Hot off the press – time to celebrate!
Today, we released the adidas Group’s 15th sustainability report. It captures and reflects upon all our successes, the progress we’ve made and the challenges we faced and mastered in the area of sustainability throughout 2014.
Managing long-term projects requires a different style of working
Preparing an annual sustainability report is definitely what you can call a long-term project. And long-term projects come with their unique challenges.
Looking back, prior to joining the sustainability communication team a year ago, I was mostly in charge of short- to mid-term projects. My tasks back then varied from responding to ad-hoc media requests up to developing communication concepts for internal and external purposes.
What all of these tasks had in common was their deadline. I had to complete them within an hour, a few days or weeks, up to a maximum of two months.
I was used to seeing the fruits of my efforts within a relatively short amount of time – something I found very rewarding.
In contrast, creating an annual report means organising, compiling and analysing a huge amount of information and data over several months.
This has challenged me to be patient – being patient with the process and myself as I learned that long-term projects require a different style of working and that some things simply cannot be rushed.
So I started to adjust my working style to the challenge at hand. Here are some of the things I did:
- Work from milestone to milestone: When you’re meant to run a marathon, you better find a way to portion your energy so you last until the finish line. I realised that I needed to set milestones over the course of the project to break it down into ‘digestable’ phases. So what I did was create smaller short-term goals throughout the overall project. Each milestone also helped me verify whether I was still on track or whether I needed to adjust my course.
- Celebrate little successes along the way: It can be quite hard to motivate yourself when the finish line is way out of sight. I found it encouraging to celebrate each milestone I cleared and to reward myself whenever I was able to tick off a few of my to dos off the list. For me, it meant taking a few days off to go for a long hiking weekend, for example.
- Intentionally break the routine:According to Tony Robbins, variety and new stimuli make us feel alive and engaged. Something that applies to me in particular. I found it helpful to plan my remaining tasks in a way that intentionally break the reporting routine. So when I found myself working on a task related to the project for a couple of days in a row, I intentionally scheduled some work that was not yet due to take my mind off it. This also helped me come up with new ideas and thoughts.
- Use fact-based criteria to manage your stakeholders’ expectations: Long-term projects tend to be multi-stakeholder projects. In the case of the annual sustainability report, colleagues from our Social and Environmental Affairs team, Sourcing, HR, Investor Relations, Legal, Marketing, Brand and Product Management, Sales and IT – just to mention a few – were my partners in this project. Everyone contributed to the report in one way or another. But truth be told: balancing their different inputs and ideas was not always an easy task – especially if you’re in charge of ensuring a high-quality outcome! What helped me here was to schedule personal meetings or calls to explain why certain compromises had to be made.
- There is only so much space available for the report. This required me to be selective in which information to include. What I knew was that anything that goes into the report needs to be supported by data or external validation. My job was also to ensure the content of the report meets our audience’s interest and needs. So I used all of these criteria to assess what kind of information really had to be taken into account and managed stakeholder expectations accordingly.
- Don’t dwell on decisions you’ve taken for too long: In a long-term project it is just too tempting to overthink or re-visit decisions that you have already taken, because simply, you have the time to do so. I’m all for asking for feedback and considering different points view. However, what I’ve learned is that it is crucial to stick to your decision once you have made up your mind to not lose sight for the remaining tasks. Because the next project milestone is always just around the corner.
My biggest learning
In hindsight, my biggest learning from the project was that if a company wants to be successful and credible in the area of sustainability, it is simply not enough to just have a dedicated sustainability department drive your efforts. What’s required instead is an end-to-end sustainability mindset and commitment that has to spread and be lived throughout the entire company.
I hope you will find this very mindset reflected in our report and would like to leave you with wishing you an enjoyable read.
Becoming an even more sustainable business is a journey and we welcome you to join us in our endeavour. Do get back to us with your feedback, comments and thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you.