Organizational Behavior Management
Creating a work environment where innovation is both encouraged and expected. It is about creating a work environment that people want to be in. In this blog, we explain some tips for Organizational Behavior Management used in business or company.
Good places to work tend to receive more qualified job applications, have lower levels of turnover, higher levels of customer satisfaction, greater creativity, and innovation, and benefit from higher productivity and profitability.
According to the Great Place to Work Institute, the quality of a great workplace is measured by three interconnected relationships;
the relationship between employees and management, between employees and their jobs/company, and the relationship between employees and other employees. Some things that can make a great place to work include:
Work environment. Noise, lighting, color, safety, and food.
Flexibility. Job sharing, sabbaticals, telecommuting, flexible working hours.
Work-family benefits. Domestic partner benefits, adoption assistance, eldercare services, childcare services.
Work–life balance. Gym memberships, professional training or educational support, medical checkups, language courses, resting rooms, washers, and dryers.
Profit sharing. Companies are finding more ways to share their profits with employees through programs such as stock options and deferred profit sharing.
Unusual. Scuba diving certification, relaxation rooms, dance classes – you name it, some company is trying it.
Changing the way we talk
If you want to change the way your organization approaches sustainability, it may be as simple as changing the way that you talk and the language that you use. Changing the kind of language you use to refer to sustainability can raise awareness about the issues and get people excited about it. For example:
Moving away from blaming and complaining about taking responsibility and doing something.
Moving away from vague, dull terminology to words that are clear and that inspire.
Moving away from making people feel guilty about inspiring people to get involved.
Moving away from wishes and hopes to make strong commitments to action.
Moving away from ignoring to getting informed.
Moving away from seeing all the reasons why not to looking at all the reasons it could be.
Moving away from seeing it as a problem, a risk, or a cost to seeing it as an opportunity.
Moving away from it being someone else’s responsibility for taking responsibility.
Moving away from you the individual to us the team, the organization, the community, the country, the planet.
Moving away from being told or telling people what to do to working together to determine what needs to be done.
Moving away from one-time events to continuous progress.
Moving away from boring to fun.
Moving away from saving the planet to language that speaks more to individuals and business.
HR and Organizational Behavior
‘CSR – HR = PR. If employees are not engaged, Corporate Social Responsibility becomes an exercise in public relations. The credibility of an organization will become damaged when it becomes evident that a company is not “walking the talk”.’
At a recent sustainability conference, the keynote speaker addressing one of the challenges of sustainable development said, ‘Money is not the issue, it’s people!’ The speaker had a point.
Companies everywhere are putting in place sustainability programs but are not always seeing the benefits and impacts that they expect.
This is because the success of a sustainability strategy depends on being able to integrate these issues into the company’s culture and the way a business operates on a day-to-day basis.
To do this you need to align the key systems and processes on which delivery of an organization's sustainability programs depend (e.g., managing change, developing competencies, supporting engagement, managing talent, encouraging diversity, recruitment).
All managers within an organization play a role in embedding sustainability into the culture of that organization.
The Human Resources department generally has constant links with all groups within a company, and a finger on the pulse of the whole organization.
The people in this department play a key role in promoting positive behavior, creating an engaging workforce, and creating an environment where sustainability is embedded in every aspect of the employee’s lifecycle, from recruitment to retirement.
Not only should HR play a key role in the development of a sustainability strategy, it should also play an even more important role in implementing that strategy by embedding it into the way the organization works, making sure that what a company says they are doing is consistent with what they are actually doing.
Why is it important?
Highly strategic issue.
More than half of the Global Reporting Initiative indicators can be considered to be related to HR. There is a growing international consensus that human capital management will become the biggest strategic issue for business.
Poor human capital management is considered to be one of the biggest threats to the long-term success of the global business.
Changing labor markets.
Taking sustainability issues seriously will help companies recruit and retain top talent. Graduates and potential employees at all levels are increasingly asking to work for companies with serious commitments to environmental, social, and ethical responsibility and know how to identify corporate ‘greenwashing’ rhetoric.
It is a myth that HR represents the ‘soft’ side of the business. In fact, HR is a costly business if not taken seriously. Replacing an employee often costs two or three times his or her salary. Keeping employees happy and motivated reduces recruiting and attrition costs and reduces absenteeism.
Organizations with an internal commitment to sustainability experience happier employees. Not only do they get involved in meaningful activities, but they also bring employees together and teach them new skills.
