As we mark the anniversary of one year since Russia invaded Ukraine, the global risk landscape feels more volatile than ever.
Our emergence from the pandemic was quickly disrupted by new war in Europe, exacerbating economic instability and fuelling a cost-of-living crisis. This has been compounded by cybersecurity threats, climbing carbon emissions, mounting geopolitical tensions, and deepening social inequality. Meanwhile, we continue to speed towards catastrophic ecological tipping points.
As we face the looming prospect of global recession, organisations of all sizes find themselves in permanent crisis mode, with the number of UK businesses in financial distress jumping by 36% in the last quarter of 2022.
This landscape of constant, complex, and interconnected risk is known as a ‘polycrisis’, and the World Economic Forum anticipates that it will define our world by 2030. It is no surprise, therefore, that 2023 has been dubbed a year of uncertainty, with more than 80% of people anticipating consistent volatility over the next two years.
The question of leadership
Naturally, the question business leaders are asking is how they can navigate their organisations through this future?
Most leaders understand the importance of mitigating their organisation’s impact upon the world. And many have taken steps to make their operations sustainable, whether that be through becoming carbon neutral, creating ethical supply chains, or putting energy into CSR initiatives. The question of whether it is possible to operate sustainably whilst still making a profit is no longer up for debate.
However, things haven’t improved, and it’s become increasingly obvious that it is no longer enough to simply not do any further harm.
The damage we have wrought to people and planet has gone so far that the only way we can hope to turn it around is by developing practices, services, technologies, and products that actively benefit people and planet.
The question business leaders should be asking, therefore, is how can my organisation have a positive impact?
Regenerative practice provides one model for thinking about how organisations can impact positively upon the world. Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm define this:
‘The word “regenerative” means creating the conditions conducive for life to continuously renew itself, to transcend into new forms, and to flourish amid ever-changing life-conditions. This primary principle underpins life-affirming leadership and organizational development, where our organizations help rather than hinder the logic of life. This goes beyond traditional CSR initiatives and sustainability as it is not primarily aimed at reducing negative impacts created by the current mind-set; rather, it is a move into an entirely new mind-set, a ‘new way’ of being-and-doing in business and beyond.”
In regenerative practice, organisations are positioned somewhere on a spectrum:
- Degenerative organisations damage the environment they are in, the people they serve, and the communities they are part of. They are motivated by profit and efficiency.
- Sustainable organisations do not damage these systems. Led by emotional leadership and a desire for balance, they have a neutral impact.
- Regenerative organisations actively benefit and restore these social and environmental systems, driven by ecological awareness, purpose, and a desire to have a positive impact.
Adopting regenerative practice involves adopting a different mindset – one that appreciates the fundamental interconnectedness of the living world. If the events of the last few years have shown us anything, it’s that we are all connected and interdependent. Our actions have impact, and it’s up to us what that looks like.
Instead of perceiving the natural world as a store of resources, we must understand it as a series of interconnected living networks. Instead of thinking of people on the other side of the world as external to us, we must acknowledge that we are implicated in their lives, as well as in those closer to home. And instead of imagining employees as cogs in a machine, we must recognise them as human beings whose wellbeing is paramount to an organisation’s success.
With this holistic mindset, it becomes easier for leaders to think through their impact: How does our organisation affect our employees? How does it influence the communities we are part of, both nearby and far away? And how do our operations impact upon the ecosystems we exist in?
It all starts with asking bold questions.
Transforming our organisations into sources of positive impact will not be easy. Change is hard: it’s messy, difficult, and we humans are naturally terrified of it.
But at Impact, we understand that real change isn’t something that comes from the top-down; it comes from the collective engagement of people across the business, at all levels. A human-centred CEO doesn’t unilaterally direct from the top. They admit that they don’t have all the answers and have the courage to start a conversation about it.
This approach to change creates more opportunities for leadership action to emerge, and for it to appear from new and surprising places. This is a process we call ‘Notice Decide Act’: it involves noticing where action or change is needed, deciding what to do about it, and then acting. Because now, more than ever, it’s not what you know that matters; it’s what you do with what you know.
The transformation process towards becoming a regenerative organisation is just that – a process. There is neither an endpoint nor a quick fix. It requires leaders to generate engagement and buy-in across the business, conduct quality conversations in psychologically safe spaces, and facilitate collaboration and innovation amongst diverse individuals.
Most of all, it requires leaders to foster a human-centred culture of empathy, support, and challenge, in which innovation can flourish and profound change can take place.
Business is one of the most powerful forces for shaping, influencing, and catalysing change. It can and must be a force for good. So, what is your organisation doing to have a positive impact?
This is a time of both urgency and opportunity. At Impact we are uniquely positioned to help organisations succeed on their journeys of transformation. Get in touch to find out how.
David Williams is Impact’s CEO and founder.