5 ways to double your odds of inspiring culture change

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.

3. Talk to other people: Stakeholder engagement is overly talked about, yet underutilized. The key stakeholders for a company are usually the shareholders/investors, customers, suppliers, employees, and government (due to setting regulations). By engaging what seem to be non-key stakeholders, companies can address gaps in their understanding and better see future trends that will impact their business. One formal way of doing this is creating advisory panels that meet annually or more often to provide input on your company’s upcoming business strategy and products/services. Insular thinking leads to insular results.

When concerns about DuPont’s genetically modified seeds were expressed in the late 1990s, the company created a Biotech Advisory Board to help guide decisions on biotechnology developments. The advisory panel was moderated by the Keystone Center. Information was made publically available online.

4. Listen to chatter: Every change has positive and negative aspects for employees. Behind many reservations are insights on how to better manage change. Asking for employee feedback is a critical success factor and a subtle tool for winning them over. Engaging individuals in the change process will create more rapid adoption. People own what they help create.

Along with initiatives to reduce the company’s footprint, DuPont also supported volunteer activities including certified wildlife habitats at many sites and a program called “Clear into the Future” in its headquarters community of Wilmington, Del., to encourage employees to learn more about environmental issues associated with the Delaware Estuary as well as volunteer with local organizational efforts like stream clean-ups and tree plantings. These types of things helped connect employees directly to why the company was looking to change.

5. Lead and engage other leaders: Leadership support is one of the most widely recognized critical success factors in any organizational change effort. When initiating organizational change for sustainability establishing a network of sustainability change agents throughout the organization is critical. The first step is gaining CEO support, then business unit support, by establishing a strategic change board or committee, and working groups within each of the business units. The most effective sustainability leaders will also be the great change leaders.

In 1993, when DuPont’s then CEO, Ed Woolard, was looking to ensure that environment and sustainability were embedded into the company, he moved the VP of the DuPont Chemicals business to take over responsibility for leading the work to implement the transformation. This sent the message that the work was about transforming the businesses and not just about reducing the footprint of the company’s operations. As a business leader, Paul Tebo had the credibility to work closely with the business leaders to drive the important changes needed to achieve the voluntary commitments. In 2004, Linda Fisher became the first Chief Sustainability Officer named in a publicly traded company. Showing DuPont’s leadership and sustainability’s potential to be a game-changer early on.

In order to transform, companies cannot rely on goodwill or the simple fact that change is required. As the case with DuPont, to implement sustainability successfully requires deep organizational change management. Creating formal roles and teams for sustainability transformation that manage change on an ongoing basis sets the course for successful change transformation. It is impossible to predict which stakeholders will have the insight that supports your business in being an industry leader or prevents your business from failing. That requires your company to maintain a diverse set of close relationships.

Acknowledgments for input in this article to Dawn Rittenhouse, Director, Sustainable Development, DuPont; Tara Stewart, Public Relations, DuPont; Sarah Shanley Hope, Executive Director, Alliance for Climate Education; and Mike Clement, Managing Partner, Strait Insights, LLC.

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