The UN Global Goals – four steps to a more successful implementation

There are a number of studies on the application of the UN Global Goals in the business community in Denmark. They all point out that the implementation of the prioritized goals and targets in the value chain is one of the biggest barriers to achieving success with the UN Global Goals.

The colorful icons can hold out a promise of being simple and straightforward to work with. But when gaining deeper knowledge of the structure, managements discover the complexity and the depth of the involvement necessary in order to be successful in implementing the goals. It can be difficult to comprehend the interconnectedness of the goals, to spot the biggest business opportunities and critical risks – and not least – to define operational and relevant KPIs.

My introductory point is, that an in depth knowledge of the global goals is a precondition for being successful in the long run. The old saying “Well begun is half done” also goes on this subject.  

What stands in the way of a successful implementation?

There may be countless reasons for why implementation fails. In my work, I have encountered four typical reasons why implementation becomes difficult and is unsuccessful;

This is due to one or more aspects

–          No or a weak involvement of employees

–          a lack of knowledge about customer expectations

–          a weak governance structure for the development work

–          a mismatch between ambition level and operational possibilities.

 This text will not go further into the barriers as such but concentrate on possible solutions, on how to strengthen the implementation by working actively to overcome the above mentioned barriers.

 Involvement of employees

Intermediate managers and employees are increasingly purpose driven – especially the younger generations wish to be part of the solution to the world’s challenges. Therefore, involving employees early in the process engenders involvement among the employees. Another argument is, that employees often hold the answers to ‘how’ – that is, the practical solutions that will support and eventually fulfil the KPIs. Therefore, in order to obtain the best understanding of the challenges, the solutions and identifying new business models, intermediaries and employees should be involved early. Last but not least, involvement is important to create ownership and nourish an execution culture – it is the employees’ commitment that drives the changes, creates the results and ensures a successful implementation!

Do you know your customers’ expectations?

Customers are one of the most important sources of knowledge about where the greatest potential lies – have you remembered to ask them? A qualitative survey among customers can provide valuable insights into a) their proper plans for working with the UN Global Goals, b) how your business can support their work with the Global Goals, 3) their expectations to your business  in a short and long term perspective and 4) new business models and possible partnerships . My experience is that many of the answers to ‘what should we do?’ and ‘how do we do it?’ can be found through customer interviews. Their input makes an invaluable contribution to setting up meaningful KPIs.

 Governance structure

The governance structure can be organized in many ways.  Most important is that you find the form that fits in with the company’s culture. That being said there are some points to keep in mind;

–          Top management MUST lead the way – as with all major changes in the company. It is vital for progress and the right focus that the decision-making competence is involved throughout the process.

–          The departments must be represented in the process to ensure the involvement of the right competencies at the right time. It ensures ownership so that the employees are not completely surprised when changes hit their everyday work.

–          A very clear governance structure – where allocated resources, roles, responsibilities and tasks are clearly defined so that projects do not stand in ‘deadlock’ because the decision-making competence is not present or the responsibility for creating results ends between two chairs.

Ambition level and operational possibilities

To find the right level of ambition is important for success in the implementation. The risk of not succeeding is extremely high if you have high ambition and few resources to implement the changes in the value chain. Every company must find its own way, and I believe that for small and medium-sized companies, it is ok to start small scale – if the company shows the intention to take some of the more difficult steps afterwards.

Taking the easy steps first can give a hint of green-washing or rainbow-washing.  But as long as the company is transparent, communicates honestly about progress and shows ambition to move forward in their work, I believe that this can be a viable way to get started. BUT it is a balancing act that one must pay close attention to. The outside world’s view of your business can be decisive for whether the effort is considered green washing or not. If for example your customers see your company as a front runner and a leading company in the industry, they are likely to expect a long-term and ambitious plan for your work on the global goals. In that case, merely describing what you do and have been doing so far plus the ambition of doing just a little bit better is probably not ambitious enough and you are risking being accused of green washing.

The UN Global Goals is still a new paradigm in the business world – it is a new framework and way of thinking business that requires competence development, knowledge and hard work.