Why Your Sustainability Culture Change Programme Isn’t Working
I’m often called into major companies to help them with sustainability culture change programmes. The usual cri de coeur is “we’ve tried everything, but nothing seems to have changed.”
OK, what have you tried? I ask. “Oh, everything: awareness posters, switch it off stickers and we’ve appointed green champions in every department, but nothing’s working and morale has gone through the floor.”
The reason the usual approach doesn’t work? Employees don’t like being told what they’re doing is wrong and they should be doing something completely different. And what really strikes me is that everybody tries the same old stuff, irrespective of whether they’ve ever seen it working or whether it fits their company culture.
Through bitter experience, I have developed a completely different approach I call Green Jujitsu. The standard culture change techniques are like boxing – pummeling the other guy until he gives in – but jujitsu is about making use using of the other guy’s strengths, size and momentum. In culture change terms, this means playing to people’s professional strengths, interests and habits.
There is no point in bombarding, say, engineers with images of desperate polar bears and trying to make them feel guilty about what they do for a living. What do engineers like doing? Solving problems. So put away the guilt trip and challenge the engineers to develop technical solutions for environmental problems. Their instinct kicks in, enthusiasm starts to rise and they catch the sustainability bug. Sustainability is now fun, creative and challenging, not a hair shirt.
This approach can be extended to all aspects of your sustainability programmes. If you want to communicate progress to non-technical staff, don’t bombard them with statistics and pie charts. Instead, try what the popular press do and express the issue in terms of human interest stories – what ‘people like us’ are doing to address sustainability.
And it’s not just about messaging, but your organisation’s systems, rules and policies too. It is a fact of life that most people follow the path of least resistance. Green Jujitsu takes advantage of this fact and makes sure that sustainable options are always easier to use than unsustainable options. I know of one company which that requires employees to pay for short haul flights themselves and claim the money back, whereas train tickets are purchased up front. The unsustainable option means being out of pocket for a few months.
The fundamental principle of Green Jujitsu is to put yourself in the place of your employees and understand the world from their perspective. If you tap into what they like, prefer to do and are good at doing, you will get much better results than trying to force people out of their comfort zones. That statement might sound obvious, but Green Jujitsu is the complete opposite of what most organisations actually do.
GARETH KANE is the author of Green Jujitsu: The Smart Way to Embed Sustainability Into Your Organisation, published today by Dō Sustainability Publishers. The book is part of a new series of short ebooks – called DōShorts – that distil sustainability best practice for busy professionals, and can be read in 90 minutes.
Gareth will host a free webinar, "Green Jujitsu: Smart Culture Change for Sustainability" on October 12th 2012, which draws on his experience helping many of the worlds’ leading organisations with their culture change programmes (including the BBC, BAE Systems and the NHS). Register here now to attend this webinar >>