Martin Schwaller is the Proprietor of Heed, skincare for heads. Previously Energy and Sustainability Manager at Mitchells and Butlers
Who is it that wants to be a part of a “behavioural change program”? Not me. A lab rat maybe. How about some “employee engagement”? That sounds great, doesn’t it? “Engaging with employees”…. like engaging with the enemy!
It may be that we do get some behavioural change by driving our change program, perhaps a desirable outcome and a strategic objective achieved, but probably not.
People are people and that’s all they can be. I know many that are sick and tired of going through yet another change management initiative. Without change there would be no change for sure, but how about we don’t change if that change would only actually do nothing to improve things? Just mess everyone around a bit.
My 96-year-old mother in law said to me on hearing about another change strategy happening in my workplace, “Change? I abhor change, even change for the better” and I sort of know what she means. How often looking back at any change program do we honestly believe that people truly did change and they actually now do anything different at all? Better to have concentrated on the good aspects of what goes on and evolve or squeeze out the bad and the poor practices in a way that people hardly even notice.
Take getting carbon reduction, energy saving, minimising our environmental impact systemic within an organisation through our beloved behavioural change program. All too often we depend on trying to establish a change program that people simply don’t feel comfortable with, or at least feel as though it may be desirable but there are far too many things to do first.
The CSR manager, the energy manager, the carbon manager all have a desperate job of balancing advisory and capacity building work on the one hand and watchdog work on the other. Truth is, many company directors, finance directors and indeed many company staff at all levels are particularly hostile to the concept of sustainable development and dogmatically defend the model of consumption-driven economic growth, regardless of the costs that growth generates.
With tough economic times come tough decisions and matters like “sustainable development” become no more than environmentalism by another name. Climate change and policies to alleviate it increasingly are seen as distractions and a waste of time, money or both. Scepticism and denial take over. Climate change commentators keep their heads down, sustainability can only be presented as a cost-saving and it better be pretty significant.
Here now are the tough times and organisations look to sort through their data on a “confirmation basis” – the tendency to look for and find confirmatory evidence for pre-existing beliefs and ignore or dismiss the rest. Minimising environmental impact as a desirable outcome is relegated to the bottom division and can only be muttered quietly for fear of being mocked.
But wait. What about all those people whose behaviour we were trying to change? How did they all get ignored once the money got tight? It is in people that we have hope and in hope, we have a way forward. People love to be involved and considered. Here are the change ways to make good lasting change that can happen imperceptivity; talking, discussing, airing views and opinions. Giving arguments proper scrutiny to see how they stand up. Examining the evidence and considering its interpretation. Bringing it all out into the light, sharing it and listening to how people respond and want to be a part of it. Share it, develop it, maintain the good bits, chuck out the bad. Talk by the water cooler, speak up in the meeting, ask what they all think and listen to what they say. Do all that and guess what? Change happened and behaviours improved and you didn’t even know it.
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