28th April 2017

Acre Inspire+; The Art of Influencing


As the clouds cleared on the nineteenth floor of the UBM HQ building, the future leaders in sustainability began to take their seats. Expectations were high for Acre’s first CR and Sustainability Inspire+; The Art of Influencing. Senior Consultant, Hanan Hanna kicked off the afternoon with an introduction on why Acre has designed the Inspire+ series and what to expect from the day.

Our chair for the afternoon, Jim Woods, outgoing CEO of the Crowd and one of Acre’s non-exec team, got us thinking about where we might have the opportunity to influence key decision makers in and out of our businesses, as well as some of the frustrations CR and Sustainability professionals can experience when doing so. He talked us through how to set the expectation for change and above all, the importance of listening!

Global Action Plan’s Managing Partner, Sonja Graham shared with us her three golden rules to influence;

  • -Recognise your limitations (don’t try to be perfect!) You’re not always going to be the expert and by highlighting this early on, you can build rapport with the most unlikely of allies.
  • -Listen and identify what your audience wants to get out of the discussion. Is there time to discuss any concerns or potential objections beforehand? If so, great. If not, find out what those might be early on!
  • -Finally, people do business with people. Consider the personal connection that you’re able to build and grow the relationship.

Illustrating that with a genuine, collaborative and prepared approach, we don’t need to be masters in the “dark arts” of influencing to succeed.

So now we have our stakeholders on side, how do we build a business case for sustainability?

Enter Ramon Arratia; “the person who made carpet tiles sexy” as the Sustainability Director at Interface. Now recently appointed Director of Sustainability at Ball Corporation, Ramon gave the audience a crash course in giving the sustainability agenda credibility and legitimacy through language, status, understanding the motivations of our peers and not being afraid to take risks!

We were able to take away some fantastic advice on;

  • -Elevating the status and credibility of Sustainability Champions. By empowering champions with bigger picture strategy and key communication on the impact of their roles we can increase understanding as to the importance of sustainability at every level of a business.
  • -Consider “what is in it for them?” when engaging stakeholders. An engineering team might be motivated by the technology they have access to through sustainability initiatives while the PR team will be interested in what this could bring to the brand, for example. Allowing cross team influencing will save time and empower and encourage others to argue your corner.

There were some fantastic questions from members of the audience including delegates from Bayer, RBS, Rothschild, Arcadia, RBS and McDonalds and even some shared examples of successes in influencing thus far.

During the panel discussion, Sonja and Ramon described the development of their own careers and shared a few personal experiences of what to do and what not to do.

As the Q&A came to close, there was an enthusiastic buzz in the air and when the sun set on the nineteenth floor, the venue was filled with interesting debate and discussion over drinks and canapés through into the evening.