Think you know sustainability? Think again…

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Sustainability, I believe is one of the most important keys to creating anything amazing. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to redesign the entire economy or teaching your new pet dog good behavior. Sustainability is key to everything done right.

Many people make the misconception when they hear about sustainable businesses that they’re eco-friendly or pay people in third world countries a fair price for their produce.

Many sustainable business owners fall into the trap of only making their product eco-friendly and paying decent prices for their produce, but then forget to apply sustainability in other aspects of their business. Like in the way they manage their employees or produce their products etc.

Sustainable is one of those words most people tend to throw around without really understanding what it means.

So what is sustainability? Google Dictionary says it’s “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.”

However, the definition I give sustainability is “The ability to be maintained at a certain rate over a longer period of time” Ideally as long as possible without taking any stability away from other systems.

Why? Well if you leverage something that damages the other system you hurt the overall sustainability of the whole. Not much of a point in creating sustainable businesses that throw other systems out of balance. Effectively mitigating any positive value you might have created to 0. Maybe even do more harm than good. It’s certainly not sustainable.

Your daily routine has a level of sustainability. The way you treat your employees has a certain level of sustainability. Every single relationship you have can be seen through the lens of sustainability. This is not just about business. But if you can create all of your personal systems in a sustainable manner your business will benefit from it.

Let’s take an example.

Imagine that you’re working at a law firm and they just handed you a promotion with more hours. You were already working full time but now they want you to come in 60 hours a week.

That’s great if you’re a single person without any other responsibilities but even for most men, 60 hours of work is not sustainable late into life. It’s not sustainable for your health over time.

If you’re a woman and you choose potentially giving up on ever having children for your job that may not be sustainable for your emotional and mental health.

Let alone being able to be there for your loved ones when you’re needed. 40 hours is much more sustainable than 60. Once the amount of work passes 40 hours it starts to leech and take from parts of your life you don’t want it to take from. It’s good for your bank account but bad for nearly every other aspect of your life.

Or let’s take an example I have seen close up. You work for an email agency with a small team. Your boss keeps bringing in new clients when you and the team already told him there is too much work and the team is burning out. He keeps telling you he will hire new people as he hands you more new clients. He hires 1 or 2 people when 5 are needed and he hires them slowly whilst the clients keep pouring in. And he doesn’t even train them for the job. You’re supposed to do that next to your pile of work that’s more than you’re getting paid for already. Client work isn’t getting done and nobody in the team has any passion left for the job.

I think you can guess why that’s not sustainable. You can’t treat your team like that and expect them to keep performing. Don’t take on more work than your company can handle.

A more sustainable approach would be to take inventory of how much work everyone can do per week. I like to use Green, Yellow, and Red.

Green for I’m good, I have enough room for some extra tasks. Yellow for I’m busy but I can take on more tasks if I have to.

Red for I can’t do anything else.

The aim should be to have at least a few people in your team in Green and most of them in Yellow. If you have people in Red make sure you understand why and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I have seen many companies where everyone is on red all the time. It causes people to burn out, lose interest, check out, and even sabotage. Ships don’t run too well when everyone hates the captain. You’re about to witness mutiny in those scenarios. The modern form of mutiny looks like high turnover rates.

If you make sure your team isn’t overworked all the time and you treat them with respect you can be more certain that your team is sustainable for years if not decades.

Sustainability takes time and attention. You have to check in with all the relevant systems in your life and business and make sure everything works in harmony and balance.

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