All change programmes, whether sustainability or not, may encounter a pessimist of some sort. They may be highly vocal or just apathetic, but when you’re leading the programme, recognising the underlying reasons for their behaviour can provide helpful insights into your communication strategy and how it may need enhancing.
Many people don’t like change and may be fearful of what your programme means for them. Don’t assume that they are just being stubborn or arrogant for the sake of it; they’re often revealing personal concerns or fears. For example:
1. They may not understand the benefit of the change for the organisation. When you run a recycling programme the objective is to increase waste separation to increase recyclable value, but many may not understand why everything can’t go in the same bin. So you have to explain more about the ‘why’ of doing it rather than the ‘how’ of what they need to do.
2. They may fear the change will impact upon the status quo. Will your new lights mean they can’t see the computer screen as clearly? Or will changes to the heating make them feel colder? So you have to explain how this investment will help the environment they work in.
3. They may fear that your changes could expose them as foolish. This can be the case with property or caretaker staff. Your energy saving programme can make them feel that they have managed the building badly in the past. You need to explain that you are engaging the people rather than the building, and that you need to work together.
4. They may not want to be connected with a failed programme, so keep their distance until it seems to be working. Finance are often guilty of this kind of behaviour, not showing open backing until the programme is clearly seen to be working. So you need to promote the success stories often to draw them in sooner.
In running sustainability programmes you may encounter many challenges like these, but don’t be downhearted. Most people are keen to adapt to change if they see the benefits it brings. The key is to make sure you have promoted it sufficiently, spending more time on “Why we’re doing it” rather than on “What we have to do”.
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