Developing programs that motivate work associates to go green is an emerging value creation path for human resources professionals. The case-study evidence is growing rapidly that work associate adoption of sustainable best practices results in reduced costs and increased sales. This article is the first of a three article series on HR best practices that engage work associates to go green.
This first article profiles what works and what doesn’t work featuring an exclusive interview with Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Annie Longsworth and the success this firm is having in making sustainability “irresistible.” The second article will feature a company called Practically Green and its founding CEO Susan Hunt Stevens who has pioneered the use of gamification techniques to make change a fun experience. The final article profiles Caesars Entertainment and an exclusive video interview with VP Gwen Migita on their Code Green program that provides a compelling case study on how reducing a company’s environmental footprint can achieve measurable costs savings.
What Doesn’t Work
When a person’s or organization’s beliefs and sense of security are challenged the result is often resistance to change. A fundamental HR question for motivating change is how to make a new behavior non-threatening. A starting point is to recognize what doesn’t work. One non-starter is educational training and posters. It seems logical that if people just knew what to do they would do it. But the fact is that people do know what to do. They are just not doing it. So educational programs can be counter productive because rather than being motivational they result in unproductive tensions like quilt and animosity by associates frustrated over being told to do something they have chosen not to do.
Shame or fear also do not inspire change. The world may be cooking itself to a harmful result but finger pointing and messages of doom have proven to be ineffectual in terms of motivating positive behavior change. Market research shows that people do understand the environmental consequence of using plastic bags but convenience wins out over shame. A message of saving the planet from climate changes loses to the promise of lower pump price from increased oil drilling. The bottom line for a business is that facts and finger-pointing do not motivate work associates or customers to adopt sustainable behaviors.
The following four elements are keys to designing and implementing a program that motivates work associates to adopt sustainable behaviors that reduce costs and increase sales:
Personal. Work associates and consumers in the United States are motivated to adopt sustainable behaviors based upon “in me, on me and around me” personal benefits. Answering “what’s in it for me” is the key to getting their attention and motivating them to change. The good news is that almost every company has work associates who have a personal motivating reason to go green. The Millennial Generation was raised with an environmental consciousness. From my experience you only have to ask a Millennial and they will jump at the opportunity to make a difference that almost always delivers a positive business result like cutting a cost or winning a customer. Moms are another great source for ideas and volunteers based upon their motivation to improve their wellness and the wellness of those they care about.
Best Practices. Positive results happen when a change is simple to understand and act on. The path is to convert the CEO’s mandate of reducing CO2 emissions by 20% into simple steps. Change is enabled when every employee is able to point to one measurable best practice they can adopt to implement the company’s sustainability program. This is especially powerful if that one change creates a personal connection to their desire to be liked, part of the team, respected or creates a value that is important to them.
Choice. Force can create change. This type of change is called malicious compliance. Empowering customers and employees is the more lasting path to change. Innovation is typically the positive byproduct of empowerment. Green Teams are an emerging HR best practice that empowers volunteers to choose, discover and implement their path toward sustainable behavior change.
Realism. While 70 percent of companies have adopted sustainability into their strategies it is ranked eighth in importance based upon the survey results of the third annual Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study jointly produced by MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group that surveyed 2,800 managers in 113 countries. For most companies today the solving of root cause problems pales in comparison to making the quarter’s sales and profits goals. Attempting to make sustainability and organizational change more than what it is in this type of near-term performance environment endangers the ability to win and retain support with work associates, most especially senior management. Realism is a key element in designing a HR program to motivate change. The path for motivating the adoption of sustainability within most companies is to link to the company’s bottom line. This is not necessarily bad. It is real.
How To Make Sustainability “Irresistible!”
Annie Longsworth is the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi a company recognized for its work with Walmart in successfully engaging over 1.3 million Walmart associates in their development of a personal sustainability promise. Annie is also a world-class market resarcher who has pioneered insights on what is motivating consumers to go green. Annie is a leader I look to for answers on how a company can make money going green. The following interview conducted at Sustainable Brands 2012 is a must watch short vidoe on proven bet practices fo motivating work associates and consumers to find sustainability irresistible.
Bill Roth is the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marekging and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues.