Surviving growth – 3 lessons from Sweden’s fastest growing sustainability consultancy

August 2017

This article has been written by Ruben Brunsveld, our Head of Culture & Leadership. You can also find it on LinkedIn 

In 2013, Enact was a company of about 8 passionate and dedicated people huddling together at the 4th floor of an office hotel at Odenplan in Stockholm.  Everyone knew, what everyone did. The lines of communication were short. Management, delivery and culture went hand in hand without too much guidance or consideration. Today we have a head count of 24 and besides our head office next to the Stockholm’s Central Station we have small offices in Shanghai, Amsterdam and Gothenburg.

So how do you triple in size in four years and still keep the passion of the original small team? How do you know how where to steer your company when the goal posts are continuously on the move? How do you survive growth and stay true to who you are?

Here are three lessons from our journey that helped us to become the largest specialized sustainability consultancy in the Nordics.

1. Strategize dreams. 

Every five years we review our mid- and long-term strategy. It’s an inclusive process which allows all employees to come up with ideas and thoughts on where they want the company to go; what we should focus on and which clients we work with. As a group of eight, we dreamt of increasing our impact; of working with the world’s largest companies; of becoming an internationally recognized spearhead in the field of “Human Rights & Business”.

Sometimes it felt scary to dream so big. We knew that we had the knowledge and passion to make it come true. But could we really hold our own amongst the giants in the corporate world? Instead of sticking with what we knew was secure, we set out a realistic strategy to get to our dreams. We formulated the concept of “halo projects”: Projects and clients, so spectacular that although they seemed out of reach we would give it our all for them to become reality. We decided these “halo projects” would be worth investing extra time and energy in, because we knew they would strengthen our position and enhance our impact. “Halo projects” deserved their own separate strategy and approach.

Today we work inter alia with global leaders in the electronics market; develop and facilitate global trainings on responsible leadership and work with some of the most well-known brands in Sweden and beyond. Dare to dream, then build a strategy to get there.

2. Invest in governance and systems. 

One of the main challenges we faced was the necessity to (re)shape our internal structures. Management systems, licenses as well as our day-to-day management. Once you grow passed a certain number of people measurable data become the life line of your organization. Planning sheets, utilizations rates and projections of targets must become an integrated part of the organization and of the daily work processes of each member of the staff.

As we grew, the expectation from our stakeholders grew alongside us. We had to make sure we had all necessary certifications and procedures in place to show that we were now up to new and bigger tasks.

Choosing strategically where to put our efforts, we made sure to be certified in ISO 9001 (quality management standard) and ISO 14001 (environmental management standard); became an integrated reporting training partner as well as a certified trainer for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in the Nordics.

3. Make culture an integrated part of your processes and systems

Growing rapidly, we saw a shift in focus. New people came in with new energy and new ideas. The new emphasis on structures and processes (which was needed) also brought with it a change in communication and culture.

So how do you stay true to what you really are?

First you have to know your values. Not only the ones that define who you are but the ones that define who you want to be. At Enact we have five aspirational values that guide the way we work and interact within our team, with our clients and with our suppliers: People, Passion, Pioneering, Professionalism and Value. These values apply to ourselves, our clients and the society as a whole.

As the company grew the necessity to pay due attention to our culture became greater, but with a growing amount of deliveries and more attention for sales the practical time dedicated for it came under pressure.

So how do you make sure your values are not only words on a website, but that they are vibrant and tangible parts of your organization. That they are both believed and practiced?

To ensure that our culture of passion and cooperation wouldn’t drown in the daily pressure of delivery we had to make “culture” part of our processes and management structures. We anchored the culture discussion firmly in our processes by ensuring that every time staff members form a new project team, they must pay attention to the individuals in the team and to the way the team will operate from a communication and culture perspective. Start up and feedback exercises are part of our standard operating procedures so we make sure we make the time to talk. We also created a dedicated position to guard the company culture and to make it come alive.

In times of high pressure and lots of delivery, talking to each other and truly seeing each other’s needs are often seen as “soft” issues and drowned out by the need to satisfy the client and to maintain hard delivery deadlines.

But if you have a long-term strategy you must make sure “culture” is an integrated part of your processes. Otherwise you’ll wake up one day and realize that on the way to the top, the wheels have come off the bus. That you are no longer true to the aspirational values you had. That is also the moment, your clients realize you have lost your authenticity and thus credibility. That is the moment losing your culture impacts the bottom line. So guard your culture as you guard your sales, quality management and other primary processes.

Culture is no soft issue, it is who you are.