It's almost a year since my Green Jujitsu book was published by DoSustainability. As regular readers will know, Green Jujitsu is the concept of aligning 'green' to your company culture, working to its strengths rather than trying to correct 'weaknesses'. So in an engineering company, you ditch the poor-polar-bear guilt trip and present sustainability as an engineering problem - and challenge employees to develop solutions because that's what they know and love.
Since publication, I've been using Green Jujitsu at many of the UK's biggest organisations both in the public and the private sector. Every time I do an engagement, I refine the techniques a little more and one that has emerged is segmentation.
For some organisations, you can assume that culture is fairly homogenous, but in others there are quite distinct job roles which will employ quite different people. For example, when working with one of the country's leading scientific organisations, we realised that there was a gulf in culture between scientific staff and support staff such as security and cleaners. The scientists wanted evidence for any statement to the extent that some divisions would provide them with, say, raw energy consumption data and let them do their own statistical analysis on it! It was the only way to keep them happy.
Like most of the rest of us, the typical security guard wouldn't have the time, resources or, frankly, inclination to go to these lengths. The security sector tends to be much more rule-based in culture, so the guards will want clear guidance on, say, what equipment and lights can and should be switched off overnight and what needs to be left on.
Clearly what is a turn on for one job role is a turn off for the other. The answer, then, is segmentation. In the same way that marketeers and political psephologists divide society into different segments, a diverse organisation should brainstorm the different audiences and apply Green Jujitsu to each one. So the eggheads get their data and the guards get the 'switch off' guidance embedded into their procedures.
One word of warning: while tailoring the message to each segment is essential, it is important not to stereotype employees in a crude or restrictive way. The insights and suggestions from those on the front line such as security guards are just as useful, if not more so, than those from academic backgrounds, so make sure you engage properly with everyone.
In my experience this kind of anger often occurs with 'green champions' and other volunteers frustrated that their colleagues 'just don't get it'. "I think we need to shock them into listening!" said one very passionate young lady to me during a workshop. She was quite surprised when I said "Really?"
The problem is that such self-righteous anger rarely if ever makes a difference, saps your energy and can drive a wedge between the 'greenies' and other employees. I deliberately parodied the ineffectiveness of anger in The Art of Green Jujitsu (below) - trying to get a Basil-Fawlty-beating-up-his-car vibe going with the protagonist Barry Greene, while his colleagues get on with their jobs around him. It's only when Barry calms down and starts thinking that he starts bringing them on board.
I'll leave the last words to Mark Twain:
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
On Wednesday's Winning Business for Small Environmental Consultancies webinar, I was asked whether all my consulting engagements involved workshops. And the answer is, yes, the vast majority of them.
I used to do what I now refer to as 'clipboard consulting' where I would tour the client's facilities, interview key people, do some sums, write a report and present it to the client. The problem was what happened next - usually nothing, the report gathering dust on a shelf marked "someday". A cynic would say "That's their problem, you can lead a horse to water etc, etc. Take the cheque and go home."
But I care passionately about making a difference - that's why I got into this business, not for the money. Making a decent living out of it allows me to make a difference while supporting my family.
Making a difference means ensuring my clients have enough skin in the game to act on the results of my engagement, avoiding 'not invented here syndrome'. The workshop is a way of making sure the client is bought into the results - because the results are based on their employees' views, filtered through my experience and opinion.
I'll give the example of a recent client engagement - I was originally asked to give a talk on employee engagement, but I persuaded them a workshop would give better value. We ran the half day workshop and got so much out of it, it has formed the basis of their sustainability action plan for the next two years. If I was clipboard consulting, I would only have been starting to get my head around the business in the same timeframe.
To me, the sustainability workshop is the epitome of true employee engagement and, done properly, harnesses the intellect and knowledge of the workforce to give you a veritable smorgasbord of ideas while identifying key 'pinch points' that need fixing.
The popular sustainability website 2degrees occasionally reposts blogs from here. One, on using Green Jujitsu to deal with climate sceptics, really rubbed an academic up the wrong way. He raised a good point - whether reframing arguments to help you 'win' is ethical - but he couched it language ranging from snidey barbs to vitriolic insults, so it was impossible to debate with him on a rational basis. After a couple of attempts, I refused to indulge him, he got seriously nasty, and 2degrees removed his contributions for breaching their guidelines.
But now in the peace of a blog post, I can consider his point calmly. Is Green Jujitsu unethical? Is reframing arguments to match the interests of your audience respectful or disrespectful? When does persuasion become manipulation?