Studies show that 75% of employees who consider their employers to be sustainable exhibit high levels of commitment and that employees with high levels of commitment perform 20% better than their peers and are 87% less likely to leave the organization.
No matter how slick the web and media presentations, a company’s sustainability policy may be perceived merely as greenwashing if its employees are not informed and actively engaged in carrying out this policy through their relationships with customers and stakeholders.
The key concepts
Embedding sustainability thinking into a company’s organization involves integrating it into the underlying systems and processes that govern behavior within that organization.
Systems and processes to embed sustainability thinking
Sending consistent messages about sustainability across the company
Attracting and hiring the right people to carry out that strategy
Retaining those employees in the organization
Providing incentives and rewards that are in line with sustainability
Providing employees with the right tools
Advice for ensuring successful change programs
Creating a culture of sustainability
Motivation and rewards
Talent development and training
Creating a culture of sustainability
The story often goes like this: XYZ company decides to get involved in sustainability, puts together a sustainability strategy with goals, sends an internal memo around the organization saying they are now going to be more sustainable, but neither implements the strategy nor achieves the goals. What went wrong?
Putting in place systems and processes related to sustainability within an organization is not always enough. Few managers understand that in order to be successful and really reap the full benefits, they must be committed to mainstreaming sustainability into the values and belief systems already present in the organization.
Organizational habits – the way in which people work and make decisions, on a day-to-day basis – must be understood and molded to accept the necessary changes, move forward, and make sustainability goals possible.
Sustainability in ’t just something you do, it is a way of thinking that can be applied to everything you do; a sort of lens through which to see the world in a more environmentally, socially, and economically profitable way.
If all employees see through this lens then the necessary changes are embraced and new opportunities emerge.
Of course, embedding sustainability into the culture of an organization is easier said than done. A company’s culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people.
It is a set of rules that govern how employees work together, some written but mostly unwritten.
A culture is not just something you create, or that you can simply change. It is formed over time by the people, processes, and systems that a company follows, and is a result of taking action and being consistent.
Every organization has its own unique culture, so not surprisingly some cultures will make it more challenging to embed sustainability thinking than others.
Several elements contribute to an organization’s culture:
The basis of a company’s culture is commonly formed by the founder of the company and the values that she or he based the company on.
If the founder built the company upon values that are intricately linked to sustainability or that support sustainability, it will be easier to embed sustainability into the culture.
The individual at the top of the organization has a tremendous influence on how an organization operates. People take action based on her or his words and actions. A consistent message from the top will help to push change across the company. An inspired leader will play a key role in motivating and inspiring others to action.
Many times the culture of a company is created not by those at the top but rather is created from the bottom up by the employees themselves.
A large part of the culture is also driven by the managers of a company, what they pay attention to, how they react to situations, how they communicate with others, what they reward, and which issues they consistently support.
Mission, value statements.
Many organizations have a set of written rules such as mission statements or formal declarations that attempt to explain what the company stands for.
It is not enough to just have these, they must really represent what the company is and where it wants to go and be part of the culture. Many companies make changes to these to reflect their focus on sustainability.
Codes of conduct.
Codes of conduct throughout the organization guide the behavior of people by telling them what behavior is and what is not acceptable in the workplace. These take the form of both written and unwritten codes (i.e., culturally or historically accepted ways of behaving). These should be understood and practiced by the organization.
What is rewarded?
How employees are judged, rewarded, and the criteria for promotion and firing tells a lot about what is expected of employees and how seriously sustainability is taken by the company.
How people interact.
How people interact with the organization. Do they work together, do they share information, or is there competition within? This isn’t just about those in the company, but also the perceptions of potential employees, business partners, customers, etc. that can be even harder to change.
These are tangible aspects of culture which are often the most important ways in which culture is manifested, reinforced, and communicated. This can include rites and rituals. How the office space is organized and used can also say a lot about the culture of an organization.
Everyone agrees that communication is important. Nevertheless, many companies are not communicating their sustainability strategies effectively to their employees in a way that allows them to become actively engaged and involved.
Different companies have chosen different ways of communicating their sustainability strategies to employees. Shell produced a biodiversity management primer brochure that brings together the information that employees need to know about the company’s position in relation to biodiversity.
It explains what biodiversity is, why it is important for the company, what the company ’s commitments are and, most importantly, what managers at Shell can and should do to manage their impacts and help conserve biodiversity.
