The Rules for Launching Sustainability Internally

Organizations exist to accomplish goals that individuals can't achieve on their own.  By-and-large companies do that well but the further they get from their core mission the less effective groups tend to be.  That isn't surprising.  After all, you have to imagine that everyone in the organization was hired under the belief that they have a special set of skills and talents that the rest of the group needs.  Unfortunately, businesses often get tangled in situations where attrition and promotion move people into roles that require experience they don't have.  For a company considering a sustainability initiative your actually asking everyone to move into that uncomfortable role AND your asking them all to move, all at the same time.  

Welcome to Climate | Money | Policy where we explore the intersection of climate, business & sustainability.  Today we're talking about how you make that leap.  How you move an entire group of people to a new goal all at the same time.  First, the bullets:

69.7% Recent surveys tell us that seventy percent of CEOs see investor pressure as an increasingly important factor in building sustainability into the core business BUT...

Only 48% of the same CEOs said that they've adjusted their business models to accommodate for that change AND...

Fully 37% of CEOs were unable to connect sustainability to business value.

Reading these numbers one has to conclude that communication and clarity aren't being trickled down from the C-Suite with any degree of effectiveness.  If only a bit more than a third of CEOs can see the value connect how on earth would a front-line, individual-contributor make that connection?  Here are some rules to follow if you want to maximize your impact internally.

Rules for the Launch


Rule #1: Prepare.  Prepare.  Prepare.

This is a dumb place to be unprepared.  This isn't a battle to engage in it's a campaign to organize and exe cue over the long haul.  You'll get questions that you can't even imagine up front so it's important to have all the parts of your program lain out in your mind in advance of a launch.  Know what you want to accomplish and what a successful transformation looks like.  Prepare managers in advance of their staffs and be ready to move with speed.

Rule #2: Tell them as a group, at the same time, face-to-face.

Any manager worth their salt knows that it's silly to cascade information individual to individual.  Time is too valuable and invariably someone has a question that makes you realize everyone should hear the answer.  Just as it is with any other large project your job is to create clarity.  Why is the company is doing this?  What are the next steps?  What should expectations be?  Explaining these all at once in a group setting simplifies the process.  You want all the questions out at the same time and you want to be candid about what the risks that a lack of sustainability thinking places on the company.  You're people will be happy to hear that you're thinking about the long term health of the organization.  It's comforting to the mind and the wallet.

Rule #3: First, A Schedule of Visual Changes...

You're people have every reason to fear the unknown.  Part of your job is to allay that fear by showing them that this is both important and non-threatening.  Too often when changes are made they have a herky-jerky feeling that the boss read some flavor-of-the-month management idea on LinkedIn and everyone knows it won't last.  Long term planning creates comfort and buy-in so have a schedule.  If you look like you're losing momentum the whole thing is doomed.  Find visual things you want to change so they can see that the company commitment isn't going away.
Example: "We're having this meeting now and by the end of the day every waste bin on campus will be changed with new models that have a space for bottles, paper and garbage.  Over the next month we'll be switching our paper supplier so you're going to see that change.  By next month you'll see new fixtures in the bathrooms and later this year our parking lot will have spaces with charging stations for electric cars.  As you get used to these (and other) changes we'll be reevaluating our processes and partnerships and you'll contribute to evaluation."

Rule #4: ...Processes and Partnerships Get Changed Second.

Once your people understand that you're commitment isn't going away, schedule aPhase-2 meeting.  All the same rules apply but it starts out with a roundup of what changes have been made and the impact they've made on the company.  Once that review is finished you advance the frontier to your suppliers and downstream clients.  This is where your people can make all the difference to your success.  If you've planned well, addressed them as a group and supplied continuous visual reinforcement of the effort then by now they're beginning to internalize it.  That means they can begin evaluating processes and outside stakeholders by similar criteria.
Example: "You've all seen the changes in the way we're doing business.  The recycling program let us know how much paper we were wasting and the plumbing and lighting changes have saved us almost $12,000 in the last five months.  Now we're expanding our view.  We're going to be evaluating all of our suppliers not only on the quality of their product but on the sustainability of their processes.  We want to work with efficient companies that take this stuff seriously.  We've taken it seriously and it's saved us money so if they don't take it seriously the company is concerned for their long term health.  Individual groups are going to be contribute criteria we want to look for as we make these evaluations so get ready to start thinking about that."

Rule #5: Feedback

The critical final part.  Once you're program is running make sure you give people feedback on how they're creating value.  This is a reinforcing/correcting behavior to make sure they take the right actions in the future.  You don't need to make feedback public and you certainly shouldn't make it emotional.  Make sure you make a clear connection in their mind from the behavior to the result and then to the future.
Example: "John, do you have a second for some feedback?  I saw the report you made about the amount of money we'd save by adding sensors to the lighting in building-B.  When you make the details that clear it makes the choice easier for me, saves time and gets the project moving.  Keep it up."
"John, do you have a second for some feedback?  You approved a new supplier for us in Project-X but there's no site review for their facility.  When you leave that out, even for the sake of speed now, you're creating a problem at the end when we try to get our numbers in line for the company's carbon footprint.  That makes the system less efficient and makes my job harder.  Can you do that different next time?"

Every roll-out is going to be different and many will be far more complicated than this model allows for but the basics still apply.  Don't try to change everything overnight, companies are big machines and cultural change take time and effort.  Get committed to thinking long term.  After all, that's the point.

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Related article: 5 steps to communicating sustainability to your investors