I’ve been meaning to collect my thoughts on ‘Doing Great Work’ for a longtime, but to be honest the title in and of itself are enough to put me off; it feels both arrogant and daunting to write about ‘doing great work’.
That said, there is no getting away from it – it drives almost everything I do in the context of facilitation, coaching, training and it raises its head with most client interactions, from simple emails to planning year-long training programmes.
I haven’t really got a handle on how often this question pops up for you, or for most people, but for me it hovers semi-permanently over one shoulder “Is this great work?”
My focus on this is very much a work in progress, a shifting philosophy rather than a fixed process, but I’ll never write anything if I wait for stable certainty so here’s a short summary of my attempts to do great work.
This may seem like a really obvious statement but quality really matters. I want to deliver high quality work. Actually, I want to deliver high quality work, off the back of high quality design, which can only be created from high quality conversations which are when a high quality relationship exists between myself and the people I work with/for.
Yet it is mind-blowing how often this thought is relegated behind the pressure to do more work, or urgentwork rather than great work. The inbox, the To Do list, the financial targets, the papers sitting on my right that need dealing with (I see them right now, eyeing me up over my shoulder) are all about getting a high quantityof things done, not necessarily a high qualityof things done.
I hope to do both, but if I am honest when the heat is on, the temptation is for quantity to supersede quality.
One of the drivers behind my need for quality is certainly that I have a tendency to sometimes see myself as a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. I suspect you do too sometimes. If you are regularly lucky enough to work with great people, they are always more expert than you in some particular field.
For me that means clients or collaborators who have vast industry experience, or specialist sector experience or, more often these days, academics who know their academic area superbly and are sharp on the most recent research and evidence.
Which raises the question, what quality do I bring if it isn’t sectorial, industrial, practical, academic or research based – what sort of quality am I able to bring to the table? Is my high quality work someone else’s ‘dead average’?
I am grateful for the feedback I get from collaborators and clients and am lucky enough to have some lovely, thorough feedback on my abilities as a facilitator or coach. So this has to be where I focus on ‘doing great work’ -right?
In my challenge to deliver great work it has to be about delivering great training that is memorable, that is usableand is enjoyable(that goes for both parties; me and them.)
Good training is something I am familiar with; you should be too, but great training has to be a bigger challenge, by definition. It needs to be great for participants, great for the eventual organisation they return to, and great for me. So my challenge is to try to define what work I can do that might tip into being ‘great’.
My initial, exhausting, approach was to work hard on creating a new product or a new type of training. Something that is notably different and focuses on what I am really good at, that focuses on the parts of my delivery that participants have reported as being great and has had real impact.
Man this is a frustrating task! I’ve worked on tonnes of new training products, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends ,often with my great friend and charismatic chaser of shiny-things, Scotty Johnson. It feels such a burden to design something that starts as ‘great’.
I had decided that for a new training product to be great, it should burst forth from a fertile mix of feedback, experience and creative genius, rather than be asked for by a specific client. Answering a client brief is more like the day job and great work doesn’t come from the day job right? This has to be created as new. But creating your own product and then making a market for it is as tough as old boots.
It was my wife, Tori, who put me back on the straight and narrow. After the Nth attempt to build great work from a blank page, she helped me realise that there is room for both revolution and evolution. I can slowly build something great from the ground up but also shift existing work on to a higher plane of quality.
This was radical thinking for me. I didn’t have to get crushed under the weight of creating greatness from nothing, while delivering ‘good’ work to keep the bills paid. I can challenge my current and incoming work to be ‘great’ at the same time as patiently designing something both ‘new’ and ‘great.’
So I continue to work on a new offer that brings together values-based decision making and ethical leadership with societal challenges and outdoor journeys that are good for the soul and the brain. What this shiny new thing is will have to wait for another time. What I now have is an early stage ‘greatness test’ for the work I do.
So where does this scrapping leave me with this need for quality? As often with a complex challenge, it leaves me with a really simple answer that helps shape, if not solve, the complexity.
I focus on two things:
Here they are…
+ the work has to be ethical in its source and delivery and I am carbon neutral and give 4% of my income away. All that is covered elsewhere, right now we’re focused on the 10 rules.
What does this give me, these 2 simple aims?
Firstly it gives real clarity for me, both for my own development and for the work I do. I tell a much clearer story to myself of who I am and what I do.
Secondly it gives clarity for clients. They know who I am, why I do what I do and how that work is likely to feel. There is a quicker visual path through to my values, and we can talk about purpose and philosophy alongside course outcomes.