My view is that sustainability is too important and difficult a subject to waste time handwringing or pussyfooting around - we need to be skilled in the arts of persuasion. On the other hand, I think the Machiavellian dictum "the end justifies the means" is dangerous on both an ethical and practical level as it opens the door for all sorts of unintended consequences and takes you onto a slippery ethical slope. Anakin Skywalker thought he was doing the right thing but ended up as Darth Vader, after all.
Seriously, though, Green Jujitsu is essentially about framing sustainability in a way that makes it appealing to the audience. Any topic can be seen through a number of mental 'frames' or viewpoints, each of which reduces the bandwidth of information to make the subject comprehensible to us. So we can look at sustainability through an ethical frame, an economic frame, a technological frame, a social frame, a scientific frame, a selfish frame, an altruistic frame, a business opportunity frame etc, etc. Sustainability remains sustainability, it's just the perspective that changes.
My accuser's position assumes that his worldview (science) is the correct one and he can teach people to adopt it by correcting their 'misconceptions' through dialogue. To him that approach is open and honest, to me it is arrogant - I'm right, you're wrong - and impractical - tell people they're wrong and the natural reflex is "no I'm bloody well not!"
I would argue it requires humility to set aside our own default frame for sustainability and consider somebody else's worldview instead. Green Jujitsu acknowledges that others' values are almost certainly different from our own but are just as valid. It's about finding common ground between their worldview and sustainability and using that as a starting point for engagement, getting off on the right foot.
Regular readers will know that I get bemused by the amount of anger on t'internet, especially when it comes to sustainability issues. The killer question is, does anger do any good? I mean, it might make us feel better in ourselves - let out that frustration - but does it help or hinder us in reaching our goal?
When I was storyboarding The Art of Green Jujitsu (above), I made anger a theme of the first half of the story when our protagonist Barry Greene is failing to bring people on board. He blames them, and just tries to shout louder at them via posters and instructions when they don't take any notice. This kind of passive-aggressive anger does no good whatsoever, creating a gulf between you and your colleagues and at worst it can spill into self-righteousness which is fatal.
The lightbulb moment in the animation is a moment of humility. The humility to realise that what you believe isn't important, but what your colleagues believe is. Humility is the essence of Green Jujitsu and I don't think you can do humility when you're angry.
When I originally came up with the concept of "Green Jujitsu", it was in the context of 'dealing with difficult people' in The Green Executive. Difficult people from a sustainability practitioner's point of view are those who reject the whole idea that man is having a negative impact on the planet.
Now the natural habitat of the climate sceptic is blogs and below the line comments on newspaper websites. And as long as they stay there, repeating their zombie arguments ad infinitum, they're not doing any harm.
But it can be a real nightmare if you get one in your organisation trying to obstruct your sustainability efforts, throwing half-remembered snippets of rubbish they've read about where the Romans grew their grapes into the conversation. As soon as you knock one argument down, they'll bring up another and another until they land on something you can't answer on the spot and then they'll triumphantly say "See?" You can't win.
So how do you deal with sceptics? The Green Jujitsu way is...
Get highly visible buy-in from the leadership - sceptics will have to feel very confident to go up against the CEO;
Design the process to get people involved in the development of the strategy - then lots of people will have a stake in the results and peer pressure will sweep sceptics along;
Ask people why (not whether) they think the business should take sustainability seriously - they end up selling it to themselves;
Ask sceptics directly for help if possible. If they're an accountant, ask for help on carbon accounting etc;
Choose your language to suit your audience. A sceptic may respond better to "risk management", "cost efficient" or "brand enhancement" than to "save the planet";
Don't try to explain climate change science to employees - you're just asking to get bogged down in "How come Mars is warming?" type nonsense;
Don't preach. Ever;
In your employee engagement, ask teams of people to think of ideas to green their area of business. This makes it directly relevant to their day job and resistant to "none of my business";
Create peer-pressure by running competitions between departments or teams;
Make sure everything (language, imagery, tone, process) is aligned to the prevailing culture in the organisation, so the sceptic can't denounce it as tree-hugging.
In my client engagements I have worked with a couple of thousand employees, but because I use Green Jujitsu I have only ever had a couple of sceptics try to cause trouble - and they failed to disrupt the process.
How many times have you sat through a sustainability presentation that consists of graph after graph, table of data after table of data. And then at the end the presenter says "OK, what are we going to do?" and you rouse yourself from your day dream and think "about what?"
