Will Anyone Join Your Revolution?

Margaret Mead once said, “The only person who likes change is a wet baby”, to which Hunter Lovins added “and the baby squalls all the way through the process.” So change is never easy, especially on the big issues of sustainability. In thinking about this, I have found Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher’s Formula for Change rather useful: D x V x F > R. This means that three factors must be present for meaningful organisational change to take place. These factors are:

D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now

V = Vision of what is possible

F = First concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision.

If the product of these three factors is greater than R (Resistance), then change is possible. I have seen sustainability change efforts fail for all four reasons. Deep-seated resistance often exists because the benefits of the status quo to those in power are considerable. Sustainability initiatives, especially if they are integrated into the core business, are often seen as extra burden. For instance, an operations manager of a plant really doesn’t want the extra hassle of collecting emissions data for a sustainability report, or subjecting his staff and facilities to an audit.

Another way to think of change in a structured way is Peter Senge’s concept of the learning organisation, popularised in his book The Fifth Discipline. He described the five interrelated disciplines as follows: “Systems thinking needs the disciplines of building shared vision, mental models, and personal mastery to realise its potential. Building shared vision fosters a commitment to the long term. Mental models focus on the openness needed to unearth shortcomings in our present ways of seeing the world. Team learning develops the skills of groups of people to look for the larger picture that lies beyond individual perspectives. And personal mastery fosters the personal motivation to continually learn how our actions affect our world.”

Peter Senge

In a follow-up book, Learning for Sustainability, Senge, together with co-authors from the Society for Organisational Learning, apply the fifth discipline model to sustainability. In particular, they emphasise connecting the inner and outer work that needs to be done: “Connecting the inner changes in how we manage and lead with the outer effects our organisations have on larger systems; connecting the inner changes in mental models and personal visions with the outer changes in management culture; and connecting the inner changes in who we are as human beings with how we act and interact.”

In seeking to create change for sustainability, Senge and his colleagues once again emphasise the interconnected nature of all change processes, and the critical role of business: “There has never before been a time when the social, ecological and economic conditions that challenge political leaders in any one part of the world have been so interwoven with what is occurring in so many other places. This phenomenon has arisen through the ever-growing web of interconnectedness spun by institutions, especially multinational corporations. Collectively, these organisations determine what technologies are created and how they are applied around the world.”

Given the interconnectedness, the key to change, believes Senge, is collaboration. To illustrate his point at an MIT Sustainability Summit in 2010, Senge asked the question: What would it take to get rid of disposable cups? Who would have to work together to eliminate disposable cups? To make real headway on really tough sustainability issues is a “massive undertaking in collaboration”. What’s more, the parties that need to collaborate often aren’t naturally inclined to.

Senge concludes that “You’ve got to wake up and say ‘We’re all part of the system’. You know who is causing the destruction of species? You and me. You know who’s causing the huge waste problems around the world? You and me.” Once you become more open-minded to this possibility, then you can look for collaborative solutions. “Look for small steps of things you can do together with people with whom you traditionally would never have cooperated — and do something useful, no matter how small.”

An article by Wayne Visser for CSR international. Read the original version here.


Wayne Visser is the Founder and CEO of the thinktank CSR International and author/editor of such books as The Top 50 Sustainability Books and The World Guide to CSR. Find a link to his blog here.

Buy The Top 50 Sustainability Books direct from Greenleaf Publishing and receive a 30% discount. Use voucher code hdg546 at checkout.

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