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Practice Persuasion Techniques to Get Your Sustainability Effort Launched

The SSC Team May 24, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Hearing “no” can be demoralizing, especially when you’ve worked hard to build a program that may not only bolster the organization, but, in the case of sustainability, can often also result in meaningful progress on reducing environmental and social impact.

So, when you get a firm negative, how can you persuade the decision makers to change their minds? Disrupt their foundation of belief.

Psychologists have determined that our “strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts.”

If mind-changing were simple, one could present a single strong argument against a belief to disrupt the consistency of the network of concepts, but it’s obviously not that simple.

Individuals are able to hold inconsistent beliefs simultaneously, as well as disregard strong challenges to their beliefs simply by drawing on the network of concepts that has been built over time.

To truly change minds, one needs to attack the problem in multiple ways, simultaneously.

Develop counterarguments to their strongest positions

For example, if a decision-maker can’t see the value of investing resources in your sustainability effort, work to develop strong counterarguments to disrupt the foundation of their “no-ROI for sustainability” belief.   

Increase exposure to supporting evidence for the new belief

Your counterarguments should be consistent and frequent, such as case-studies of companies that implemented projects similar to the one you are proposing. Showcasing the positive results will continue to undermine the belief that your program “isn’t worth it” or “won’t work.”

Provide information from multiple sources

Deliver multiple bits of counter-evidence from a variety of sources that are both recognized as authoritative and respected by the decision-maker. Knowing that the decision-maker built his or her belief system through evidence, try and break down the belief further by presenting evidence from the same sources that he or she builds other belief systems from. Having evidence from a respected, trusted source helps further destabilize the belief.  

Address the emotional attachment

With strong counterarguments and solid evidence from trusted sources, the belief should be in a state of incoherence. But be cautious. It’s possible that the feeling of “being pushed in a corner” or a sense of being manipulated will cause a rebound from the boss where her or she doubles down on the original decision based on the discomfort of having a belief network shaken. Tread firmly, but don’t make it personal and don’t push too hard, too fast.

“What's key, at any rate, is to recognize that people's active resistance to efforts to change their mind doesn't mean that those efforts aren't working. Belief change is a war of attrition, not a search for the knock-down argument that gets someone to see things differently in one fell swoop,” said Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, Austin.

Have you heard “yes,” but can’t get the team to act? Are you struggling to be assertive in your role as a manager? We’re always looking for ways to apply smart management principles to the sustainability field. Do you have a recent article that caught your eye? Let us know in the comments.

 

Practice Persuasion Techniques to Get Your Sustainability Effort Launched

The SSC Team May 24, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Hearing “no” can be demoralizing, especially when you’ve worked hard to build a program that may not only bolster the organization, but, in the case of sustainability, can often also result in meaningful progress on reducing environmental and social impact.

So, when you get a firm negative, how can you persuade the decision makers to change their minds? Disrupt their foundation of belief.

Psychologists have determined that our “strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts.”

If mind-changing were simple, one could present a single strong argument against a belief to disrupt the consistency of the network of concepts, but it’s obviously not that simple.

Individuals are able to hold inconsistent beliefs simultaneously, as well as disregard strong challenges to their beliefs simply by drawing on the network of concepts that has been built over time.

To truly change minds, one needs to attack the problem in multiple ways, simultaneously.

Develop counterarguments to their strongest positions

For example, if a decision-maker can’t see the value of investing resources in your sustainability effort, work to develop strong counterarguments to disrupt the foundation of their “no-ROI for sustainability” belief.   

Increase exposure to supporting evidence for the new belief

Your counterarguments should be consistent and frequent, such as case-studies of companies that implemented projects similar to the one you are proposing. Showcasing the positive results will continue to undermine the belief that your program “isn’t worth it” or “won’t work.”

Provide information from multiple sources

Deliver multiple bits of counter-evidence from a variety of sources that are both recognized as authoritative and respected by the decision-maker. Knowing that the decision-maker built his or her belief system through evidence, try and break down the belief further by presenting evidence from the same sources that he or she builds other belief systems from. Having evidence from a respected, trusted source helps further destabilize the belief.  

Address the emotional attachment

With strong counterarguments and solid evidence from trusted sources, the belief should be in a state of incoherence. But be cautious. It’s possible that the feeling of “being pushed in a corner” or a sense of being manipulated will cause a rebound from the boss where her or she doubles down on the original decision based on the discomfort of having a belief network shaken. Tread firmly, but don’t make it personal and don’t push too hard, too fast.

“What's key, at any rate, is to recognize that people's active resistance to efforts to change their mind doesn't mean that those efforts aren't working. Belief change is a war of attrition, not a search for the knock-down argument that gets someone to see things differently in one fell swoop,” said Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, Austin.