I've long promoted storytelling as a way of making sustainability more enthralling than an avalanche of evidence. Most people who use storytelling use a simple little personal story, but the best use the classic narrative ark of the quest. Somebody like us is suddenly thrown into a challenge and they must change to meet it - just like Frodo in Lord of The Rings, the everyman who is suddenly tasked with saving the world. The best example is the late Ray Anderson of Interface who talked of the 'spear in his chest' which made him set off on 'Mission Zero'. I once saw him tell this story in person, calmly and politely with no histrionics, and it was riveting.
Of course I have been a bit naughty and set up a false choice in the title of this post, but it's a mistake many people make. Stories and narratives wrap us up into sustainability, but the hard facts must be there to underpin the story - substance to match the style.
This week is Climate Week - another of the plethora of weeks, days and hours dedicated to the planet - and it seems to have stimulated a spike in queries on forums for 'awareness' posters. And they've generated a slew of helpful replies pointing the way the 'the best' material.
Just one problem.
Generic awareness posters just don't work.
When was the last time you looked at a poster and decided there and then to change the way you live your life? If employee engagement was as simple as putting a poster up, we'd have saved the planet many years ago. I deliberately parodied the 'death by poster' approach in The Art of Green Jujitsu (above) for this very reason.
The requests for generic material, and the responses, show that too many sustainability practitioners are simply happy to follow the crowd. If there's one thing I have learnt over the years is that you have to put yourself in your colleagues' shoes (or in my case, my clients' employees' shoes) and build your engagement programme from that point of view.
They don't need a better poster. They need a better perspective.
The Art of Green Jujitsu animation has been going great guns - viewed by more than 750 people in just one week. I hinted last week that there was much more to the clip than may initially meet the eye, so here's my equivalent of Brodie's Notes:
1. Look and Feel
A lot of people have likened the animation to The Story of Stuff, but a stronger influence was Unilever's Value Chain animation with its subtle humour, simplistic figures and jaunty feel. Overall, I wanted to get the message across without beating people over the head, but by making them laugh instead - classic Green Jujitsu. This was brilliantly realised by the animator, Matt Shaw of Pixel House Media.
2. Opening Scenes
Our protagonist, whom I have since christened Barry Greene, is outside and not part of the team. He cannot understand why the busy team of brain-boxes would leave all their lights on when they leave the room and tries to change their behaviour with a 'switch it off' sticker. When this is ignored he gets piqued and makes a bigger sticker which gets ignored again - he gets quite angry. This, sadly, is all too common - sustainability people assuming their colleagues are stupid for 'not getting it' - a highly counterproductive mindset.
3. The Poster
As shouting louder with the stickers plainly isn't working, Barry goes for the guilt trip - "Save the Polar Bear". Then he realises his message will be competing for attention with dozens of other posters and their messages, and anyway, his colleagues run straight past him, ignoring him and knocking him over. He loses it completely - he has tried everything, but nothing has worked. This despair will be familiar to many of us, but again it is counterproductive.
4. The Epiphany
Things change for Barry when he bothers to look and see what the team are rushing to do. When he peeks into the room he sees they thrive in a group problem solving environment and realises this is his opportunity.* By aping this for "good green ideas", he gains the attention and buy in of the team - and a great list of ideas. This is the crux of Green Jujitsu - work with the prevailing culture, not against it.
* The switching off of the metaphorical lightbulb is one of the few bits that I didn't script and it's the bit people laugh at most!
5. The Pay Off
As the last of the team leaves the room, she stops and switches off the light. This is meant to be a metaphor for buy-in rather than an end in itself (this is why Barry rolled up the list of ideas - he's inspired by the team to do more than just get the lights switched off now.)
The final message "Involve People To Make Your Green Communications Stick" was scripted by Matt. At first I thought it was too narrow for all that I was trying to say, but I couldn't think of a way of communicating all that in such a simple, zippy line. Eventually I decided that if viewers took away just Matt's conclusion then the whole exercise would be more than worthwhile. This is another Green Jujitsu principle - keep it simple.
Imagine you're on your own at a party when you're approached by a very good looking stranger who introduces themselves and then proceeds to bang on about their job for the next hour without ever asking about you, what you do or letting you get a word in edgeways. Chances are you'd make your excuses and leave.
Now imagine that stranger walked up and asked you about yourself, your interests and your job. They then found some common ground, listened to your point of view and cracked some self-deprecrating jokes. A few subtle compliments pepper the conversation that make you feel good about being yourself. Now if you were to make a fast getaway, it would probably be a matter of "my place or yours?"
