8 Steps to Green Change For Your Business
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by Amy Haddon on 08/12/2011
Read about 8 steps for your business that will help you embed sustainability into your corporate culture.
Regardless of your position on climate change, environmental degradation, or population explosion, most of us can agree that sustainability makes sense from a bottom line perspective. Research consistently demonstrates that companies with sustainability embedded into their organizational philosophy and operations experience greater returns than companies that don’t pay attention to sustainability. Moreover, at its foundation, sustainability is about efficiency. The TQM of the ‘90’s and Six Sigma of the ‘00’s have given way to the “green” movement which espouses the same principles. Reducing waste, improving processes, and getting more life out of the things you buy just makes good business sense… not to mention good environmental sense.
As interest in sustainable business practices grows, more and more companies are recognizing the need to create departments devoted to sustainability. In much the same way that quality must be managed, so must sustainability. However, like its predecessors, the success of a company’s sustainability program relies on the ability of the company to truly embed sustainable principles into its organization in such a way that each employee becomes an advocate, and even an evangelist, for corporate social and environmental responsibility.
Introducing top-to-bottom sustainability is like any change process and as a result, it can be managed and implemented using change management strategies. In 1995, Harvard Business School professor John Kotter developed an 8-step change model that can be used to approach any change, even one as significant as embedding sustainability into your corporate culture. Here are my recommendations using Kotter’s model:
Step One: Create Urgency
Companies face many challenges today, not the least of which is mere survival in our current economic downturn. It may be difficult, then, to prioritize sustainability as an urgent change. However, realistically, sustainability is a long-term survival strategy. Incorporating sustainable business practices not only reduces the bottom line, but makes a company more attractive to consumers. If someone proposed making a change in your organization that would save money AND increase revenue, you’d be crazy not to take advantage of it, right?
To help create the urgency, you’ll need to get everyone on board with sustainability; start the conversation. Be open and honest with your employees, bottom to top, about the advantages of sustainability and the potential threats your company faces if you don’t change. Conducting a SWOT analysis at this stage and reviewing the results can be helpful. Ultimately, the success of your change initiative is dependent upon the buy-in of your team, particularly your managers. Seek ways to approach the sustainability discussion in terms of what might be in it for your staff, rather than asking them to look at your goal as just one more organizational initiative to be added to their plates.
Step Two: Form a Powerful, Guiding Coalition
Organizational change cannot be accomplished by will alone—you’ll need people to help lead your initiative. Ideally, your coalition will include influential people from across the organization that can develop emotional buy-in to your sustainability goals. Your team shouldn’t just include your upper management; if one of your goals is process efficiency, you need to include the employees who are closest to your operation.
As you build urgency, begin to look for natural leaders,; people who garner respect in your company and who understand and believe in what you’re trying to do. Provide this nascent team with support in terms of time, resources, training, and mentorship. Ask for an emotional commitment from them to help you accomplish this major goal.
Step Three: Create a Vision for Change
Two things can help or hinder your change effort: motivation and resistance. To effectively change, you must either increase motivation to the point where resistance can be overcome or reduce resistance; ideally, you’ll do both.
Motivation can be accomplished through the development of a strong and inspirational vision for change. Consider a time when you have been inspired by someone’s vision for the future… perhaps the famous words of Dr. Martin Luther King… even President Kennedy’s belief that we would go to the moon. Inspirational visions have the power to make us believe we can be better, dream bigger, and accomplish more than we ever felt possible.
With the help of your guiding coalition, engage your employees in dreaming big… what could your organization accomplish using sustainability? Perhaps its greater monetary reward for everyone based on greater efficiency. Perhaps it’s a healthy and safer world for our children to grow up in. Whatever it is, a simple, values-based vision will help to drive your change forward, especially if everyone in the organization can articulate that vision.
Step Four: Communicate the Vision
Too many change processes take place behind closed doors involving just a few members of the organization and it’s no surprise that these initiatives often fail as a result. To keep your vision alive, it must be part of the conversation in your company. Addressing your change efforts during special meetings or through separate, special documents means that it has to compete with all the other information your employees receive. Instead, embed your vision in your everyday operations. Talk about it daily; include it in your processes and procedures; tie the vision back to all aspects of your organization; make it part of the living culture of your company.
Step Five: Remove Obstacles
Once your motivation is in place, you’ve got to deal with resistance or your change effort is certain to fail. It takes a lot of energy for people to overcome resistance, no matter how motivating the final goal, and so without reducing that resistance, your change initiative will inevitably lose steam.
It’s important to first identify your obstacles. Are there people, processes, systems, values or behaviors present in your organization that are overtly or covertly resistant to your sustainability goals? If so, how can these barriers be changed or removed? If it’s people who are resistant, what is it that they fear? Honest conversations with opposing staff members are critical if they are to become change champions and environmental evangelists.
It’s also important to begin to recognize and reward behaviors that support the change. Leading by example is one of the most powerful ways to motivate people. Team members who see their peers engaging in the change effort and being rewarded for it are more likely to get on board so they, too, can reap the rewards of the change.
Step Six: Create Short Term Wins
Change isn’t easy for any of us, but it can become even more difficult when the change is systemic or significant like the change to sustainable business practices can be. An important way to reinforce the change and maintain motivation is to create, recognize, and reward short-term wins. Look for opportunities to create small, easily achievable goals within your long-term vision. Small successes are exciting and ultimately get you closer to your overall goal.
Early on in your change effort, choose inexpensive, “sure-fire” goals that you can implement without the help of any naysayers in your organization. For example, it might be easy to begin an employee recycling program in your organization if you don’t currently have one. As employees begin to participate in recycling, you can point to the success of that program to develop momentum for something much larger, like a production-wide recycling campaign.
Step Seven: Build on the Change
Ideally, success begets success. But it can be tempting to declare victory over our change before it’s really taken a deep hold in your organization. One successful initiative isn’t sustainable long-term; if, instead, multiple initiatives are successful, and repeatable, it is much more likely that your change effort will succeed. It’s like losing weight or quitting smoking: initially, we feel great because of our easy initial successes. But continual success in either of these endeavors requires long-term lifestyle change.
Build continuous improvement into your organizational strategy. Debrief change initiatives to see what you can learn from the process. Seek feedback from those closest to the process. Continue to bring fresh life into the program by setting new goals, changing up the membership of the guiding coalition, and pursuing organizational learning opportunities.
Step Eight: Anchor the Changes in your Organizational Culture
Building a sustainable organization where everyone is responsible for corporate, social and environmental responsibility happens at many levels. At its heart, your entire operation will change. But in order to sustain the change, it must be anchored within your culture.
In essence, this anchoring process is a repetitious cycle of what has come before. To keep the change alive and employees engaged, you’ll need to keep sustainability in the conversation. You’ll need to recognize contributors, learn from your mistakes, and identify leaders. Sustainability must become one of your core organizational values and must be communicated to new employees, the public, and stakeholders, if it is to succeed.
Here at Renewable Choice we live our sustainable values every day and each and every one of us knows that corporate social responsibility is our responsibility. Let us help you to make your sustainability efforts successful, too.
Amy Haddon is Director of Business Operations for Renewable Choice.