Have you heard “yes,” but can’t get the team to act? Are you struggling to be assertive in your role as a manager? We’re always looking for ways to apply smart management principles to the sustainability field. Do you have a recent article that caught your eye? Let us know in the comments.

 

Don’t Insult Employees With Sustainability “Nudges”

The SSC Team May 19, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Just a few years ago, everyone seemed to have a signature block pleading for the trees – “Don’t print this e-mail for our planet” or “Think before printing this email.”

And then those tree-loving messages mostly disappeared.

Marketing and behavioral research may be indicating that “nudge” marketing, or deliberately manipulating choices to change behavior, may backfire.

Nudges can be condescending If your employees need to print a report, then they need to print the report. Using an email signature line to signal to one another that individuals aren’t capable or committed enough to make green choices without constant reminders can come off as condescending and put employees on the defensive about sustainability communications.

Even when nudges “work,” they may not achieve the ultimate goal To print or not to print, that isn’t the question. When the formerly ubiquitous email signature became popular, maybe companies did see a decrease in paper use for a time. But did the nudge truly make a difference over the long term? Was there a paper use policy in place to create lasting institutional behavioral change? Were employees motivated and engaged enough to carry the behavioral change over to their home lives or their next job? That’s sustainability. Nudge marketing is a blip in the radar.

Nudges may backfire! Imagine putting up a sign in the office restrooms over the paper towel dispenser (100% post-consumer recycled paper towels, mind you) that reads: “Remember: Paper towels were trees once.”

Although you’re trying to nudge employees into using less, thus landfilling less, you may immediately find that employees not only aren’t using less paper in the restrooms, but they’re also not participating in any other office sustainability efforts. What went wrong?

Look at the bigger picture. Employees may be infuriated that the air conditioning is still set at 60 degrees and the building lights are on all night, but “you want us to walk around with wet, clammy hands all day so you can save a few dollars on paper towels?”

Just stop nudging altogether in sustainability efforts. Don’t rely on a potentially condescending, ineffective tool to alienate employees. Instead, try educating employees, involving them in the process, and using motivational tools to create lasting change.

Have you seen workplace or marketing “nudges” that backfired? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

Don’t Insult Employees With Sustainability “Nudges”

The SSC Team May 19, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Just a few years ago, everyone seemed to have a signature block pleading for the trees – “Don’t print this e-mail for our planet” or “Think before printing this email.”

And then those tree-loving messages mostly disappeared.

Marketing and behavioral research may be indicating that “nudge” marketing, or deliberately manipulating choices to change behavior, may backfire.

Nudges can be condescending If your employees need to print a report, then they need to print the report. Using an email signature line to signal to one another that individuals aren’t capable or committed enough to make green choices without constant reminders can come off as condescending and put employees on the defensive about sustainability communications.

Even when nudges “work,” they may not achieve the ultimate goal To print or not to print, that isn’t the question. When the formerly ubiquitous email signature became popular, maybe companies did see a decrease in paper use for a time. But did the nudge truly make a difference over the long term? Was there a paper use policy in place to create lasting institutional behavioral change? Were employees motivated and engaged enough to carry the behavioral change over to their home lives or their next job? That’s sustainability. Nudge marketing is a blip in the radar.

Nudges may backfire! Imagine putting up a sign in the office restrooms over the paper towel dispenser (100% post-consumer recycled paper towels, mind you) that reads: “Remember: Paper towels were trees once.”

Although you’re trying to nudge employees into using less, thus landfilling less, you may immediately find that employees not only aren’t using less paper in the restrooms, but they’re also not participating in any other office sustainability efforts. What went wrong?

Look at the bigger picture. Employees may be infuriated that the air conditioning is still set at 60 degrees and the building lights are on all night, but “you want us to walk around with wet, clammy hands all day so you can save a few dollars on paper towels?”

Just stop nudging altogether in sustainability efforts. Don’t rely on a potentially condescending, ineffective tool to alienate employees. Instead, try educating employees, involving them in the process, and using motivational tools to create lasting change.

Have you seen workplace or marketing “nudges” that backfired? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

Motivate Your In-House Team to Meet Your Sustainability Goals

The SSC Team March 1, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Convincing employees to work hard and work well is a millennia-old management challenge. Hundreds of studies point to proven motivational tactics, such as goal setting, feedback, and incentives, but all of these tactics can (and will) backfire.

“Chances are that you (at least sometimes) are using the wrong tools under the wrong circumstances,” writes Juliana Schroeder, a behavioral economist and psychologist.