The CEO of carpet company Interface meets with senior management regularly to discuss sustainability issues. Those senior managers then go on to communicate the message to their staff. This continues until all members of staff have been informed. Approaches to communicating sustainability are both top-down and bottom-up.
Communication on sustainability should answer the following three questions:
1. Why is sustainability important to the company? Why are these issues important to the company? How do they affect the company? Why have leaders of the company chosen to act? Once an individual understands why most of the battle is already won.
2. What is the company doing about it? Information should be given relating to how the company is reacting to this risk or/and opportunity. Is there a new partnership, a new code of conduct, a new goal?
If an issue is truly important to the company and there is a strong reason why employees will see that message delivered consistently through the different levels and processes of the company.
3. What can employees do? Communication should not only be about raising awareness of the direction of a company and its sustainability strategy. A major part of communication needs to be aimed at how this affects the employee and what their role is.
Recruiting is a two-way process. A company’s engagement in sustainability depends in large part on the kind of people it has working for it.
The company needs to adjust recruiting processes to attract employees with the necessary skills. To be competitive in recruiting, companies can no longer ignore sustainability because graduates and new employees are asking for it and are often pre-assessing the social and environmental performance of companies before choosing an employer.
Potential employees are increasingly looking to work for companies that have a good reputation, are ethical, provide a good work environment, and share the same beliefs as they do. When looking at embedding sustainability into your recruitment processes, consider the following:
The first step of HR in supporting the company's sustainability strategy is to align its recruitment strategy with it. This means aligning recruitment processes (including job descriptions) to that sustainability strategy based on identifying the skills, experience, knowledge, and attitudes of potential staff members.
A clear strategy makes people want to work for you and ensures that you get very strong applicants who know why they want to work for you.
Candidates for recruitment should be sent consistent messages about what the company represents through the company website, the recruiting website, and all other recruiting communications. Information on what the company is doing in sustainability should be consistent across all communications and should be easily accessible.
Interviewers should be armed with knowledge about the company’s sustainability policies not just so they ask the right questions, but also so they can answer those that interviewees may ask them.
If the individual giving the interview cannot answer simple questions made by the interviewee about the company’s sustainability direction, then this can send the message that it is not everyone ’s business and that the company isn’t serious about it.
The employment package.
When putting together a package to recruit employees into the company, look at all the different elements of that package from pension funds (sustainable of course) to opportunities for employees to take paid or unpaid time off to do community service.
An individual’s job description sets out what they will be expected to do and what their roles and responsibilities are. Sustainability should be incorporated into this.
Once you have the right people you need to set their expectation of how things work in the company. If it really is important these messages will be delivered consistently and from the start. Employees arrive at a company fresh and open to learning, so take the opportunity to inform them as soon as they enter the door.
This involves not just training (explained further on) but also the way new employees are introduced to the company. Are office greening projects emphasized during the tour of the buildings and facilities? Are these issues introduced to new employees from day one?
Current employee recommendations.
Current and past employees can be very effective ambassadors, spreading the message about what a company stands for to the public, potential customers, and also to potential employees.
According to a survey by KPMG, only 20% of workers who felt that their bosses lacked integrity would recommend the workplace to recruits. In comparison, 80% of the respondents who believed their company managers had strong ethics would recommend their organization.
Organizations are looking for employees who will give 100% to the organization, who will go above and beyond what is expected. Employees are looking to work for companies with a stimulating environment. Employee engagement is when both meet: when an employee is committed to the organization and pushes forward its missions and goals.
Engaged workers are much more likely to be committed and productive. Studies done by PwC show that employees who are more committed to their employer perform 20% better than their peers and are 87% less likely to leave the organization.
However, engagement is an attitude that is nurtured over time.
Some of the drivers of engagement include:
A sense of feeling valued and involved, with the potential to make a positive difference to the company.
Freedom to voice ideas that managers not only listen to but respond to.
Opportunities to develop on the job.
A sense that the leaders of the organization care about the well-being of employees and the planet.
A feeling by employees that they are well informed about what is happening in their organization.
The belief that managers and the CEO are walking the talk.
Companies that engage employees on issues of sustainability find the benefits diffuse throughout the organizational hierarchy. Involved employees are a source of knowledge and provide feedback to management about ways to move forward. Employees want to understand the contribution that they can make.