So why do so many of us sustainability practitioners so keen on boring our fellow employees and other stakeholders about our interests, lecturing them on climate change science, the rate of deforestation in Borneo or the collapse of global fish stocks? People switch off. They check the clock. They check Twitter. Something, anything to get them away from the lengthy guilt trip they're being subjected to. Booor-ring!
Use the seduction approach.
Focus on them.
What are their interests?
What do they do well?
How could they help you solve sustainability problems within their field of expertise, be that electrical engineering or accountancy?
Play to their strengths, compliment them, involve them, make them feel important.
It's Valentine's Day tomorrow - make them feel loved!
I'm still working my way through The Essential Drucker and I'll be writing up a piece on the substantial chapter on Social Responsibility of Business in the next week or two. But in the meantime I couldn't help see the strong parallels between Drucker's chapter on communications and my own Green Jujitsu approach to engaging people in sustainability.
At its most powerful, communication brings about "conversion", that is, a change of personality, of values, of beliefs, aspirations. But this is a rare, existential event, and one against which the basic psychological forces of every human being are strongly organised.
In other words, are you as great an orator as Martin Luther King Jr? Me neither, so let's not try and convert people to the green movement as we will almost certainly fail.
The only person I know of who has 'converted' people to green in numbers was Al Gore with his presentations and film An Inconvenient Truth, but again few of us can muster the same level of gravitas as a man we know was once the next President of the United States and have the resources to put together such a powerful show. And despite all that effort, he has probably been equalled in impact by the Fox News/Tea Party brigade railing against him.
So, what can we do instead? Drucker reaches back to the Classics:
Socrates points out that one has to talk to people in terms of their own experience, that is, that one has to use carpenters' metaphors when talking to carpenters, and so on.
This is the essence of Green Jujitsu. Instead of trying to convert people to the cause, you translate the cause into a form which the target audience can relate to. Some people try to do this by relating sustainability to familiar domestic situations like putting out the recycling or grumbling at the kids for leaving lights on, but I find that patronising and tangential.
I prefer to appeal to people's professional identity as it is professional behaviour your are trying to change. This means framing sustainability as an engineering problem for engineers, as an economic issue for economists, as a leadership issue for senior executives etc. I must admit that I have never knowingly run an engagement session for carpenters, but it can only be a matter of time!
When I explain the concept of Green Jujitsu to people, their first response is all too often not "Oh! That's where we're going wrong!", but "Yeah, that's what we do already, but it still doesn't work!"
Inevitably when they go on to show me their environmental policy, employee engagement material, sustainability/CSR reports and so on, it is drenched in clichéd 'green' imagery and jargon and bears little or no relation to the organisation, its activities, its marketplace or its culture.
That's 180° out. Wrong, wrong, wrong...
The idea of Green Jujitsu is to work with the prevailing culture in the organisation, not against it. So, unless you're trying to engage the employees of Greenpeace, you need to roll back on all the green clichés, language and hand-wringing. You've got to align the frame through which you present sustainability to the day-to-day experience of your employees:
If you're a creative business, frame sustainability in creative terms.
If you're an engineering business, frame sustainability in engineering terms.
If you're a R&D business, frame sustainability in terms of innovation opportunities.
If you're a hotel business, frame sustainability as part of the excellent service you are providing to guests.
If you're an architectural practice, frame sustainability as the epitome of good building design.
If you're a recycling business, frame sustainability as "that's what we're here for!"
You are NOT doing Green Jujitsu if:
Your material includes images of hands cupping a sapling or some other drippy nonsense.
You present sustainability as some sort of guilt trip for the industry (you're effectively insulting your employees for being in their jobs).
Your environmental policy could be applied to any other business simply by changing the name at the top.
You are trying to explain climate science to employees.
Your main delivery mechanism is voluntary environmental champions.
You don't have sustainability objectives embedded throughout your reporting structure.
It has struck me that I should develop a meta-concept - Green Jujitsu Jujitsu? - to use the same Jujitsu techniques to get Green Jujitsu better understood by practitioners!
For more, check out my ebook, Green Jujitsu, published by Do Sustainability.
If you're like me, you're always bemused by all those snake-oil-selling blog posts which claim to have the ONE, single secret to health, wealth, happiness etc. And you usually have to read through pages and pages of build up guff until they give that 'secret' away. And when you read it, you go "huh."
But here's one cure all for commitment that's genuine. And I'll get straight to the point - no salesman's spiel.
If you want to get commitment for sustainability from anyone - employees, customers, suppliers, members of the public, board members, anyone, then you need this one magical ingredient:
Yep, it's that simple, get 'em involved. Get them to roll their sleeves up and take part. Challenge them to work out what sustainability means to their day job for themselves.
