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Understand Your Company

Any change initiative is going to be messy. How do you best prepare for this? You want to first assess your company culture and identify how your company best handles change.

When assessing your company culture, you will want to look broadly across your company at your services, products, customers, finances, processes, history, and internal policies. This is because you’ll realize that your culture is embedded in each of these. As intercultural solutions specialist Cecilia Utne, of Shepell.fgi, states, “Culture is in how we communicate, the words we use, and the way we think.”10

Don’t minimize the role that culture can play when trying to implement change. It can play a powerful role when the behavior you want to change is in alignment with your existing corporate values and goals and isn’t something that is radically different. Operate from within a cultural language and framework that people in your company can relate to, or it simply won’t work.11 Therefore, be sure to assess and know your culture before launching behavior change.

Beware of the “Initial Nice”

Claudia Capitini, the former sustainability maven of Eco-Products, said about working with one of her former companies that “when you first get started, a lot of people are initially nice, but the authentic culture does not become apparent to you for months after those initial meetings.”12 People might voice support or nod in agreement early on, which might give the impression of perfect alignment, but the reality might be quite different after they are asked to allocate resources, budget, and staff.

How Your Company Manages Change

Company cultures are as varied as the employees themselves, and each company handles and manages change differently. Here are a couple of basic questions to ask to determine how your company best manages change:

  • How do policies and procedures normally take root? Is it a top-down approach or more of a grass-roots movement?
  • Do you have a command-and-control structure in which people wait for approval before trying something new, or do you have a creative structure in which people innovate and tend to ask for forgiveness rather than permission?
  • How competitive are you as an organization? Are people motivated to win? For example, will people or departments be more likely to embrace change if they can “beat” someone or a group within the organization?

Table 7.2 displays the four methods for managing change according to the National Environmental Education Foundation.13

Table 7.2 Change Management Methods

Collaborate Oriented

Control Oriented

Facilitate group brainstorming sessions

Understand relevant regulations and associated risk exposure

Develop or improve the employee suggestion and feedback system

Analyze or audit existing processes and environmental impacts (e.g., life cycle analysis)

Develop an online internal collaboration platform

Review existing policies for procedural inefficiencies and opportunities for sustainability

Create Oriented

Compete Oriented

Use social media and crowdsourcing to generate new ideas faster

Establish goals, objectives, and measures based on company vision and standards

Create a training program to cultivate creative thinking

Benchmark performance against initiatives of key competitors

Empowered intrapreneurs

Use competitive means for project idea generation, such as a contest between individuals and teams

Understanding how your company handles change sheds light on how change can be implemented. In some cases the structure might vary on the timing or type of initiative, so it might be a combination. Therefore, it’s prudent to first figure out the best method for implementing that change and apply the appropriate structure to give it the best chance for success.

Change Takes Time

Sustainability is a complex issue. It requires systemic, long-term thinking and hundreds of small actions, not just one big one. Change is a triathlon. You need time to train and build muscle. You’re not going to wake up and do it all tomorrow. For even small changes to take place, it is reasonable to expect that it takes two to three months to understand, to tweak, and then to incorporate new approaches. As Mary Kay Chess says, “For large, complex organizations with multiple changes underway, it might take almost a year for ongoing, conscious or unconscious modifications to processes and communication.”14

Get Comfortable with Uncertainty

There are going to be instances when there is no guideline, playbook, or path to follow. In fast-moving markets you might be innovating or making things up on the fly. Don’t let this scare you. Remember that ambiguity and contradiction are inherent in what you’re doing, because it’s complex; don’t cower from that, but embrace it.

Stay positive and realize that with sustainability, persistence is key. Change takes time and you will lose battles along the way. Keep perspective and remember what change-management practitioner Terra Anderson says: “There will be scary times, but the difference between a loser and a winner on these issues is that the winner gets up one more time.”15

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