Using feedback effectively

  • Use positive feedback to enhance personal commitment. For example, if you’re ramping up the arduous data collection process that goes along with a complex, detailed life-cycle assessment, that’s when you want to use encouraging words. We can do this!
  • Use negative feedback when you’re nearing the finish line. So data collection starts off well with everyone ready to get going and get the project done, but you get into a lull midway as the engineers and logistics folks are tired of taking your calls, that’s when you might want to roll out some stern warnings about being a team player and calling your supervisor.

Goal Setting

“Typically, a shorter distance between you and your goal is more motivating than a longer one,” writes Schroeder. “It feels within reach, and it’s easier to feel that you’re making progress. This means people should set closer targets or sub-goals.”

Using the same example from above, don’t kick off your LCA talking about the mountains of data we shall climb, instead map out with a consultant who has experience with LCA reporting a reasonable set of milestones for data collection inside of various processes identified. And when you see a big knot to untangle, break it into smaller pieces and set goals based on achieving the sub-goals.

“Focusing on the least amount of distance—either from the start or from the end of your project— is more motivating,” said Schroeder.

This means, don’t look up when you’re at the bottom, and don’t look down when you’re at the top.

Focus on the middle stages

“Research has found that people are more likely to slack off or behave unethically around the middle of a project,” said Schroeder.

Take this into consideration when project planning. If your team can quickly identify what the onerous parts of the job will be, and take on those early wince folks will still be motivated to perform well. In the middle, focus on the low-hanging fruit, like collecting the utility or transportation data or info you can get from third party vendors. If big obstacles pop up in the middle, try and work around them and save them to the end to tap into the motivation folks feel right as a project is wrapping up.

Incentives

If your company has the structure to provide incentives, don’t hesitate to use them. But don't go overboard.

“People will work harder for incentives they can get sooner—even if they are smaller than those they would get after waiting longer. The lesson here is simple: To motivate people, use immediate incentives,” said Schroeder.

If a team has a goal, structure small incentives for the manager or team member that help validate the hard work put in. Consider an extra day off for completing the work on time or a group luncheon after every major milestone.

“People also seem to value intrinsic incentives more when they are in the middle of pursuing a goal than when they have not yet started,” said Schroeder.

When working on sustainability projects, help frame the work in terms of the intrinsic benefits to the team members, to the company, and to company strategy focused on reducing environmental impact. Ideally this will already be a part of the company’s strategic plan, but capitalize on the feeling that employees have when they can take pride in working on a project that goes beyond the bottom line.

Selecting motivational tools can be complicated, especially keeping them fresh and appealing to meet the changing needs of employees. But, if you haven’t yet taken a strategic look at motivation, now is a great time to start.

Need to launch a life-cycle assessment or carbon footprint in 2016? We can guide you through the process and help keep your team motivated along the way.

 

Are You Giving Your Employees Too Many Green Choices?

The SSC Team February 4, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

You might think that it's helpful to provide employees with dozens of tips to help them green their home and work. But some new research about decision-making suggests that offering fewer choices may be the better option. 

In a recent Fast Company article, Your Choice Of Paper Towels Shouldn't Cause An Existential Crisis, author Patrick Kayser recounts his personal story of having too many choices of paper towels at the supermarket. His research has uncovered some interesting findings about how people make decisions:

Barry Schwartz, in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why Less Is More, maintains that too much choice can lead to the paralysis of decision making. He cites a study where the more options employees had in choosing their 401k plan, the less likely they were to actually make a choice--often leaving up to $5,000 of free company matching on the table. 

Now apply that thinking to your sustainability program--and specifically to initiatives in which you encourage employee engagement. Is it possible that people are feeling overwhelmed by the options and instead choose to do nothing? What would happen if you narrowed down the sustainability-related programs to the top three company priorities, and asked people to join one? 

Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, conducted a study featuring free samples of jam in a supermarket. Every few hours, she would switch her offering of jam from 6 samples to 24. 60% of all visitors were drawn to the larger assortment of jams, but they were significantly less likely to actually purchase jam. Iyengar’s study found that only 3% of people who visited the larger assortment of jams bought a bottle--whereas 30% of visitors to the smaller assortment ended up making a purchase. 

We've actually written about this study before, and what it means for green programs at work. Essentially, the more specific you can be in focusing your sustainability priorities, the more likely it is that you'll get employee participation. And by focusing on fewer programs, you'll have more time and resources to take those programs to the next level.

Schwartz goes on to paint an even bleaker picture for marketers. He holds that the abundance of choice causes us to dislike whatever it is we do end up choosing because of the opportunity cost associated with the other options. So, if we can break through the paralysis that too much choice presents us and actually buy something, there is a good chance we won’t like whatever it is we bought because we’ll be dreaming about how great the other options could have been? 

