Part 2: Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall, Who’s the Greenest Firm of All?

In this continued article, examining the gap between a company’s green marketing and its’ true capability, I am sharing the results of our “Is Your Firm Green?” survey. My previous posting looked at leadership and project delivery – and noted a shocking discrepancy between how companies portray themselves, and feedback about quantifiable capabilities. Today, I’m sharing the results dealing with two very critical aspects of sustainable practice: Infrastructure and Partnering – the internal foundation upon which projects are built, and the external relationships that are essential for success.

Infrastructure includes support services, tools and resources used on projects, communication protocols, internal design standards, and human resources. As important as leadership is – support is equally critical. A company’s ability to provide appropriate professional development, access to key tools and resources, maintain design standards and quality control processes make the difference between institutionalized capability and “one-off” projects.

Leadership and infrastructure are actually linked in an important way. A company that has clearly assigned roles and structure for accountability can ensure that there are people managing all aspects of sustainability – from maintaining appropriate resources and systems to continuous learning. Whether this is lead by a designated “Director of Sustainability” or a matrix Green Team (with authority), critical issues is that they are engaging all aspect of management, operations and project delivery.

When asked, staff at all levels within a company had widely ranging observations about available resources and support. 33% of respondents say they always have the tools and resources they need to implement sustainable design on projects, with the rest of responses scattered between “Never” and “Sometimes”. This represents 67% of the time that project performance may be compromised because of lack of resources.

17.5% say that internal (green) design and specification standards are used consistently, across all projects. The dominant response, 30%, say that green design and spec standards are used “Sometimes” on projects. This indicates that sustainable design best practices are not part of the core philosophy of the company.

Only 21% say that there are processes instituted in-house for continuous (project based) learning and mentoring. This means that most firms are not leveraging the successes they do have to raise the overall level of knowledge in their companies.

13% claim that HR consistently supports green practice (expectations about green design priorities articulated clearly in employee handbook, integrated into performance reviews and orientation for new employees, and evident in professional development). If company leadership extol the virtues of sustainable design, but those values are not present in documented expectations, performance reviews, etc., then the disconnect speaks louder than the platitudes.

A whopping 9% of respondents say that there are clear protocols for incorporating sustainability into project management including meeting agendas, formal communications, workplans and other PM tools. The dominant response was 35%, who say that consistent protocols for green project management are seldom incorporated. Yet without consistent expectations about communication, managing performance criteria or deliverables and collaboration, project managers are not able to achieve the consistency that owners seek.

Partnering speaks to the significant relationships between a company and its external partners that they depend on and work with to execute a project. Ultimate success is directly related to the ability of a group of people to perform effectively as a team. This is drastically emphasized in the context of green building, where clear performance targets are articulated and accountability is measured.  Too often, architects are unsatisfied with the MEP engineers they work with, but have not found effective ways of addressing their issues. The same is true in reverse. Direct, intentional focus on improving the team relationships has direct bearing on the success of the project in all aspects.

Only 16% of respondents said that their contracts and relationships with partners successfully support sustainable design objectives. The majority say that this is one aspect of professional practice that is usually a barrier to success. Considering that “high performance” (green) design is dependent on a “high performance” team, the prevalent lack of strong team structure and motivation is troubling.

Only 9.7%  of respondents said that every project employs a management tool that gives all team members a clearly articulated map for collaborative decision making, identifying roles, responsibilities and deliverables for major performance milestones. This is perhaps one of the most disturbing responses of all, considering how dysfunctional collaborations are within the industry. There are many aspects to collaboration that are difficult to manage (culture, mindset, attitude or personality) but the basic use of a collaboration tool that maps critical-path decisions is a fundamental and universally applicable ‘baby step’ towards improvement.

It is challenging enough to get one’s own “house in order” – and even more complex to look beyond to the next sphere of influence: our partners, who are critical to success. Contractual relationships are already laden with risk, budgets are tight and, especially in the current economic climate, people don’t want to ‘rock the boat’. However, the most successful teams are those in which people have had a chance to evolve and transform their relationships together, over time, to their mutual gains.

High performance teams, good support systems, strong leadership and a track record on projects – these are all ingredients for success. If you are interested to see where you rank, have your company take the free, confidential survey and measure yourself the way that your clients will measure you – with the SPI framework. This will also help you see where your gaps are, and how you can build a road to success!