Industry Voice: Green skills must be embedded in organisational culture until a ‘sustainable way of working' is the default, writes Project Management Institute's Ashwini Bakshi
When the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequor Rishi Sunak addressed the COP26 UN climate summit late last year, his words entered boardrooms across the UK and took a seat at the table. The carbon footprint of British business is no longer the elephant in the room and - by requesting companies to submit detailed climate plans by 2023 - the government aims to make the UK the world's first net zero financial centre.
Yet, such a declaration of ambition brings with it the challenge of reality. While the government's green-tinted vision for its future is admirable, a net zero economy cannot be delivered by people who do not possess net zero skills. As outlined by Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee last year, achieving net zero within the targeted timeframe will soon become insurmountable without urgently addressing the shortage of green skills in the UK.
Green skills, whether they are addressed within the realm of ESG or more generally, will need to be embedded in organisational culture until a ‘sustainable way of working' is the default.
Adopting a gymnastic approach to net zero
The path to net zero is unlike any previously experienced by British professionals. Subsequently businesses need to adopt hyper-agile, open-minded approaches to navigate the hurdles it will meet along the way. They must first pass systematically through the problem set, before setting their focus on achieving outcomes, instead of fixating on process, and trying new approaches to get where they want to be.
At PMI, we call this a ‘gymnastic' approach to business. It is a framework that will enable progress - even if it first requires a period of organisational transformation - and construct a collective skillset designed to succeed in a net zero-focused environment.
Transforming soft skills to power skills
As part of adopting a gymnastic mindset - and tackling the green skills gap - businesses must reconfigure how they value certain qualities. Those that were once considered as ‘soft skills' - such as adaptability, collaborative leadership and possessing an innovative mindset - should now be regarded as ‘power skills' due to their suitability to tackle the challenges posed by the climate crisis.
The professionals that develop their power skills will be those best placed to lead their colleagues - be it through project management or a wider leadership role - towards their net zero ambitions. Over half (54 per cent) of gymnastic enterprises we surveyed are prioritising the development of power skills over traditional hard skills, compared to 42 per cent of traditional businesses. This is a trend that will continue as more organisations recognise power skills as the engine behind new project talent.
From employees to changemakers
Businesses can transform their employees into ‘changemakers' by combining power skills with strong business acumen and an extensive understanding of new ways of working - such as the ability to effectively deploy data or adopt emerging technologies.
Changemakers are those who, regardless of their role, feel inspired to turn their ideas into reality - a mentality aligned with the government's call to action. They proactively take charge of their own development and, using the holistic skillset outlined above, can handpick the most effective ways to drive progress and value. They embody the gymnastic approach and are the key to powering an organisation's drive towards net zero.
As the Chancellor's words echo around the landscape of UK business, pressure mounts on leaders to demonstrate the credentials of their businesses for a more sustainable world. Yet, by adopting a gymnastic approach and recalibrating the skillsets within their organisation, they can lay the foundations to successfully navigate the seismic shift required to realise a net zero Britain.
Ashwini Bakshi is managing director of Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa for Project Management Institute.
To read more about the project management principles that can facilitate the transition to Net Zero, please visit: https://www.pmi.org.uk/
This article is sponsored by Project Management Institute.