Ack! You don't want employees feeling disappointed with their green decisions, or wondering if they should have chosen something better. (Notice we are carefully avoiding any reference to the grass being "greener" on the other side). Instead, reduce your employee-led sustainability programs and make sure that you do a terrific job at capturing each one's winning stories, awesome metrics, and audacious goals. You'll make it easier to demonstrate the value of each program, and keep employees motivated to do more. 

Did you like this article? Follow SSC President Jennifer Woofter on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter), where she tweets about employee engagement strategies that work for sustainability-minded companies. Want a more meaty bite on the topic? Download our white paper on Engaging Employees in the Company's Sustainability.

How to earn respect as a sustainability leader

The SSC Team December 10, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

When trying to lead a sustainability program from the inside, you may find that getting internal buy-in from your peers, managers and executives is the toughest part of the job. This is especially true when sustainability and CSR don’t get a lot of respect as a corporate priority.

Consider the situation from nay-sayers perspectives, though, and you can begin to see why sustainability (and you) aren’t favorites at work:

  • The CFO may be thinking: why was sustainability “forced” on my, and why does it always seem to be spending more money than it saves?
  • The COO may be thinking: have CSR programs really delivered anything meaningful to the company, or is it just a feel-good initiative that’s taking people away from their “real” jobs?
  • Department heads may be thinking: Do sustainability people do anything except for harp about recycling all the time?
  • The Director of Communications may be thinking: I just want to tell a good story. Why do the sustainability managers always want to bring up our weaknesses?

The industry, the corporate culture, the history of the company’s performance, the physical location, and many other factors may contribute to how your co-workers, subordinates, and leadership view the role of the sustainability leader.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, a security software company, gives some solid advice about earning respect inside a corporate culture.

Sustainability leaders may want to pay special attention to Whitehurst’s advice.

  • Show passion for the purpose of your organization and constantly drive interest in it. Even though you may have a TON of ideas on how your company can quickly change and make significant environmental gains, you should frame those ideas and the positive change they can create in language that speaks to the purpose of the organization itself. If internal stakeholders see sustainability programs as strengthening the business as a whole, and not just some ancillary reporting department, they will begin to respect sustainability’s role in the organization.
  • Demonstrate confidence. You may be asking employees who are not under your direct supervision to make changes to purchasing habits, reporting protocols, and behavior. You need to ask them with respect and confidence. Conveying confidence for a program that is supported up the chain-of-command will help establish you – and the programs you are implementing – will encourage others to follow your lead.
  • Engage your people. One of the biggest complaints about sustainability may stem from the top-down approach to change. Of course, you’re gathering the data, interpreting the reports, and making recommendations – but those who have to change because of a recommendation may come to see your role as an arbitrary rule imposer. As you look at programs and policies that affect department function or employee behavior, ask for input, ideas, and thoughts about how to implement change. You may get some great ideas from unexpected places.
  • Don’t be a know-it-all. You may know a bit about sustainability, but you probably don’t know a lot about the detailed work of the different functional areas in your company. By showing passion for shared company goals and values, being confident in your own role, and engaging people in different areas of the company, you will begin to build a positive reputation. But, you may also misstep. By “owning up” as Whitehurst says, you should frankly address when something doesn’t go as planned and help the team build a work-around together.

Managing sustainability is a difficult role in many corporate systems as sustainability is not a supervisory, but more of an advisory, department. This makes it even more important to earn respect with internal stakeholders. By doing so, you will really see the full effects of sustainability programs and help integrate sustainability into the fabric of the company’s culture.

Working on a tough sustainability project where internal stakeholders are pushing back? Let us know in the comments.

Put your office paper use policy down, on paper

The SSC Team November 19, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Paper is arguably one of the most important physical invention in human history. (People keep claiming “printing press,” but seriously. That’s like“car” without “wheel.”)

For all its importance, paper is capable of doing some major damage to wetlands, oceans, and forests.

According to New Leaf Paper’s recently released Life Cycle Analysis, recycled paper has a climate impact 100 times lower than virgin paper.

Recycled paper uses 75 percent less water, has no impacts on rivers or wetlands from recurring logging of large forests, and avoids the harvesting of multiple forest types.

The obvious solutions

Solve incrementally, not drastically

Making the decision to cut 40% of an organization’s paper use or increase budgets for paper by 40% probably won’t work. Instead, make it a change management effort.

Employees, department heads, and company management all need to understand the effort, be given clear direction, milestones, and goals, and feel that they are making a difference.

