Change is hard. When a new corporate initiative is announced, it’s greeted as if you had just scheduled everyone for a trip to the dentist.

The moaning is understandable. In his seminal book Leading Change, management guru John Kotter states that 70 percent of all change initiatives fail. Other studies on change say success rates are even lower.

Going Green

If you are about to embark on a green building initiative, you might expect it to be greeted with enthusiasm. After all, there are compelling reasons for such a change: create positive environmental impact, stay competitive in your markets, reallocate resources from energy savings to strategic invention and create work spaces that increase productivity and engagement.

You are convinced that your initiative will be one of the few that succeed. Even with compelling reasons, most companies don’t manage change well. They develop business plans, modelers to show quantifiable business results, stakeholder management plans and implementation plans.

Senior management is behind it, and the green teams are in place to make it happen. These are important and necessary. But the most important driver of change is often ignored – individuals and their behaviors.

Engage Your Employees in the Process

Organizations that undertake sustainability initiatives face many disruptions, both in their physical facilities and the impact on employees. Employees may not necessarily understand what the initiative means for them, but they do know that life as they know it will change, and possibly their responsibilities and authority.

Change causes discomfort and no one likes to be uncomfortable. So while management is pushing for change, employees may be pushing back to keep things exactly the same. You have to address the behaviors of the organization if you want to create sustainable change.

Behavior has many dimensions, from how individuals act at meetings to what they say about the company in public. They are the actions, words and nonverbal cues that show whether someone is behind your change. Employees who are on board with the initiative may stay late to finish the green training plan; they seek out naysayers to discuss what’s holding them back; they speak up and offer practical solutions to roadblocks; and they tell compelling stories of what the future will be.

You need to understand what drives people to accept change – what their needs are and what motivates them to become interested and productive employees.

Conduct an Employee Engagement Study

An employee engagement survey can help you understand these needs and drivers. Engagement is the combination of the emotional and rational commitment individuals have about their company and their work. Their level of commitment correlates to the extent that individuals believe their managers, teams or organization have their interests in mind (financial, developmental or professional).

At Paladino, we call it the heart and the head. High engagement equates to better company performance. In fact, the Corporate Leadership Council states that a 10% improvement in engagement leads to a 6% improvement in employees’ effort levels, which, in turn, leads to a two percentile point improvement in performance.

What you learn in your study can uncover potential roadblocks to implementing the plan and allow for adjustments before initiatives are launched.

Gain Commitment

The most important engagement driver in beginning a sustainable initiative is commitment to strategic direction. This driver can be very predictive of whether your change initiative has a fighting chance.

If your commitment scores are low, you will first and foremost need to develop strategies to increase the group’s personal motivation.

You have to make them want to change by appealing to their emotional and rational drivers. Show them what’s in it for them. Clarify their roles so that change is perceived as valuable and desirable. That’s what will get them on your side, not just their buy-in — “yeah, I think that’s a great idea” — but their commitment to actually do the things they need to do.

Practicing What We Preach

Change is no different at Paladino. We advise our clients on how to gain commitment to sustainability from their employees, but we still faced a challenge when we acquired a firm on the east coast to strengthen our service offerings and ability to serve clients across the U.S. and overseas.

We knew that combining the operations of the two firms would be disruptive to both our current staff and the newly acquired employees. They would worry – about their futures, wonder what it means for their team, how it would change their day-to-day lives. It’s only human nature.

Using the Paladino Pulse, our annual engagement survey, we looked at specific engagement drivers to help us plan for the behavior change that would need to occur.

For example, we identified groups that reported high levels of team effectiveness and asked them to identify the critical behaviors that made the teams succeed. Then we applied these behaviors to the cross office collaboration necessary for a successful integration of the two firms.

We also learned that it was important to assign the best person for a task, not just someone who had the time or the right title.

The results – sharing work across offices, co-development of proposals and building authentic relationships with new peers began two months earlier than originally planned. So far it’s working.

Change can succeed for you, too, if you understand what motivates and engages employees to commit to the company’s new strategic direction

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

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  1. An excellent article based on real experience. As an executive coach who has written on a similar topic, I was waiting to see whether or not you wrote about finding someone to supercharge your effort, and you did. You wrote: “We also learned that it was important to assign the best person for a task, not just someone who had the time or the right title.” This is the most essential aspect of change management. Terrific article.

    1. Thanks Frank! No one lives in a vacuum and we are influenced by others that either encourage or discourage our behaviors. It is critical to find the opinion leaders in your organization. Most often, they aren’t the boss! They’re the individuals who everyone listens to when they talk. They know ‘how it really is here’ and ‘when to listen to a new directive and when it’s ok to ignore it.’ They have respect of co-workers, peers and leaders. Using the influence of these opinion leaders in your change effort will increase your success rate by enlisting the power of those who motivate.


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