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.
"Why do people not care?" is a plea I often hear from sustainability practitioners and the wider green movement, usually followed by something like "The ice is melting, the polar bears are at risk! The science is clear, but nobody wants to make the sacrifice! They just want to watch X-Factor."
This sums up the limited thinking of much of the green movement and indeed too many sustainability practitioners. First we have the "we're better than them" holier than thou platform, then there's the distant cause - most people have never seen a wild polar bear - and lastly there's the sacrifice bit - "feel guilty about this and put on your hair shirt."
The answer is that the question is wrong. The right question is "How do we make sustainability relevant to people's lives?"
People are busy - families, work and home all have to be satisfied before anyone can start thinking about other things. But those day to day things - commuting, school run, food, heating, lighting - have a big impact on the planet. So you have to ensure you are engaging with those issues, not evoking guilt over a far-off carnivore.
My Green Jujitsu approach to sustainability at work embraces the fact that people are busy with other things. Instead of trying to interrupt them to talk about what is to many an esoteric issue, it taps right into the immediate concerns, interests and psychology of the workforce. If someone is an engineer, then frame sustainability as an engineering problem. If they are target-oriented, then give them formal sustainability targets. If they are used to following set instructions, then make sure sustainability is reflected in those instructions.
So, why not ditch the trappings of the green movement and think about sustainability from the perspective of your colleagues? The polar bears may be best served by not mentioning the polar bears.
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.
I saw a car the other day which had been customised to promote its owners business. It had the company logo (a three letter acronym), its web address, e-mail and phone number - everything you needed to contact the company, if you only knew what the company actually did. Why on earth would I randomly phone a company if I don't know what they might do for me? A complete waste of time, money, effort and paint.
This kind of thinking - seeing the world from our own perspective, rather than that of those we wish to communicate with - is all too common. It certainly pervades culture change for sustainability - the vast majority of practitioners simply do what everybody else does, rather than working it out for themselves.
A couple of years ago, I got a call from a potential client. "We'd like you to talk to our employees about what they can for the environment at home." Why?, I asked. "Oh, hopefully they'll change their behaviour at work too. I heard about another company doing this and I liked the idea." As an engineering company, I recommended we focussed on challenging the employees to generate engineering solutions to sustainability problems, rather than doing something less relevant to the individuals and their work and hoping the behaviour crossed into that work by osmosis.
Putting yourself in your colleagues' shoes is the fundamental principle that underpins the Green Jujitsu approach to culture change. Forget the trappings of the green movement and think about what would appeal to your audience. If they are engineers, as above, cast sustainability as an engineering issue. If they are people who would be likely to read true-life-story magazines, then present sustainability in the form of personal stories. If they are hardcore financial nuts, then focus initially on the business case for sustainability. (In practice you should mix all these ideas up, but with one element to the fore.)
This takes some thought, guile and a spoonful of humility - forgetting what appeals to you and think about what appeals to them.
All of my books have emerged from my own practical experiences helping companies go green and Green Jujitsu had an interesting evolution as the techniques developed out of my need to develop effective consultancy techniques.
When I first set up Terra Infirma, I had a contract with Envirowise, a Government funded scheme to provide waste minimisation visits to businesses. Each time I was assigned to a company the encounter would unfold as follows. I would turn up, ask for a description of the business process, and do a walkover audit of that process, tracking waste arisings back to source, asking awkward questions and making notes on my clipboard. At some point the environmental manager who had called me in would say "I can't answer that - we'll have to go and ask the operations manager." The subsequent meeting would be painfully frosty with the operations manager on the defensive and I would be quickly shuffled along my way. After the visit I would write them a short report with some quick-win style recommendations. From the response and informal feedback from bumping into people later, the vast majority of these were glanced over and filed in the "someday" file.
Now while I was being paid to do this, I hate wasting my time on pointless tasks. I realised that my problem was that I was effectively telling people that they were running their businesses or operations badly and that criticism made them very uncomfortable. And no matter how much I developed my diplomacy, that fundamental fact was undermining my effectiveness as a consultant - which is to help the client.
