If Everyone Recycled – Would You?

Motivating employees sustainability

All indicators point to yes!

In my last few posts, I focused on strategies that motivate and enable individuals to engage in an organization’s sustainability initiative. As we continue through Vital Smart’s Influence Model, we’ll focus on the social influences that can drive transformation in companies, communities and the environment.

Influencing Others

You don’t have to be a social scientist to know that others around us can profoundly influence our behaviors. 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 all of the burning platform speeches you make.

Therefore, no source of influence is more powerful and accessible than the pervasive presence of our social networks, both internal and external.

While most of us cringe at the phrase “peer pressure,” the best change agents know that using social pressure is a very powerful, and often underused, source of influence. For instance, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District sent out statements to randomly selected customers that rated them against their neighbors that were especially energy efficient. After the first six months they found that those receiving statements reduced their energy use by 2%.

In Tucson, AZ there is a social norm that you don’t plant grass in your yard. Even organizations are prone to peer pressure. For example, the HBR blog reported that when Wal-Mart released its greenhouse gas reduction target, Marks & Spencer and Best Buy responded by announcing their retail sustainably strategies.

Exerting peer pressure at every level can have a profound influence on the success of a company’s sustainability program.

Use Formal Leaders

Start at the top! If you are a corporate sustainability director, start with your CEO. If he is proudly and loudly behind the program, others in the organization will follow the leader. Next, engage your C-suite champions who are are huge assets to your sustainability programs. When they talk, others have to listen and, for the most part, do what the C-suite says.

Ensure they are encouraging and celebrating the right behaviors publicly. There is an old adage the best PR you can get is from others who promote you. Use them to sing the praises of your program and to sanction those who don’t fall in line.

As the role of the sustainability leader evolves, one thing is for certain—sustainability will cross all functions, all silos and all geographic regions of an organization. That means the sustainability leader must also cross all boundaries and barriers to achieve corporate objectives by getting everyone to sing in the sustainability choir.

Enlist Opinion Leaders

Here is the great news. You don’t have to influence everyone in your organization to change. You just need to enlist the power of those that matter the most. Opinion leaders are those individuals who others listen to even though they don’t have to. They’re not the bosses, but they hold immense influence because others model their behavior, and they pay attention to and seek out their guidance and counsel during the course of the workday.

When gathering your implementation teams, look beyond the folks who are the first to raise their hands to volunteer. They may include opinion leaders, but looking at Everett Rogers’ change curve, the real traction comes when you enlist the early adopters or true opinion leaders. These are the people in your organization who are socially connected and respected. Influence them and you automatically influence others. In fact, the rest of the organization won’t change until your opinion leaders do.

You find them by asking people who they most respect at your company. Then tell these opinion leaders exactly what you would like them to do. Gain their commitment. Give them extra training, make them subject matter expects, and have them hold others accountable for enacting the behaviors you need to be successful.

Your opinion leaders will become the informal champions of your effort. They may initially challenge the rationale for changing behavior—they’re not simply “yes” people—but once you get these individuals on your side, you will inherit a wealth of social power.

Unleash Brand Advocates on Social Media

As we stated earlier, your CEO can be the most important and visible advocate for the company’s sustainability program internally and well as externally. A 2013 study of CEO usage of social media disclosed that nearly 70% of employees believe that CEOs using social media makes them more effective leaders, 87% believe it raises the profile of the corporate brand, and 82% believe a CEO on social media communicates a company’s mission and values.

Employees belong to many social networks, both internally and externally. Identify your opinion leaders who are active on social media. Chances are most of them will be because that’s where they know they can influence others.

Enlist them to be brand advocates for your company on social media. Let them spread the word about how your company is becoming a true leader in sustainability. Employees want their companies to succeed. They want to be part of a movement that will not only reduce energy costs, but also protect the environment. They want to be on the team that transforms your company. So why not let them?

Be an Opinion Leader

Are you an opinion leader? Ask yourself, or better yet ask others: Do you provide others help, information, and resources required, particularly at critical times? Do you hold people accountable for behaving in the right way?  Are you modeling the right behaviors in an effective way? Do you really understand the pain points and what’s most important of the teams you are trying to influence? Are you viewed as trustworthy and have other’s best interest in mind?  Are you generous with your time?

Begin to work on these relationship-building behaviors and become the center of your organization’s social networks.

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

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