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12th September 2017

Guest Post: Mandate Capital – Blend it Before you Spend it!

by Leith Sharp

It’s helpful to think of mandate as a kind of capital. We use it in our organizations to get things done. Mandate uses the power of directives to push down the chain of command to execute out on what needs to be done. The official story goes something like – if you can get the mandate – you can get it done. The actual story however is much more nuanced.

Our work has unearthed a powerful relationship between the use of mandate capital and the impact on the social health of our organizations, which we will call our social capital. We think of social capital as the health of the relationships between people, the levels of engagement, psychological safety, trust and shared purpose.

Mandate capital is the kind of leadership resource that can help you win the battle but lose the war. Too much mandate and there is a build of social friction, typically in the form of disengagement. This will result in significant performance loss in the system that will turn up in all manner of unpredictable ways and timeframes. Simply put, over spending mandate capital will stimulate a drop in your organization’s social capital.

So for the sustainability leader, a careful re-examination of the role and importance of gaining access to mandate capital is warranted. This may seem counterintuitive. At first glance, the idea of convincing senior leaders to mandate various sustainability goals and initiatives seems like the holy grail – who would not want to secure directives from the executive team to mandate adherence from your entire organization to the Sustainable Development Goals for example?

Mandate capital is indeed a powerful card to have in the deck. But that’s the thing – we have to view it as one card in a larger deck.Mandate capital is indeed a powerful card to have in the deck. But that’s the thing – we have to view it as one card in a larger deck. We now know that mandate capital is most impactful when it’s coupled with efforts to invest in and deploy social capital to foster shared purpose, trust and engagement along the way. For example, when we learn to use mandate capital to get people to the table, so that they can then co-create the next moves (building social capital) – rather than mandating the next moves for them – we win. When we use mandate capital to give legitimacy to efforts to learn, pilot, de-risk and fail forward (building social capital)– rather than dictating the options and punishing failure – we win. When we design peer to peer learning processes rather than mandating top down learning processes – we win.

In a nutshell, relying too heavily on top-down mandate alone will cost you the social capital that you actually need to get things done, impeding your organization’s fitness for handling complex problems like sustainability.

Within our work, we are finding that the most successful senior leaders and sustainability professionals have found ways to get more and more done using less and less finite mandate capital by blending it with social capital. It is incredible to see how much more can be accomplished in our organization’s as we gain further mastery in this. Whenever you gain access to your organizations precious mandate capital blend it before you spend it!

Does this resonate with you in your practice? What is your organizational story with regard to using mandate capital and/or social capital to drive sustainability?

Date

12th September 2017

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About the author Leith Sharp

Leith Sharp has spent 20 years driving sustainability into the core business of higher education and is currently the Director of Executive Education for Sustainability at Harvard University. Learn more here: chgeharvard.org/eesl

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