The Envirowise scheme allowed no flexibility in how support was delivered (one of my gripes against such schemes) so in other contracts I started introducing more participation into my approach - encouraging the client to collaborate in the solution generation process. This had all sorts of benefits, most notably the solutions were better as they used the latent intellectual capital of the company and they got automatic buy-in from those involved as they already owned the solution. But as a side effect, the people I was working with got really into sustainability - they found it a challenge, interesting and fun.
So when I started getting asked to help engage employees in sustainability, I developed the collaboration technique and saw it become more and more effective. Simultaneously I developed an irrational hatred for eco-clichés such as hands cradling a sapling and it dawned on me that most engagement techniques were formulated from that pious tree-hugging point of view. And they didn't work - or I wouldn't be getting so many clients! A third big influence was the generalist culture change book 'Switch' whose three part elephant model I adopted as a framework as it dovetailed neatly with the jujitsu thinking.
So, the Green Jujitsu techniques were forged in the heat of battle, first gaining the buy-in of clients and then the buy-in of clients' employees. I know I say this about all my books, but I know these techniques work because I've used them in practice - and my clients keep asking me back for more.
By the way - I'm holding a free webinar to share the fundamentals of the book on 12 October 2012 at 3:30pm BST - sign up here.
Why? Because the natural tendency is to embrace boring 'green' imagery, copy what everyone else does (environmental champions, switch it off stickers etc) and focuses on trying to correct perceived "bad" behaviour. Green Jujitsu takes its approach from the eponymous martial art and works on people's strengths instead. It is about tapping into existing company culture, utilising existing management structures and subtly tweaking company policy to make good behaviour easier than bad behaviour.
You can buy Green Jujitsu here, but if you subscribe to The Low Carbon Agenda using the box to the right, you'll get a discount, details of a free webinar and a very special offer when the October edition comes out on Thursday (4 Oct 2012).
Another day, another study that shows that green businesses have more productive/happier employees, this time from UCLA:
"Adopting green practices isn't just good for the environment, it's good for your employees and it's good for your bottom line. Employees in such green firms are more motivated, receive more training, and benefit from better interpersonal relationships. The employees at green companies are therefore more productive than employees in more conventional firms."
This adds to wealth of research that shows greener businesses have better staff retention rates, give shareholders better returns, do better in a recession etc, etc. A green business is a better business.
But this always gets me thinking - what's the cause and what's the effect? Does being green deliver these results, or is it that the kind of progressive, values-led business that does well will be more likely to take environmental issues seriously? It is almost impossible to isolate the two factors in these studies.
I have come to the conclusion that, rather than one "coming first" as in old chicken and egg cliché, the two are part of a virtuous circle - a better business is likely to take green seriously which delivers business benefits which make the business even better and even more convinced of the need to be values led which in turn makes them more committed to environmental improvements. Which "came first" is often lost in the mists of time.
It's actually to solve the old 'chicken and egg' conundrum itself - any student of evolution will tell you the egg came first.
Every morning this week I've walked past a parked car belonging to a meter reading company. The back of the car is plastered in stickers telling us how eco-friendly it is, but every morning the driver has been sat inside reading the paper with the motor running. Tut, tut.
This illustrates two things:
From an environmental point of view, you can invest in all the green technology you like, but if your employees aren't engaged in the process, and changing their behaviour, it won't matter a fig;
From a public relations point of view, if you're going to talk the talk, you'd better make sure that everybody is walking the walk or you'll get egg on your face.
Most importantly, it demonstrates the need to get everybody signed up to your sustainability programme. The ideal is for every employee to be a sustainability ambassador - if that sounds pie in the sky, try speaking to any employee of InterfaceFLOR and you'll get a pleasant surprise at the zeal for all things green.
My 'green jujitsu' approach is designed to achieve this by working to employee's strengths, interests and habits to make them part of the solution rather than seeing them as part of the problem. So how might it help bring this errant driver back into line? Assuming the culture of a meter reading company has a big focus on data, a first step could be to provide some statistical feedback on fuel consumption. Further steps could include challenging all drivers to develop plans to reduce their consumption, and running a competition between teams to deliver the biggest reduction - inject some fun and peer pressure into the equation. And then they might see some real progress - even when no-one is looking.