There are countless ways to engage employees in your sustainability efforts in a way that benefits the employees, the company as a whole, and often the environment and the community:
In defining the strategy.
IBM’s Big Green Innovations program includes environmentally focused initiatives, looking at advancing water management, alternative energy, and carbon management.
The idea came out of the IBM innovation jam in 2006, which involved 150 000 employees blogging for two to three days, and resulted in 30 000–40 000 new ideas. These were narrowed down to 10, which the company decided to adopt, of which Big Green Innovations was one.
In identifying problems.
Employees can be using sensors in identifying problems before they occur. One company has a program in place that involves all of its employees in identifying health, safety, and environmental risks. Every employee is required to report at least one potential environmental hazard into the system each year.
In coming up with solutions.
Employees are often best placed to identify ways that their jobs could be done better. In order to take advantage of this, many companies have systems in place so that when employees are asked for their ideas and suggestions they can be processed, assessed, acted on, and feedback is given.
The 3M Corporation has been doing this since 1975 when they set up their 3P program (Pollution Prevention Pays), which relies on the voluntary participation of employees to identify ways to reduce pollution across operations. Innovative ideas are recognized with 3P Awards. Projects must meet three criteria:
Eliminate or reduce a pollutant.
Benefit the environment through reduced energy use or more efficient use of manufacturing materials and resources.
Save money – through avoidance or deferral of pollution control equipment costs, reduced operating and materials expenses, or increased sales of an existing or new product.
In the local community.
Employees are increasingly asking for opportunities to get involved in the communities in which their businesses are working and are looking to work for companies that provide those opportunities.
Employees who are active in community projects through their company are more likely to feel a stronger sense of belonging to the company, increasing employee morale, motivation, and commitment.
Intel Corporation is an example of a company that embraces the volunteerism philosophy. Among its many programs, its Intel Involved Program enables employees to volunteer thousands of hours in the communities where they work.
By giving them time to explore these issues. Bill Gates, in his speech at the Davos Summit in 2008, called on corporations to ‘dedicate a percentage of their top innovators’ time to issues that could help people left out of the global economy.
This kind of contribution is even more powerful than giving cash or offering employees time off to volunteer.’ Companies such as 3M and Google dedicate 15%–20% of employees’ work time to projects of their choosing.
By encouraging healthier lifestyles.
WalMart’s Personal Sustainability Project (PSP) is a voluntary project that helps the company’s employees integrate sustainability into their own lives by making small changes to everyday habits. PSP Captains are trained in each office to educate other employees about the program.
Employees then choose a goal to improve their own health and wellness or the health of the planet over the next four to seven weeks to monitor progress. Unilever’s Personal Vitality campaign launched in 2005 is focused on promoting the well-being of employees in terms of fitness of body, heart, mind, and spirit.
Many companies have employee engagement strategies. Check their websites for more information.
Motivation and rewards
Once an overall strategy and direction for the company is decided upon and goals and targets have been set, the next step is to rally the full organization around reaching those goals. Sustainability targets will not be reached simply by telling people that they exist.
To be truly effective, incentives need to be put in place to ensure that sustainability targets and goals are met. Rewards should focus on promoting and reinforcing the desired behaviors; they should be promoted within the organization and easily understood by all. Here are some pointers:
Be clear on the objective. Decide what kind of behavior you want to promote and reinforce and clearly align incentive programs to reward that behavior. Objectives need to be inspiring and not be seen as merely an extra burden for employees.
Identify and eliminate de-motivating factors that undermine the achievement of sustainability goals. Give individuals who are in a position to make sustainability changes, but do not have sufficient authority or financial and human resources necessary to achieve the sustainability goals, the tools to be able to make changes.
Performance Appraisal. Employees are often given individual and team targets on which they are appraised at the end of the year.
If measurable long-term sustainability goals and targets are important to the organization they should be incorporated into these appraisals and it should be clear that employees will be judged on their success.
An employee who is compensated for maximizing short-term accounting earnings is less likely to be committed to long-term projects.
Promotion and bonus eligibility.
With sustainability tied into job descriptions and performance appraisals, bonuses and promotions can, therefore, be tied to reaching set sustainability goals. SC Johnson has a company Greenlist that provides environmental ratings for all ingredients used in its products.
Annual Greenlist goals are tied to the bonuses of people at officer and management level. Further bonuses are set within the relevant R&D groups and linked to annual merit increases.
