I made the audacious claim, in my last post, that the success of sustainability leaders relies largely 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.

Setting Measurable Standards

As Joseph Grenny, co-founder of Vital Smarts, says in this video, most leaders have “failed miserably to bring about sustainable change because they are fundamentally baffled about how to change behavior.”

The ability to create change depends on having clear, compelling and measurable results at the outset. If you are in a leadership position, don’t waste a minute in trying to create change and motivate behavior until you have clarified what you want, why you want it and when you want it.

Donald Berwick, President and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, put it best, “Some is not a number; soon is not a time.” Through clearly defining his expected result of saving at least 100,000 lives in 18 months, Berwick was actually able to exceed his campaign goal by almost 25 percent, saving 122,342 lives.

Leaders often get wrapped up in high-toned language that makes it difficult to know what the expected outcome really is. As a leader you must state the result – what you really want. Simply stating that the company is going to reduce energy costs is not enough.

It is essential to set specific and measurable standards. There are a variety of excellent tools to help in defining goals. The SMART Standard is widely used: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

Take Time to Focus on Behaviors

Now that you have clarified your expected results, you can start creating your change strategies, right? Sorry, no! Many leaders don’t take the time to discover what actually needs to happen.

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 dominoes – they start a chain reaction that leads to an outcome.

Some of these high-leverage behaviors will no doubt be complex. But there are other behaviors that are simple to execute but have a high impact on your expected outcomes.

As an example, I know that to maintain my exercise routine I need to go to bed at 11:00 pm. My vital behavior comes at 10:59. If I go to bed, I get up on time the next day and exercise. If I don’t, I feel too tired and get wrapped up in the alarm snooze game – just five more minutes – and fail to exercise. The time I choose to go to bed is the first domino.

As Grenny discusses in the video, the CEO of a hospital tried and failed to get the staff to consistently wash their hands after patient contact to decrease unnecessary infections. Like many CEOs, he didn’t understand the vital behaviors that would lead to sustainable change.

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 fall into place?”

It’s easier said than done and won’t happen overnight. You need to do your homework to learn what you’re trying to change, researching best practices of the experts who have done it before.

Choosing the Right Road

You need to determine what people will do when they come to a fork in the road. If they choose the right action, will it put them on the road to success? Is it the moment your facilities engineer enters energy information in your database? Is it consistently turning off the lights after leaving a room to lower energy costs?

It’s the sequence of successful actions that that determines your results. It’s much more likely that you will achieve sustainable change if people in your organization understand what you want them to do, why and by when.

What key, high-leverage behaviors have you employed to achieve your sustainably results?

Julie Honeywell is Vice President, Talent Management, at Paladino and Company.

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