Catalyst or Irritant?

I have thought long and hard about my role and how best to characterize it.   When I started in the field I made my mind up very quickly that I would not make much progress if I considered myself as having been appointed to police the activities of employees. Policing might be a very valid approach for someone in a compliance role, but in a role beyond compliance, people would simply stay below my radar screen.

As I have written before on employee engagement, I see my role as to release enthusiasm, generate momentum and then harness people’s passion and energy – release rather than police. I need people to want to check in with me and hear what I have to say because I bring them value in their role.

So my preferred mode of operation is to be a catalyst, defined in dictionary.com as “a person or thing that precipitates an event or change”.  My objective is to effect change through sharing ideas and helping employees figure out how to apply those ideas to their particular situation for the benefit of the business and society.

From time to time though that isn’t enough and I find myself forced to become an irritant. An irritant is defined as  “a biological, chemical, or physical agent that stimulates a characteristic function or elicits a response.” Occasionally I find myself pushing a bit harder, probing or bringing an issue to a head to get the response I need.  That doesn’t always make me popular, it takes more energy, and an irritant can leave lingering a sore spot.

It is far more fulfilling, sustainable (pun intended), and enjoyable to be a catalyst, but when all else fails I fall back on irritant – hopefully not too often and hopefully bouncing back quickly to catalyst and providing some salve for the sore spot I might have left.

I would love to hear about how you think about your role in CR and sustainability?


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