Understanding what motivates people is key to providing an incentive structure that will motivate a company’s employees to achieve its sustainability goals.
Employees are not just motivated by financial reward, they are often equally or more motivated by a wide range of factors – everything from feeling a sense of achievement, advancement, and belonging to something else.
e.g., challenge, contribution to society, sense of ownership and involvement in a project, financial rewards, intellectual interest, job security, pride in organization, recognition, and respect, responsibility, and a sense of wellbeing of the work environment
Talent development and training
In order to be successful, a company’s sustainability strategy must be understood and practiced throughout the organization and not just by a few managers or specialists.
Employees need to be given the tools to be able to implement sustainability in their jobs. Therefore, sustainability should be part of the initial training from day one until the day the employee leaves the company.
This can be done by using training to raise the general awareness about sustainability in the company and what its priorities are, the strategy, how it affects employees, and what their role is in implementing it.
Training can also be about specific parts of sustainability that are relevant to different job functions. These topics should also be embedded in already existing training that is required for specific jobs.
There are several delivery methods for training. In-class training courses can be used to raise general awareness about these issues as well as provide specific tools and knowledge.
One way is to identify key personnel and ‘train the trainers’ who will help spread the message. PwC did this by sending its top 400 employees to a sustainability executive leadership program.
Another way is to use web-based training, often simple online modules that are compulsory for employees to complete and which allow managers to track their progress online in order to ensure that their employees are fulfilling these requirements.
Some elements of sustainability are not easy to learn through web modules or in-class lectures but need to be experienced in order for the employees to learn both the knowledge and skills required.
These include certain skills that are critical for all aspects of the company, including exploring and implementing new ideas, questioning the standard ‘business as usual’ practices, multidisciplinary thinking, creativity and innovation, leadership and networking to name but a few.
Basic skills. Marks and Spencer, a British retailer, has been providing free literacy and numeracy classes to workers in their supply chain in Morocco. The factories have rearranged their work schedules to allow the employees to take the 3-hour classes on the premises.
This literacy training program has involved more than 1000 supply chain workers in Morocco, increasing productivity by 15% as workers read instructions themselves and need less supervision.
A growing number of companies send some of their employees to international organizations and NGOs for a short duration. The individuals learn a set of skills and leadership capabilities and the organization benefits from their application when the employee returns. For example, consulting firms sending employees to work in international organizations.
Job rotation. Some companies aim to integrate sustainability principles into everything they do. After a stint in a sustainability position, an employee goes on to a new department where he or she can share the experience and knowledge with a new team in a new work context.
Top employees at Accenture have the opportunity to work on non-profit consulting projects in developing countries with the Accenture Development Partnership. It started off as an activity to recruit and train staff but today has grown to be part of the strategic direction of the company to provide a new range of services to customers in developing markets.
The prime objective of community involvement has always been and will continue to be to benefit charities and communities. However, increasingly volunteer programs are proving to be not just good for the communities, but also good for the companies involved.
Volunteer opportunities can develop certain skills for employees including communication, teamwork, managerial, professional, and technical skills to name a few.
Often companies will raise the awareness of employees and then wait for miracles to happen. Most employees – and in particular managers – have a series of big folders sitting on their office shelves from past training sessions that they rarely look at again.
Post-training follow-up is just as important as the training to support newly trained employees who are motivated to apply their ideas and skills about sustainability to their work. There is no point of sending them off to training if there is no way for them to incorporate this new knowledge into their regular jobs.
A growing number of NGOs, consulting firms, and businesses offer sustainable business courses at different levels and for different durations. Several universities now offer short and long programs around sustainability and business.
Raising the importance of HR in general. Most do not fully understand the crucial role of HR in an organization, let alone the role that HR plays in sustainability. HR is often seen simply as a support function rather than a strategic piece of the puzzle.
The fact that titles usually seen around the executive table are CEO, CFO, CIO, COO but typically no CHRO, serves as a reminder that HR is not seen in the same way as other support functions.
Bringing it all together.
Many companies will have different employee engagement activities happening throughout the organization but not one overarching strategy to bring them all together in a strong, clear, consistent message.
Employees in HR themselves are often not equipped with the skills and tools to play a part in contributing to and implementing sustainability strategies.
There is a need to build their knowledge as key players in influencing others in the organization. Leaders must make sure that the organization is ready for the changes and that this isn’t seen as adding work to people’s jobs.
