5 ways to double your odds of inspiring culture change

It is often said that existing technology is sufficient to foster sustainable business and society. But all the technology in the world won’t help us reduce resource and energy consumption if we don’t directly confront the innate human aversion to change. A major external force (a.k.a. the proverbial burning platform) is often required for people to change. Yet, sustainability requires companies— organized groups of humans — to proactively change. How do we do it?

Luckily, there is a discipline focused on inspiring change that is now being applied in the area of sustainability. Organizational change management is the process of shepherding an organization or larger collection of people through a planned change process — providing a roadmap to plan, initiate and stabilize change. This process integrates corporate strategy and employee engagement. When businesses lack a well-planned change management process the chance of successful change is 1 in 3, but doubles to 2 in 3 when a company engages in an effective change management process, according to a 2012 study by the Project Management Institute and a 2008 study by McKinsey.

Here are five rules of thumb to bolster sustainability transformation. None of these ideas is new, companies just don’t do them well. Examples are provided from DuPont to illustrate the ideas. (Full disclosure: My father, Charles (Chad) Holliday, Jr., was chairman and CEO of DuPont from 1998 to 2008.)

As background, DuPont was described in 1989 — by both Greenpeace and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — as one of the worst polluters in the U.S. DuPont reacted to that burning platform and embarked on a path toward sustainability. Each year since then DuPont has strived to raise its bar and proactively change. Since 1990, DuPont shifted its product line from being 100 percent chemically-based, to 70 percent chemically-based and 30 percent bio-based materials; and reduced it greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) 72 percent, mainly through waste reduction and water/energy efficiency.

1. Talk to your people: Once your strategy and objectives have been determined, every line of business needs to understand how they will be impacted. All the people within your company need to be aligned to the strategy through objectives specific to them, performance indicators, ongoing communication, tailored training, updated job roles/responsibilities and incentives. Employees trust communications the most that come from the manager they directly report to.

In 1989, DuPont announced its first set of voluntary goals and is now on its third set of goals. After the goals are set, the company’s Sustainable Growth Center has prioritized which businesses need to deliver improvements so that the corporation achieves its commitments. Progress is measured largely by the energy savings achieved from individual improvement projects at each plant. Over 100 plants have annual energy targets. Site Energy Champions have monthly conference calls and biannual corporate energy conferences to share best practices and identify opportunities to rapidly replicate successful projects.

2. Keep talking to your people: The biggest oversight when embarking on a change process is assuming that people will change simply because it is part of the new strategy and it is required. Continuous engagement and direction are needed to engage people impacted by the change.

Each year DuPont’s Sustainability office leads Sustainable Growth reviews with the president of each of the businesses. The objective of the reviews is to engage in strategic conversations about the key sustainability trends and how those trends will affect future business challenges and opportunities. The reviews are conducted prior to the strategy reviews to help inform strategic plans.

Next Page: Don't stop talking (and listening)