I am distinctive and recognisable. I might not be the only person ploughing this furrow but it’s certainly a distinguishing feature; you add in the ethical operations, my focus on behaviour change and emotionally intelligent leadership, and I’ve certainly found a niche.
Lastly this refocusing on great work has given me real confidence in what I do, additional pride in my work, and the confidence has made me more welcoming and focused. It’s definitely a work in progress and needs to be really tested over a longer period, but I do deliver more ‘great work’ and that’s pretty sweet.
For some reason this particular blog has generated more quotes written over inspiring views than you used to find in an Athena poster shop (1990’s/early 2000s reference there). Apologies for the added cheese!
4% of all my income is donated to verifiably effective good causes.
In a nutshell, it’s that simple.
For every pound I get paid (income not profit) I donate 4p to not-for-profits organisations that work internationally to reduce human suffering and increase opportunities for human flourishing. These organisations are independently audited to ensure that they maximise the donations given and turn them into real action.
I review the 4% target with my family and myself annually, as well as challenge my decisions on ethical clients, ethical behaviour and taking 4% from income rather than 10%+ from profit. All these are on going decisions about what is best for all concerned.
I believe in being pragmatic about doing good, I spread my efforts to be good across a number of actions (low-carbon, 4%, ethical clients, reduced travel, local food, etc) rather than put all my free-range eggs in one organic hemp basket.
This blog is to state my position clearly, to be transparent with clients, to hold myself to account and to offer any ideas and support to others (not to boast). If you’d like more information or have suggestions please do get in touch.
Effective altruism is about answering one simple question: how can we use our resources to help others the most? Rather than just doing what feels right, they use evidence and careful analysis to find the very best causes to work on.
Giving What We Can share and monitor information on evidence based giving. They also have a public space that helps you track your giving and hold yourself to account.
Give Well focus on high impact giving opportunities that are supported by in-depth charity research. GiveWell is a nonprofit dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities through in-depth analysis.
My short, pragmatic research into carbon offsetting. A three part swift read on whether it’s worth bothering to carbon offset your life, your business impact, or not.
I had planned for my first blog to be a more impressive fanfare about the great work happening in Ethical Leadership internationally and my small contribution to this space. But we’re going down a much more pragmatic route with this first post.
I’ve been looking at how I lead a more ethically honest and positively impactful life for a number of years – a life that is close to my personal values, in line with my driving purpose, and is positive, or at least not negative, for the wider world.
This basically falls into three categories for me:
It’s this last one that has been giving me the yips in the last few years: stories of greenwashing, of carbon schemes where farmers in the developing world are paid not to cut down forest that they had no intention of cutting down, schemes where the same acre of rainforest is offset 100 times for 100 different donations etc.
…all from reliable sources, not just sensationalist clickbait. To be honest I gave up on trying to understand the nuances and haven’t offset my carbon impact for a couple of years.
But I am a man of action! So no more sitting on the bench whining that the rules are too complicated, the tables are stacked and it’s just too hard. Time to get in the game and do my best to sort out the wheat from the chaff, mix metaphors and make a call on carbon offsetting.
Here is what my early-stage digging has discovered. I hope some of this is insightful, entertaining and ultimately useful if you’re in the same boat as me.
Equally, if you don’t offset or you don’t consider the ethical stance you take on reducing human impact and human suffering, then grab a cuppa, take 5 minutes and consider doing a little more …by just clicking a few buttons and giving up some pocket change.
The Gold Standard is an independent standard and certification body created by WWF & other NGOs in line with the UN Global Goals. They are a global certification body, every project that they verify must have independent evidence of protecting the climate, but contribute to at least three of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Gold Standard lists projects that they have certified, each project has an overview of what the work is focused on and a cost per tonne of the work that they do.
Additionally the news and information offered through Gold Standard is both useful and interesting. You can read about new developments and projects, Gold Standard offer policy and research documents, get advice on reducing your impact and where you can have the biggest bang for your buck, discover the average annual emissions in your country as monitored through the World Bank, which includes a funky interactive graph to see how emissions in your country have changed over a time period of your choice, against GDP and other measures. Look at the UK one, it may surprise you, like it did me!
Additionally Gold Standard recommend two carbon calculators, the WWF Calculator which gives a good ball park estimate, and the Carbon Footprint Calculator if you want to get much more detailed. You could easily use these calculators or the Climate Care Calculator (below) to calculate the amount of CO2 that you wish to offset, but then pick your scheme from the Gold Standard projects.