Joint role of management and HR.
HR’s role is to implement management decisions, and without top management working with HR none of the corporate goals and targets can succeed. Neither can do it without the other but often there is little communication between the two.
Cost versus an asset.
Employee and related programs are often seen as a cost to be controlled rather than an important asset in an organization. Community engagement programs, training, and personal development are seen as costs without looking at the benefits to the overall profitability of the organization.
Measuring effectiveness as well as efficiency. HR can play a vital role in measuring the impact that its programs have on the state of implementation of the company’s sustainability strategy. Often the correlation is difficult to see.
Benefits are often intangible. A key challenge is that many of the benefits of sustainability practices at an employee level are often difficult to measure. For this reason, they are often ignored.
Training is key. A survey by Accenture and the UN Global Compact found that 1 in 4 CEOs felt that the lack of skills and knowledge about sustainability with their senior and middle managers was one of the main challenges in being able to put together and implement a sustainability strategy.
Trends and new ideas
– Linking pay and sustainability – Creating great workplaces
– Diversity – Changing the way we talk
– Skills for sustainability – Rise of the CSO
Linking pay and sustainability
Increasingly, companies are factoring the achievement of sustainability goals into their employee salary and bonus programs. For example, at Novozymes, the company pays 25% of the annual bonus based on short-term financial measures, 25% on long-term financial measures, 25% on short-term sustainability measures, and 25% on long-term sustainability measures.
Companies like Alcoa link 20% of variable compensation plans to sustainability. A growing number of companies also link employee bonus structures to sustainability, including linking sustainability performance targets to bonuses.
For example, GSK set a target for energy consumption and mandated a 5% reduction in one year and linked that to bonuses. At the end of the year, they ended up reducing energy use by 11%.
One of the tools being explored as a means of mainstreaming sustainability issues into appraisal systems is the sustainability balanced scorecard.
The balanced scorecard is already being used by many companies and is a performance measurement framework that adds non-financial performance measures to traditional financial metrics to give managers and executives a more ‘balanced’ view of organizational performance.
A sustainability balanced scorecard, as the name suggests, incorporates the sustainability measures and targets of an organization into performance metrics. These new expanded versions are being used to integrate sustainability into operations.
For example, McDonald’s uses a scorecard that links performance indicators to relevant environmental guidelines for suppliers.
The scorecard is intended as a tool for suppliers to measure and report upon performance related to a particular guideline. HSBC uses scorecards to measure sustainability development on an individual basis and gives incentives based on this. For more on this topic see Ceres ‘The road to 2020,’ the ‘UNPRI’s’ ‘Integrating ESG Issues into Executive Pay,’ and WBCSD’s ‘People Matter Reward.’
In the past, companies sought to increase diversity for many reasons, but increasingly there are clearer business reasons for implementing a diversity plan. As companies expand geographically, they will encounter a greater diversity of their customer base.
Having employees from a variety of socio-economic, ethnic, linguistic, and religious backgrounds will give companies an edge in predicting and understanding consumer preferences, and allow them to communicate more effectively with their customers.
The diversity of educational and skill backgrounds also brings different ways of viewing and solving problems to an organization. Look at the innovative work being done through the biomimicry movement, where biologists are sitting at the table with businesses to find profitable business solutions inspired by nature.
Investors say that the strength of some companies is their cultural diversity. Schlumberger, a leading service company in the Oil and Gas sector operating in over 80 countries, employs over 118 000 employees from more than 100 countries. Investors consider one of its major competitive advantages to be the diversity of its international workforce.
Skills for sustainability
As seen earlier in this blog, a number of organizations are trying to map out the skills required not just by a sustainability professional or individuals looking to work in the field of sustainability, but by all individuals working in the business sector to ensure that sustainability becomes mainstream in their organizations. These include but are not limited to:
Influencing. The ability to influence change, influence leadership, and others who can make sustainability happen within an organization.
Communication. The ability to communicate at all levels of the organization with various stakeholder groups, in particular, government and not for profits. The ability to communicate information to different groups in the way most relevant to those groups.
Knowledge. Be knowledgeable about the issues, of the business and industry, of stakeholder groups, of how to get things done within the organization, and who to work with.
A range of soft and hard skills. The ability to network, build consensus, project manages, exhibit leadership skills, and solve problems.
Global awareness. The ability to see what is happening outside the company, outside the industry, outside the country in this field.
