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.