You will find cynicism and apathy fall away and people get enthused, get a deeper understanding of the issues and work out what it means to them. I've been making a good career out of 'secret' for the last few years, so believe me it works.
Case study: I ran a sustainability workshop for directors of a major UK company before Christmas - I still have the post-it covered templates on the floor behind me as I write this. When I rang my main contact the following week for some feedback and he said "You know that guy who was a bit stand-offish in the session? He's never been convinced about the whole sustainability agenda. Well, he rang me the day after the workshop and asked what he needed to do to move this forward in his section - I couldn't believe it!"
"Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you've got."
So said the business guru to business gurus, the late Peter Drucker. When I saw this quote flash by on Twitter the other day, it hit me that this is the essence of my green jujitsu approach to culture behavioural change.
Green jujitsu evolved out of my realisation that the best way to engage employees of an engineering company was to frame the problem as an engineering one, in a manufacturing business as an production issue, with the creative industries as a design problem and so on. That is, working with the prevalent culture rather than trying to turn everybody into tree huggers.
There are exceptions of course. Ray Anderson changed the culture at Interface to make sustainability the company culture through determination, business nous and no little charm. Stuart Rose of Marks & Spencer was successful in creating Plan A and driving it through the organisation. So it is possible, but it is a high-risk/high-reward approach and requires a real crusader at the top willing to stake his/her reputation on it. And there aren't that many of them about, frankly.
For most organisations, Drucker's point is a good starting point - work with the existing culture, not against it.
Photo: The Drucker Institute, Claremont Graduate University
My new eBook,Green Jujitsu, is now available from Dõ Sustainability.
This weekend, the air resonated with the sound of a million electric razors signalling the end of another Movember and a million temporary moustaches. These were grown to raise awareness and cash for men's health issues such as prostrate and testicular cancer.
So why has the Movember meme been so successful? Here's five reasons I can think of:
1. It's fun - with moustaches having been out of fashion for some time, the campaign gives men an opportunity to indulge their inner Village People policeman/Burt Reynolds/Dutch porn star fantasy for a whole month;
2. Peer pressure - if half the men in a workplace suddenly sprout facial fungus in a good cause, there's a strong pull for the others to join in. "What's wrong, are you not man enough to grow one?";
3. Relevance - moustaches have long been associated with masculinity and the health issues concerned are men's issues;
4. Brilliant branding - check out the Movember website for a bit of tongue in cheek retro style;
5. Novelty - no-one has done anything like this before.
In comparison, most sustainability engagement programmes are, at best, like one of those multitudinous nude charity calendars - hackneyed, clichéd and unoriginal. They're produced with the best of intentions, but the world yawns.
If you want to get a sustainability meme running in your organisation, you could do worse than use Movember as a yardstick.
I'm taking a day off today as it's my middle son Jimmy's third birthday, so I won't be pontificating at length as usual. Instead, here's a (slightly noisy) YouTube recording of my webinar on Green Jujitsu as a way of rethinking how we go about approaching culture change for sustainability programmes. Enjoy!
Here's the latest in my Green Business Confidential podcast series. It's called "Your employees are not stupid, just busy" and it's about my green jujitsu approach to culture change for sustainability.
If you want to get the feel for a manufacturing, logistics or packaging company's sustainability performance, take a wander along to Goods Out and watch for a while. You may not realise it, but in terms of cradle-to-gate environmental impact, this is a critical point.
Think about it, if you damage product here, you are not just creating some physical waste, but also wasting all the embedded resources for those goods: the raw materials, the processing of those materials through the supply chain, auxiliary materials, the energy involved in all the processes up to that point etc, etc. In financial terms you also have to factor in the opportunity cost of not being able to sell the product and make a profit. For many products, the rework also disrupts the rest of the production system, adding further costs and the risk of upsetting even more customers.
This means that the humble forklift driver has a disproportionate influence on the environmental and economic performance of your business. In far too many businesses I see a stack of damaged goods at the side of the loading bay, often with a forklift sized dint in the side. In some Goods Out sections, the forklifts are driven like a dodgem ride at the fairground.
Clearly the employee engagement process you use for frontline staff like these needs to be quite different from that you use to engage the board of directors. My Green Jujitsu approach says that, as far as practical, you need to tailor the message for each audience, but you must also make sure no-one is left out. The critical people may not be who you think they may be.
My new eBook,Green Jujitsu, is now available from Dõ Sustainability. Register for our free Green Jujitsu webinar on Friday 12 October at 3:30pm byclicking here.