PROJECT CONNECT: My personal leadership opportunity is to stimulate discussion on sustainability issues within the global team of which I’m a member, in a way that makes people feel more connected and part of a team.
I took the opportunity to seed the idea during a global meeting in Dublin last year. Our Heads of overseas teams were all in attendance (India, Bangladesh, China, SE Asia, Pakistan, Turkey). These teams range from 3 to 30 people, and are local to the region where they’re based. Globally, the team is growing fast and somewhat organically. Communication channels aren’t great and many staff feel disconnected with what’s going on at the centre. Most have never been to our head office, met our Director or been to one of our stores.
I’m lucky enough to travel and spend a lot of time with these teams. I feel huge respect and affection for these colleagues. They’re one of the reasons that I love my job and I constantly rely on, and learn so much from them.
The idea of ‘Project Connect’ really came together when I reflected on the privileged access to expertise and new learning that I have from CISL, and an experience of delivering a presentation to the China team in Shanghai last year. I was glossing over a slide that referenced the SDGs, when I stopped to ask if anyone actually knew what these were. No-one did, but they were all so interested. This is in stark contrast to the way the SDGs are part of my everyday working vocabulary in the UK.
It made me realise that; 1) here was something that I could ‘give back’ to my colleagues and, 2) what a great opportunity for learning if we can step back from our day jobs to look at some broader sustainability issues from these different country perspectives.
My initial enthusiasm was however somewhat dampened when I spoke to the Heads. They were all interested (or said they were…), but had so many, and such different, ideas. Many also caveated their enthusiasm; ‘people don’t have time to engage’, ‘will people really be interested?’
Normal responses I know, but these were difficult for me to accept as I’m over-emotional/passionate about my ideas, and take criticism personally. I’ve grown to understand that this is not necessarily the response of a good leader! But still, I find it hard.
So, on reflection, I’ve realised that if I can introduce some small ideas and conversations, that’s a great place to start. It doesn’t have to be all-singing, all-dancing and not everyone has to be engaged.
Success will look like a group of colleagues from different countries engaging on sustainability issues that fall outside their direct work; having conversations that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. My Director and Head of HR are supportive so I’ll also ask them for feedback and views on its value.
Project Connect: hopefully an initiative that’s ambitious but realistic. It certainly means a lot to me and I think it matters… Watch this space…!
 The Ethical Trade and Sustainability team of a large garment retailer.