At the beginning of my series of posts about leadership in sustainability, I made the bold claim that the success of corporate social responsibility leaders relies on their ability to influence change.

Leaders often fail to execute successful sustainability strategies or programs because they bet on a single intervention to create transformation, rather than a diverse arsenal of influence strategies. Over the past few months, I’ve taken you through a model developed by Vital Smarts that describes six sources of influence to help leaders create lasting organizational change based on measurable results.

Creating Change Requires Decisive Action

A recent survey of 328 organizations conducted by Corporate Culture found that 63% of companies agreed with the definition of behavior change as “an evidence-based process that uses psychology, behavioral science and audience insight to change how people act.”

The vast majority of respondents – 94% – also agreed that behavior change is a key component of a sustainability initiative. Clearly, business leaders understand the importance of enacting change, and acknowledge that it’s more than just nudging people.

Your change initiative is 10 times more likely to succeed in the long term if you take decisive action to develop a methodical approach to change and engage employees through least four of the six sources. My posts go into each source in detail — but below is a refresher on each source of influence. Click on the link in each of these paragraphs to read the original post in its entirety.

Personal Motivation

Tapping into personal motivation makes behavior change real, substantial and ongoing. It’s not enough to tell someone to change, or to tell them why you want them to change – they need to want it for themselves and to commit to the idea of change.

Help your employees connect the sustainable behavior you want to their own personal values. For example, at Paladino, our employees create purpose compass posters to define their own connection to our company value of Abundance. This approach assumes that any successful change initiative must contain an upside, a state of abundance. Sustainability does not imply scarcity.

Personal Ability

It’s important to create an environment that encourages personal involvement in sustainability, but you must also help employees by teaching them new skills. Sending employees to a training seminar isn’t effective without the support systems to ensure they have the tools to deliberately practice what they’ve learned. Give employees time to focus on practicing new skills, assign mentors and view failure as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Social Motivation

Peer pressure might be the most powerful of the six sources of influence. We all have a deeply felt desire to be accepted, respected and connected to other human beings. A raised eyebrow, a curled lip or a small shake of the head can wield more influence than burning platform speeches. Start at the top and engage company leadership as champions of your program.

Then start to engage the rest of the staff. The good news is that you don’t need to change everyone’s mind – seek out opinion leaders who wield influence over their peers and gain their commitment. If your opinion leaders personally value recycling and model this behavior, chances are good that others will follow.

Social Ability

Have you ever experienced the wisdom of crowds? Then you know it works. A large group’s aggregated answers to questions involving quantity estimation, general world knowledge, and spatial reasoning has generally been found to be as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any of the individuals within the group.

Crowdsourcing shouldn’t be used for everything, but can be effective in choosing among alternatives, creating alternatives and vetting your tactics. Engaging groups that will be impacted by your change strategy will help gain buy-in and foster collaboration. They are likely to develop more solutions than a single individual struggling on her own.

Structural Motivation

Non-human factors also influence the way individuals and organizations behave. You may be surprised to learn that several of the traditional rewards systems, such as bonuses, won’t necessarily create the behavior change you are seeking. That’s because rewards systems often focus on results and not behavior. Consider designing rewards that mean something intrinsically to us as human beings and emphasize the three main sources of personal motivation – autonomy, mastery and purpose. As author Dan Pink says, “You probably want to do something interesting; let me get out of your way.”

Structural Ability

Our physical environment has a subtle but significant impact on the way we work. Changing “things” to achieve the behavior we want is one of the easiest sources to implement. Things are much easier to change than people! Use your work environment to your advantage – make the behavior you want easy, and make the behavior you don’t want difficult. For instance, if you only stock green cleaning supplies in your building, it’s impossible to use anything else.

Getting the Results You Want

As you begin to plan your influence strategy, remember your role as a leader is to focus on three to five high-leverage behaviors or actions that, if routinely enacted, will lead to the results you want. Think of these key behaviors as the lead dominos – they start a chain reaction that leads to an outcome. It takes some investigation to determine the behaviors you are trying to change. You need to ask yourself the question, “If everyone just did this one thing, would the rest would fall into place?”

It’s easier said than done and won’t happen overnight. Once you know what behavior you want, work to develop six-source influence strategies by researching best practices of the experts who have done it before. Then conduct mini-experiments to see what works and refine as you go.

As sustainability leaders, you are laying out a road map for reinvention in your organization.

We’d love to hear your stories about how you changed behavior in your organization. Please leave your comments below.

sustainable leadership, Employee motivation employee engagement

Julie Honeywell is Vice President, Talent Management, at Paladino and Company. To read her previous posts in this series on Sustainable Leadership please click on:

Transform Your Organization by Just Changing “Things”
What Does it Take to be a Leader in Sustainable Development?
Creating Change by Having Clear, Compelling and Measurable Results
Is it the Carrot or the Stick That Motivates Employees? 
Two Heads Are Better Than One in Creating a Sustainable Organization
If Everyone Recycled – Would You?
Practice Makes Perfect in Executing Sustainability Strategies
Motivating Employees to Achieve Your Sustainability Goals

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