The Wheel of Change Toward Sustainability

As the climate movement grows, successful organizational change will require clarity on two questions: What are we striving to achieve? and What is our theory of success?

Change agents are often not clear about what they want to achieve. Is the goal to simply improve energy efficiency, or is it to redesign processes, products, or services and dramatically reduce and eliminate greenhouse gases? An old saying summarizes this dilemma: 'Any path will get you there if you don't know where you are going." Without clarity of purpose, organizational members often get confused and invest time, money, and resources on dead ends or counterproductive paths.

Similarly, a theory of success is vital to determining how to achieve the purpose. A theory of success allows change agents to plan, monitor, and assess progress. Organizations that struggle when engaging in major change usually do not have a theory of success, or, if one exists, it is based on fundamental misperceptions about how their social systems function. Without clarity of purpose and a coherent theory of success, organizations often end up pursuing a scattered array of disconnected activities and projects that produce little meaningful change and often frustrate or depress members.

In this section, a set of interconnected interventions that can foster fundamental organizational transformation is presented. With an understanding of this wheel of change, leaders of the climate movement can accelerate the transition to a clean-energy economy. Although these interventions are described step by step, it is critical that you understand that organizational change is not linear. It's messy. In chapter 3, Mary Lou Finley cautioned that the climate movement will involve fits and starts, progress and reversals. The same will be true for the organizational change that will be required within this movement.

Figure 12.2: The wheel of change toward sustainability.

Figure 12.2: The wheel of change toward sustainability.

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It is possible to start the change process anywhere on the wheel of change (figure 12.2). For example, leaders of a university may begin by increasing the inflow and dissemination of information about the likely socioeconomic and environmental effects of climate change. Once students, staff, and faculty have become educated about the global dimensions of the problem and risks to the organization, teams may then be formed to craft a vision of success and develop a climate protection strategy. At a Fortune 500 company, change efforts may begin with senior executives announcing their intent for their organization to become climate friendly and then instituting most of the interventions in sequence. No matter where change begins, however, eventually each of the seven interventions must be sufficiently addressed for the wheel of change to roll forward successfully. Any especially weak intervention will produce a flat spot on the wheel and cause the change effort to, say, go off the road.

Intervention 1: Change the dominant organizational mind-set through the imperative of becoming climate friendly.

As the Interface, Inc., example points out, the greatest leverage point for transforming a social system is to change the dominant controlling thinking, beliefs, and assumptions or mental mind-set that created and supports the current fossil-fuel-dependent system. Disrupting an organization's controlling mental paradigm is the most important step toward operating in a climate-friendly manner. Little meaningful change will occur if this step is unsuccessful.

If you can alter the dominant mental paradigm of an organization, you can change the entire way the organization is governed and operates. How do you change the controlling mind-set? You must acknowledge the benefits that traditional thinking and beliefs historically have provided. You can point out the risks that the old mental paradigm now poses to the organization and workers, and clearly and repeatedly describe how new, climate-friendly thinking and beliefs are better for everyone.

An enlightened leader in a small organization can sometimes alter the controlling mind-set by simply talking with other senior executives, employees, and stakeholders. Most organizations, however, seem to require a major top-to-bottom effort led by senior executives or a major crisis to spur action. In the vast majority of cases, a relentless and compelling message is required to make the case that safety from the financial consequences of carbon caps, social protest, financial losses, customer defection, or environmental crisis can be achieved only by adopting new climate-friendly thinking, behaviors, and practices.

Intervention 2: Rearrange the parts by organizing climate protection teams.

Once business-as-usual thinking has been shattered, the next step is to rearrange the parts of the current system. Recall that the way the parts of a system are arranged shapes how it functions. If you can reconstitute some of the core elements of an organization, you can change how it operates. Rearranging the parts means involving individuals representing the whole system of the organization in climate protection planning and implementation.

Because planners and decision makers often surround themselves with like-minded people and consequently handle problems in the same way time after time, involving people from every function, department, and level of the organization—and possibly even key external stakeholders—in clean-energy planning and implementation is important. Changing the composition of decision-making groups elicits new ideas and fresh perspectives. Different people often identify problems and generate solutions one group could not see because it was unconstrained by the norms and values of the old team.

The organization of climate protection transition teams is one of the most effective ways to rearrange the parts and get the whole system involved. These teams can be charged with crafting the vision, goals, strategies, and implementation plans for the shift to climate protection. Over time, as clean-energy planning becomes part of the everyday fabric of the organization, the makeup and purpose of the teams are likely to shift. The most important step each team must take is to get clear about what it is striving to achieve, about the role each team members will play, and about the rules to follow in accomplishing the mission.

Interface, Inc., involved many people from throughout the company in its process of designing its Cool Carpet program. This move was critical to the company's success, according to Interface's Hay, who led the effort.4

Intervention 3: Change goals by crafting an ideal vision and guiding principles of climate protection.

The next leverage point for transforming an organization into a climate-friendly entity is to alter its goals. If you change the goals, different types of decisions and outcomes will result. Goals that ignore or give minimal attention to the need for clean energy will lead to thinking and decisions that generate harmful outcomes, whereas goals aimed at reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to responsible choices and governance patterns.

How do you change the goals? You establish the unambiguous purpose of reducing greenhouse gases to specific levels and becoming climate friendly at a specific time in the future. One of the best ways for transition teams to develop new goals is to use "ends planning," or "backward thinking." This strategy involves envisioning how an organization will look and function as a climate-friendly entity in five, ten, or twenty years. The cli mate-friendly vision becomes the new goal. Because compelling visions are felt in the heart and understood in the mind, it is best to describe the vision in a way that engages people emotionally as well as intellectually.

