I love to work with people who are making change, and help them do even better. Here's how I work with sustainability leaders.
The change makers
Over the years, I’ve seen these ‘organisational change agents’ become much more effective, as they understand better what makes people tick and what drives their organisation.
Some of them are leading their organisation's strategic sustainability. Some have been given the task of protecting their organisation’s reputation by promoting its corporate responsibility. Others have simply been asked to save money through energy efficiency and cutting waste. And some are making these changes at the same time as doing their (unrelated) day jobs. Their experiences and insight have informed both editions of Change Management for Sustainable Development which I wrote for IEMA.
Most have solid achievements to show for their efforts, but they want to make more of a difference.
Shake it up
Do you feel as if your organisation has drawn a box around sustainable development, so that it can get on with the business of business as usual? Do you wonder how you can catalyse transformational change? Do you fancy shaking things up a bit?
If you want to create truly transformational change towards a sustainable world, then knowing how to measure and manage energy use, or how to green your products or services, won’t be enough. You’ll need to learn much more.
You’ll need to understand how your organisation works, how decisions are made, and who really makes them. You’ll need to know how to harness aspects of your existing organisational culture and values to help you bring about strategic change. And you’ll need to know whether doing this will be welcomed — or slapped down.
As a change agent, you need to know who you can count on as allies, who may get on board but needs winning over, and who will fold their arms and fix you with a steely stare, demanding that you quantify the business case.
I invite change agents — environment managers, CSR coordinators, sustainability team leaders - to categorise their key stakeholders according to how essential they are in making change happen, as well as their current attitude towards change. If someone is really important, but not supportive, then we think about what might motivate them, and how we can get their attention.
An HSE Manager in a manufacturing company, who was a participant in a workshop I ran on change management for sustainable development, said he learned most from “identifying the people needed to help achieve change”. He saw the role of the parent company, his board and the supply chain manager in a new light, and was clear that they needed to be engaged in different ways.
These political insights have been invaluable in helping change agents to work out their overall approach. Perhaps even more important is the emotional intelligence every change agent needs. You need to know when to talk and when to listen. You have to be aware of when to bring people together in a formal setting and when to keep things informal. And, critically, you have to engage people early in the process.
Will people recognise the wonderful logic of removing all the general waste bins and enthusiastically recycle more as a result? Or will they mount a rear-guard action and insist on their bins being replaced? If you haven’t involved them in the plan, I think you can guess what will happen…
By rethinking your approach to creating change, you can transform your effectiveness, and turn your organisation into a pioneer of sustainable development.
These articles go into more detail on how you can do this:
- Inside your organisation: All Aboard? Harnessing people’s values to embed a sustainability ethos (Published in Croner’s Environmental Policy and Procedures Special Report, January 2008.)
- And with external stakeholders Dinosaur DAD and Enlightened EDD (Published in the environmentalist, February 2009) and this blog post on identification and analysis of stakeholders.
Here, I tell you about stepping from the advocacy role into facilitation, in service of sustainable development.
See case studies on enabling change for sustainable development.