Here’s a sample of how you can manage the transition to using less paper: 

  • Ensure employees fully understand why you’re focusing on paper (Save the forests! Save the ocean!)
  • Ensure employees understand how much paper they’ve used in the last measurable period (A mini-paper audit, perhaps?)
  • Give department managers a monthly “paper budget” and not an all-access pass to the copy room (It’s easier to “run out of paper” at the end of each 30 days, and “get by,” than it is to conceptualize what a year’s supply of paper means. Learning to ration over time is more successful.).
  • Give each department a paper reduction goal
  • Reward and support employee efforts to reduce printing and keep costs down (money saved through paper reduction can be donated to a conservation organization).

The case for reducing paper consumption and changing the purchasing behavior is similar to all change management projects. Communicate, collect data, create an action plan with goals, and measure your success.

For help developing sustainability strategies for your organization, contact us! 

How to Get Your Company Moving Towards Sustainability

The SSC Team July 9, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably have noticed that “sustainability” is one of the biggest buzzwords today, especially within companies. Everyone is trying to be the most sustainable or have the best sustainability initiatives or be the most innovative. But what are you to do if you notice your company is lagging behind? Just ask. Thomas Smale, whose article “7 Reasons Why 'Just Ask' Is the Best Negotiation Tactic” was published on the Entrepreneur website, discusses how asking a direct question can lead you to effective negotiation. Keeping Smale’s points in mind, we added a little sustainability twist to help your company move towards sustainability.

1. Get a firm “yes” or “no”

Start by asking a direct question. “Has our company ever been involved in sustainability?” “Is sustainability something important to the company?” Get a feel for the climate and begin to lay your groundwork.

2. Provide information

When talking with your boss about sustainability, come prepared. Maybe you want to start small and implement office recycling. Research the cost, benefits, implementation time, etc. so when you talk to your boss, you can paint a better picture to allow them to understand every aspect of your request.

3. Get the negotiation back on track

Every conversation and negotiation can get off track. If you notice that happening, ask a more personal question related to sustainability, such as, “Do you have any concerns about having a sustainability strategy in the office?”

4. Gather missing information

You’ve done research on your end, and you’re ready to talk to your boss about sustainability. But even the most prepared people don’t have all of the information. By asking direct questions, you can start to fill in gaps on why sustainability isn’t a big priority in the office.

5. Get other people involved in the discussion

By asking a question, you’ve now cornered your boss into having a conversation about sustainability. From there, they might know other people who are interested in the topic as well. If you don’t ignite the conversation, you might now know where it could lead!

6. Come to a firm agreement

The right questions can lead you to a firm agreement. Find out if there are any resources that will allow you begin small sustainability-related projects around the office or see if you can present this topic to more people in a few weeks. Looking for ways to become a better sustainability consultant? Check out our blog post that talks about 8 steps to improving as a sustainability consultant!

Moving Beyond Cultural Competency to Equity Literacy

The SSC Team May 14, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Take a look at the people that make up your workplace. How diverse is the group? Are they inclusive people? How do they react when someone displays a certain bias? All of these aspects are important to any workplace, because not only can these signs be indicative of a business’s reputation, but it can also monitor the success of how well everyone within the organization works together. To help bring all of this to light, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities and Opportunity Lynchburg hosted a workshop to show examples of how to move beyond basic cultural competency in the workplace. By the end of the session, everyone walked out of the room equipped to help take their organization to the next level of equity literacy. It’s first important to note the difference in what separates cultural competence from equity literacy:
  • Cultural Competence – you are able to get along, understand, and interact with those from other cultures and socio-economic backgrounds; your actions are rooted within your best interest
  • Cultural Proficiency – you move beyond yourself and you have a deeper knowledge and grasp of those different cultures and backgrounds that surround you; your actions are not as self-serving
  • Equity Literacy – you dig below the surface to understand where the cultural differences stem from and take action to fix injustices; your actions indicate that you want to better the problem, because that is the right thing to do and not just for yourself
So how does one go from cultural competence to cultural proficiency to equity literacy in the workplace? Here are a few steps to help get you started in the right direction:
  1. Recognize biases and inequities as they come up; start to look for the ones that are subtle
  2. Respond to the biases and inequities when they are said; don't be afraid to point them out
  3. Redress the biases and inequities in the long term; acknowledge there is a problem and don't sweep it under the rug
  4. Create and Sustain a bias-free and equitable learning environment
Remember, this process takes time, and no one is going to achieve equity literacy overnight (as much as we would like to think that’s true…). Rather it’s a stepping stone to get you to the ultimate goal of equity literacy. Last fall SSC attended a workshop that focused on the business case for diversity. Read about it here.