This is the simplest process I have found. A very simple online calculator that allows you to calculate the tonnes of CO2 produced from various activities (flights, driving, energy usage, businesses and events) and offset that CO2 through various projects.
Climate Care is a B Corp one of the highest standards for social and environmental focus in business. Most of Climate Care’s projects are low carbon interventions or renewable energy projects in developing countries.
Climate Care also show transparency on how their calculations work and what the independent (UN) guidelines are for evidenced offset projects. Climate Care use the Markit System which is set up to be an independent carbon offset market, once one tonne of CO2 offset is bought by someone to offset their impact, that tonne is retired and cannot be used again to offset anyone else’s impact.
Cool Earth is an independently certified NGO that focuses specifically on rainforest health, protection and maintenance to reduce carbon impact. Sir David Attenborough supports them so I could kind of stop writing here …if Davey A gives it the thumbs up then we’re all on board, right?
The Giving What We Can research, linked above, is really robust and Cool Earth appear to be a verifiably effective organisation. I contacted Cool Earth to get more information on the cost per CO2 tonne of supporting them and had a really interesting reply
“Per acre of rainforest, we work with a conservative average of 260 tonnes of CO2 stored across our partnerships, and it costs us just £60 to protect one acre.
Because of the low cost associated with offsetting carbon with Cool Earth we don’t promote 1-1 offsetting. Instead, we use a minimum ratio of five tonnes of emissions prevented for every one tonne emitted; more info here.”
This throws up an interesting, if somewhat confusing, calculation that 1 tonne of CO2 offset with Cool Earth costs 23p! (£60 / 260 tonnes = 0.23). Even using their 5:1 ratio that’s still only £1.15 per tonne.
Rather than try to offset my carbon impact with Cool Earth, I may just donate above the 5:1 ratio to them because of the good work they do and the robust evidence behind it.
Using the WWF calculator I use 11.5 tonnes of CO2 a year: better than the national average, more than I should be for the 2020 UK Government targets and more than double the 5 tonnes that the average global citizen uses per year.
For me, I know that travel is the big hitter. When in my home city we rarely use the car, I travel by bike or train where I can and our 100% green energy tariff, local season food and recycling and energy saving at home are all good. But one or two international flights throw that good work under the hydrogen powered bus. Without flights I am down to 8.5 tonnes, without travel I am down to 6.6 tonnes. The car journey impact is a pretty blunt calculation on the WWF measure, the Carbon Footprint and Climate Care ones are much better.
So my declaration is to offset 6.6 tonnes annually as a matter of course, offset my flights when I take them and at the end of the year use my mileage calculations from the MOT to offset my car journeys too. If I combine this with the energy saving techniques at home, 100% green energy tariffs and local, mostly meat free diet, I feel I am, at least, doing close to zero carbon harm annually.
To get to the nub of the issue- offsetting 6.6 tonnes annually would cost me £50 with Climate Care, roughly £75 with Gold Standard, depending on which project I choose (the actual range with Gold Standard is £60 -£87). The full 11.5 tonnes would set me back roughly £90-£125 annually. That’s absolutely nothing to be carbon neutral, right!
Using the Cool Earth calculations above I could offset my carbon emissions, my wife’s and my baby boy’s for 2 years by supporting the protection of 1 acre of rainforest at £60. That seems far too small a cost to me but it shows how easy and low cost it could be.
So that’s me decided then. I’ll do what I can to reduce carbon output, I’ll use verifiable projects from Gold Standard and Cool Earth to offset my impact (currently 8.5 tonnes CO2 annually) and I will additionally offset my flights. In fact I have started adding the offset cost of business flights to my client invoices and highlighting it to them. I’ll be carbon neutral for about £10 a month.
I also give 4% of my income to verifiably effective NGOs to reduce human suffering, as part of the Effective Altruism, Give Well, Giving What We Can movement. No time to mention those here, something for the future I think. Just worth mentioning to see if you could be persuaded to do either: live carbon neutral/carbon positive or give away a set % of income objectively ….or both.
I will use these ‘thought’ posts to share and highlight both my views and experiences of development, and the much more salient thoughts of others in the L&D, psychology and personal development arena.
There are fascinating developments and some robust research coming out currently on the importance of values and behaviours, of acting with integrity and how to ensure a sense of ‘purpose’ runs throughout an organisation.
My skillset is focused on facilitating dialogue, coaching individuals and bringing effective originality to training programmes. I’ll give much of this space to the smart people, that I am lucky enough to work with and know, for their thoughts, research and expertise to shine through.
If you have information worth sharing, get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org