Inspiration. The ability to inspire and motivate those around you, to think outside the box, to be positive but realistic.
The rise of the CSO
In 2004, DuPont named its first Chief Sustainability Officer. Since then several other companies have followed.
Although there are no standardized guidelines as to what the scope and authority of the role are (usually splitting their time evenly between core business and operations, internal engagement, external engagement, and developing a strategy), each year more and more companies of all sizes are creating a space for this position.
Their backgrounds are always different but they all have a deep knowledge of their company and industry and have been part of their companies for many years. Not all are given the role of CSO. Many are made director, VP, SVP, even chief green officer but all report to or close to the CEO.
Companies are also putting in place a range of new Chief Officer spots, such as Chief Innovation Officer, Chief People Officer, Chief Learning Officer, Chief Knowledge Officer, all of which often have something to do with sustainability.
However, as the trend is on the rise so are those who say that the position isn’t necessary at all but instead should be everyone in the executive core’s responsibility.
Many CEOs themselves have been quoted as saying that it is, in fact, their responsibility to be CEO and CSO. Others, such as GE and Unilever, have decentralized sustainability across the management team and appoint leaders to run specific initiatives.
Sustainability, no matter what you are trying to do, all comes down to change: changing the way something works, the way that people think, the way that people act, behaviors, assumptions, etc.
However, some 50%–70% of all major programs of change fail to meet their objectives, including many change programs relating to sustainability. So, understanding and taking change seriously is key to sustainability.
There are many reasons why initiatives fail, but ultimately change programs often do because they fail to engage the very people they are trying to change – including the underlying thought patterns, outlooks, and behaviors of employees. Whether the change is a major one (e.g., a merger) or a minor one (e.g., a recycling program) here are some tips:
Get to the root cause of the problem. Be clear what you are trying to change and why. Change the right things for the right reasons. Focus on the causes, not the symptoms.
Create a vision. Know where you want to go. Set audacious targets that inspire debate and that unite people. Be flexible.
Gather information. Take time to observe how people do their jobs every day. Ask people how they think things should change. Understand what makes people tick and why people might resist change.
Get support. Unless the change process is coming from and supported by upper management it will go nowhere. Identify those who support and those who do not support the change.
Build a coalition of people who will help bring about the change. Understand the nature and culture of the organization, the relationship networks. Understand who the key people in your organization are that can influence the desired outcome.
Create ownership. Involve people in creating the vision and the plan. If they feel they are part of the change they are more likely to implement the change.
Identify change champions. Identify and train key people who are aware, motivated, and seeking to take action to act as champions and be a point of communication and motivation in the group.
Survey after survey shows that people are interested in these issues but there is a gap between interest and action. This is in part because of information overload. Make the change relevant to people and their job. Give them the knowledge, tools, and opportunities.
Take different approaches.
Recognize that behavior change does not take place in the same way for all people and that different people may be at different points along the change curve (awareness, motivation, action).
Recognize people’s emotional response to change.
Ignorance (not knowing), shock (the first response), denial (pretending it isn’t important or true), anger (blaming yourself or others), depression (feeling as if nothing I do can make a difference), resignation (letting go of old ways), exploration (exploring benefits of change), integration (taking ownership of the change).
Lead by example. Ensure that senior managers are leading by example. Employees will have a hard time changing their behavior if they do not see those above them doing so.
Manage expectations. Don’t get employees too excited about sustainability and then not deliver – focus on keeping energy levels up, but not so high that they will tire people.
Choose your fights wisely. You will not be able to change everything or everyone.
Focus your messages. Be clear and consistent. Use stories and best practice. Be honest.
Create a sense of urgency. Change does not necessarily fail because of resistance, rather because of inertia within the organization. Creating a sense of urgency can provide that push for an organization to really get on top of things.
Often there is a delayed response to changes in an organization.
Celebrate wins and learn from failures. Failure allows you a chance to understand where you went wrong and to learn from your mistakes. Celebrate wins to keep momentum and positive energy levels up.
Institutionalize new approaches. Change should become a part of the way people operate. Just get started. Don’t worry about all the details before getting started, just get started. Having pilot projects can be a good way to learn lessons and test out approaches.
Keep it light. People find change hard enough as it so makes it as easy as possible for them. Don ’t use guilt or make people feel like it is going to increase their workload.
We tend to remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we read, hear, and see, 70% of what we say, 90% of what we both say and do.