short and getting shorter. Companies can no longer “do one thing and do it well”. The new strategy should be “do one thing, and figure out the next way to do it better before the next guy does”. One of the best chances a company has to adapt and prosper is to act on good ideas. Stifling an enthusiastic employee with an “I’m the boss” defense is akin to shooting yourself in the foot.