With employees spread across 6,000kms and four time zones, communication and corporate culture building have been essential tasks for a listed environmental business leader.
|Andrew Grant, CEO and Director
|CO2 Australia Pty Ltd
|CO2 Australia is the Australian market leader in establishing and managing forest carbon sinks intended for registration under formal emissions reduction schemes
|South Melbourne, Victoria; Operations office: Wagga Wagga, NSW. CO2 Group Corporate Office: Perth, WA
|+61 3 9928 5111
Key Learning Points
Fostering good communication is a key task in creating a healthy corporate culture.
Good communication requires more than just sending emails every now then. You need to bring staff together personally to celebrate successes and network together. Internal communications should be relevant and interesting.
The CO2 Story
How often are CEOs’ visits to remote branches like foreigners’ trips to the Potemkin villages of the old Soviet Union? All they see are sanitised versions of the operation that bear little relation to the daily reality. Andrew Grant, CEO of the listed carbon-sink forest developer CO2 Group, knows this problem first-hand.
In a previous job, he made annual pilgrimages to the remote outposts of his organisation. He says: “I was driving away from visiting one of our many regional bases and was struck by the fact that it would be almost a year before I visited this site again. How did I know their behaviour wasn’t just a result of preparing for the ‘annual boss visit’? I felt out of touch.”
He knew that staying in touch with remotely dispersed operations would be even more important in his role as a founder, director and CEO of CO2, which was set up in 2004 to reforest farmland for carbon-sink trading schemes. CO2 is a genuine leader in developing and implementing such innovative new green-trade schemes. CO2’s operations now range across remote rural Australia from Geraldton, Western Australia, to Parkes, NSW, and over the Tasman Sea to the North Island of New Zealand.
Grant knows the problems such dispersion can cause. He says of the previous job: “There was a real disconnect between staff at urban versus rural locations. This inevitably breeds internal politics and resentment. It’s such a common phenomenon - the ‘them v. us’ situation - and is often seen in multi-site organisations. At CO2, I didn’t want anybody wasting their energy on something as unproductive as office politics, when we have so much good work to do.”
In 2004, CO2 became the first reforestation company to win accreditation to the NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme (GGAS), which is the second largest carbon market of its type in the world. Two years later, CO2 became the first Australian Associate Member and a listed Offset Provider under the Chicago Climate Exchange. In 2007, it was the first reforestation company accredited abatement provider to the Australian Government’s Greenhouse Friendly program. And in 2010, CO2 opened its first international venture in New Zealand. The New Zealand venture involves working with Central North Island landowners to establish sustainable carbon projects.
How to establish a common and purposeful corporate culture in a young, growing company among staff who work in remote areas.
Grant believes that it is critical to ensure a free and efficient information flow within CO2 and externally to stakeholders such as members of parliament and shareholders. It helps to develop the esprit de corps of the workplace. Grant says: “It is vital for any business to foster a workplace culture that brings out the best in its people. This is an ongoing challenge when staff are situated in remote locations all over the country.”
Linking up CO2’s people from Geraldton to New Zealand takes a commitment of resources and organisation. CO2 provides staff with systems that support them in their work. “For example, all staff can access centralised computer databases from any location,” Grant says. “This assists in the sharing of knowledge and contributes towards achieving consistently high quality outcomes.”
Good lines of communication also help to get good news off the frontlines quickly, which can be very helpful in a highly political business. Grant says: “Now, when a staff member based in the heart of NSW has a great experience with a farmer, it gets back to me and can then be passed on to federal members of parliament when we next meet with them in Canberra. They like to know what’s happening in their electorates. We can’t share the success stories if our people on the frontline keep the stories to themselves because they don’t think they’re important enough to communicate.”
CO2 also believes in bringing the team together at least once a year at one location so that people can put faces to the voices at the other end of the telephone. Grant says: “There is no substitute for time spent together. Helping employees to develop strong professional working relationships with their colleagues improves organisational performance. We bring all our staff together in an inspiring setting to celebrate the year’s achievements, share ideas and help plan the year ahead.”
The business also focuses on distributing regular - and, importantly, interesting - internal communications to staff. Grant says: “Each quarter an internal staff newsletter is produced with the goal of sharing information about new employees, newsworthy matters and other topics that help in developing a common purpose.”
Building a good corporate culture starts with recruitment and can be measured by retention rates. If the wrong sort of people are hired - or the right sort of people start leaving - something is wrong with the company’s systems. And who is Grant’s ideal employee? Someone who is “motivated, passionate about the business, able to operate in an independent manner and demonstrate ownership of their role”.
Grant says that good communication prevents duplication of effort or “reinventing the wheel” at different sites. He says: “Achieving alignment with corporate direction and consistency of outcomes is more challenging when staff are so widely dispersed. Managed well it can achieve additional benefits in that there are greater personal freedoms and a stronger sense of ownership and responsibility for all staff.”
CO2 has garnered many prizes and awards in recognition of its success as an environmental innovator.
In 2009, Grant was named Entrepreneur Of The Year for the Cleantech category of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards.
Other recent recognition includes a Business 3000 Innovation Award category win for CO2 and a finalist position in the 2008 NAB Agribusiness Awards for Excellence.