Once the vision is crafted, organizations can adopt first-order principles that support the vision and provide a road map for decision making. For example, a principle can be adopted stating that renewable energy will be the first choice for any new energy or transportation decisions whenever feasible.

Intervention 4: Restructure the rules of engagement by adopting source-based, climate-friendly strategies.

After a compelling case for change has been made, people are sufficiently motivated to participate on transition teams meaningfully, and the teams have adopted clear purposes and guiding principles, the next greatest intervention for change is altering the rules that determine how work gets done. Power over how work gets done is real power. If you change the rules that determine how the various units of an organization interact to achieve their purpose and how information is produced and shared, decisions made and enforced, and resources are distributed to support the new workflow, very different types of outcomes will result. How do you change the rules of engagement? You have transition teams develop new operational and governance strategies, tactics, and implementation plans.

To do so, four questions must be answered.

1. How do we affect the climate now? To respond, baseline data describing where and how the organization's processes, products, or services currently affect the atmosphere are needed.

2: How do we want to affect the climate in the future? The answer to this question involves adopting clear goals and targets that clarify when and how the organization expects to achieve climate-friendly milestones.

3. How do we get there? This step requires the adoption of new operational and governance strategies and tactics for achieving the goals and targets.

4. How do we measure progress? Credible indicators and measurement systems are needed to assess progress toward the goals so that adjustments can be made as needed.

Interface, Inc., used life cycle assessment software to calculate the total carbon dioxide emissions from its carpet, including the extraction and processing of the raw materials, internal manufacturing and transportation, sales and administration functions, product installation and maintenance, and ultimate return and reuse. The emission reduction credits used for the Cool Carpet program were then secured from a variety of sources. Some come from its supply-chain partners, others come from companies that sell carbon credits. Through continuous improvements in energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, and biomass power, Interface has reduced its total greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent since 1996.

Intervention 5: Shift information flows by tirelessly communicating the need, vision, and strategies for achieving climate protection.

The information that is available to people shapes their understanding and their ability to make good decisions. Even when all other interventions have been successful, progress will stall without consistent exchange of clear information about what global warming is, how it may affect an organization and workers, what the organization can do to reduce its risks, and the benefits of making the transition to clean energy. The more that climate-related information becomes dominant throughout an organization, the more likely people are to grasp its meaning and commit to change.

Therefore, the next greatest leverage point for change is a constant exchange of information about the need for the climate protection initiative and its purpose, strategies, and benefits. How do you change the information flows? You tirelessly communicate the need, purpose, strategies, and benefits of climate protection internally with employees and externally among stakeholders.

Focus groups and other research completed on climate change communication suggest that many people do not understand the problem or what can be done about it. Systems blindness is part of the problem. The mental framework many people hold makes it hard to grasp the lag time between the emission of greenhouse gases and its effects. The lack of scientific certainty about how climate change will play out is another issue, which has been made more problematic by vested interests that use scientific uncertainty to confuse people into doubting the science of global warming. To overcome these issues, it is important to clearly and constantly describe what global warming is, to repeat that by working together the problem can be solved, and to simultaneously provide concrete examples of what the organization as a whole, and employees and stakeholders personally, can do to address the problem. (For more guidance in this process, see chapter 5.)

Intervention 6: Correct feedback loops by encouraging and rewarding climate protection learning and innovation.

Even with compelling visions of a climate-friendly organization, sound guiding principles, and excellent strategies and communication, obstacles to greenhouse gas reductions and the adoption of clean energy will surface. To overcome the barriers to change, the organization must alter its learning mechanisms and feedback systems so that employees and stakeholders are continually expanding their skills, knowledge, and understanding of climate change and protection. Constant learning and feedback allow people to understand the effects of their choices and actions and to make appropriate adjustments. The lack of consistent and credible learning and feedback systems leads to poor understanding and thus to flawed decisions.

How do you change feedback and learning mechanisms? The key is to foster and reward continual individual, team, and organizational learning. The adoption of new learning mechanisms leads to wholesale changes of traditional feedback systems that are oriented toward maintaining the status quo.

Intervention 7: Adjust organizational parameters by aligning systems and structures with climate protection.

Once a climate protection change initiative has progressed and new ways of thinking, beliefs, and behaviors have emerged, the approach must become embedded in the parameters of organization. In the organizational context, changing the parameters means aligning key systems and structures with climate protection. For example, performance on climate protection must become a core element of employee performance evaluations, hiring, promotion, succession planning processes, incentive and internal measurement systems, and other mechanisms that influence the behavior of employees and stakeholders. A set of consistent and mutually reinforcing signals must continually bombard employees and stakeholders until it is impossible not to think or behave in ways that are consistent with a clean-energy future.

Although many organizations start change efforts by altering internal policies, by itself that is the least effective intervention. If the old ways of thinking and belief systems remain intact, changing internal policies will have very little effect on decision making or behavior. People will find a way around. When linked with the other six interventions, however, adjusting the parameters can help embed climate protection in the organization's standard operating procedures and culture.

Changing policies is generally the last step in the change process. Change, though, should never actually end at this stage. Becoming a climate-friendly organization is a long-term iterative process. The wheel of change must continually roll forward. As new knowledge is generated and employees gain increased know-how and skills, new ways of thinking and acting will need to be incorporated in the way the organization thinks and does business.

Organizational change is difficult under most conditions. The climate crisis poses a special challenge because resolving it will require a major paradigm shift that will involve everything from the type and amount of energy we use to our transportation patterns, use of plastics and products based on fossil fuels, agriculture, forestry, other natural resource practices, and waste-disposal methods.

After years of studying organizations, I have come to believe that people and organizations move in the directions of their thoughts. Our images of the future guide our actions and achievements. Therefore, keep focused on what you want your organizations to achieve, not on the obstacles. By focusing on your goals, you and your organization will achieve success.


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