Put Into Practice

Unleash Your Change-Makers

The universe is perfect, 

including my desire to change it.

                                        – Ram Dass

How exactly are unsustainable organizations supposed to become sustainable? Is it just a matter of setting goals and letting the magic happen? After decades of lofty goals and sustainability reporting, with little evidence of progress, it is clear that the magic isn’t there. Needed instead is a lot of new thinking – and new doing – by the folks who do the work, day in and day out. Organizations will find that rapid progress is achievable by building change-maker networks to infuse sustainability into all business activities. 
Most large organizations can find substantial untapped commitment from within just waiting to be unleashed. By simply engaging and enabling those employees with a genuine interest in sustainability, these change-makers will seek every opportunity to improve company performance. 

They can be counted on to take action whenever time and budget allows, while influencing others within their respective business units. With time, sustainability will become a core competency for the organization. I have developed this type of network within one of Canada’s leading aerospace companies and have seen firsthand its transformative potential.

Before change-makers can make change, certain conditions must be in place. The stage is set when there is an authentic company commitment to sustainability. When leadership is genuine in their sustainability aspirations, and commitments are expressed publicly, then there is a state of system-readiness within which change-makers will find their license to operate.

A three-step process will get your change-makers started:
1) Identify candidates
A first step toward building organizational competencies is to identify those who already have sustainability aptitude or inclinations. Even latent interest can be ignited by drawing attention to the opportunities for personal development and potential for real company progress. Self-motivated candidates enjoy the learning process and are typically more engaged in their regular duties as a result of knowing that this is something in which the company truly believes.
2) Train & Coach
Once identified, your change-maker candidates must be introduced to sustainability fundamentals. This includes global and local perspectives, driving forces, and industry implications. The basis for the organization’s sustainability goals – and the benefits from achieving them – must be made clear. Some fundamentals in change-management and the types of internal resistance and inertia they will encounter also helps. 

The goal here is for people to understand the connections between the organization's strategy and its role in assuring global sustainability. Post-training discovery sessions help the change-makers to see what opportunities exist within their business function. Bringing sustainability knowledge to those who already have functional expertise is key to successfully integrating sustainability into all company processes.
3) Empower and encourage
Regular messaging from the top on the importance of sustainability to the organization will reinforce the need for change. Recognition of this need must compel management at all levels, but change-makers must see their task as an upstream swim and not be discouraged when results are not immediate – change is hard, and adaptive persistence is key. 

To be empowered, the change-maker role must also be a formal addition to the traditional job description or performance evaluation, even if it is solely for personal development while they find their feet in the new role. Support from the direct supervisor of the newly purpose-driven performers is also key.
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Sustainability is not magic
Achieving sustainability goals is not a magic trick, but even magicians succeed through training and practice. You will never achieve your sustainability goals without developing your people to have the means to achieve those ends. Building a sustainable organization is made easier with a network of optimistic and motivated people who know your business from all functional perspectives. 

The bottom line is that companies must do a better job of educating all staff on what sustainability really means and there is no better place to start than with those who are most enthusiastic. Engaging and enabling this committed core of change-makers is the fastest means to assuring success and delivering results.

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Jim Banks

Jim is a Sustainability Advisor based in Montreal.