METAGNOSIS is pleased to showcase our first thought leadership blog addressing leading change management and sustainability management. The author, Isobel O’Connell, is a METAGNOSIS Associate and is also a subject matter expert on sustainability management, strategy and reporting.
If you’re reading this post, chances are you are a change leader with sustainability management responsibilities or or a sustainability leader with change management responsibilities. And, chances are you face resistance bringing colleagues on-board with your initiatives. You are not the first person to struggle with changing corporate behaviour. The biggest obstacle for most is the reluctance and difficulty associated with corporate change management in general.
Change management is the process of shepherding an organisation or larger collection of people through a planned change process — providing a roadmap to plan, initiate and stabilise change. The Harvard Business Review regularly talks about the challenges of navigating politics of change, innovation and transformation, and the same concepts can be applied to corporate sustainability initiatives too. So how can we leap over those change-related hurdles that get in the way of a positive end result such as incorporating economic, environmental and social benefits (i.e. sustainability initiatives)?
I’ve led several networks of sustainability champions during my twelve plus years of working in the sustainability business, and although I’ve made my share of mistakes, I’ve also learned a few lessons along the way.
Sustainability champions are usually made up of a small team of people with a shared vision that represent different functions within the company (i.e. IT, HR, Finance). A key ingredient to their success is creating strong coalitions internally, and leveraging their external relationships. However, not every change management approach will be a win for sustainability initiatives. You must then ask what do you do to help the sustainability champions stay engaged in change management?
You may have a limited time to interact with your sustainability champions, but you can make the most of it by spotting opportunities to do things a bit differently. It requires you to maintain a diverse set of close relationships.
The ultimate goal of having a network is for the champions to build relationships with each other. In some cases, help from a fellow champion will be more effective than from another sustainability colleague because talking over frustrations and possible solutions with someone in the same position often leads to a renewed commitment to the role. However, you can’t force your sustainability champions to support one another, but you can create the right conditions for that to happen.
For example, Lululemon Athletica – a yoga and athletic lifestyle retail brand – had their sustainability champions go on a trip to Sri Lanka to see firsthand some of the projects the company is supporting there. Experiencing sustainability in action made them realise what they were working towards – but, just as importantly, the champions also spent time with each other and started to make the individual links that were crucial in forming a supportive network.
That’s an important part of building a relationship, and one that I believe paid dividends in terms of motivation, and delivering both or combining the company’s change and sustainability initiatives. Implementing your initiatives may end up taking as much (or more!) work than creating it. But if you can approach the challenge with both awareness and a collaborative mindset hopefully each initiative can be accomplished without a lot of added stressors.
In closing, I am not suggesting that simply nominating and installing sustainability champions in every organisation unit is enough to guarantee change management outcomes. Successful sustainability champion networks are proactively managed and actively developed through training and personal coaching. Therefore, there is a clear role for change management professionals to help sustainability champions to develop the necessary skills and further facilitate their champion network. Although this type of support may sound like a significant investment, it is not – change management not only means faster project delivery, but also sustainable benefit achievement, which far outweighs any investment. And remember both sustainability and change management are two areas that are truly continuous: So, once you get started, a day won’t go by where you’re not finding new ways deliver on both, and thereby improving your business!