We all know that sustainability is a given today, and fortunately many people and companies have started making serious efforts to move towards a more sustainable future. Well, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is these initiatives aren’t working,  and what we’re doing  isn’t enough. The good news is that there is a way to accelerate the shift.

In their article Sustainability is the next digital, my former colleagues of Bain&Company brought to light two key facts: 

  • only 4% of sustainability programs achieve their goal (vs 12% for all change programs)
  • a bit less than one sustainability initiative out of 2 (47%) simply fail (vs 1 in 5 for all change programs). 

 

This is a result our society and the planet simply cannot afford.

Following this alarming observation, the authors provide interesting perspectives to help companies improve their success rate. Yet it seems that they are missing a key element and opportunity: unleashing the mobilising power of a few people will tip the balance towards guaranteed success.

Sustainability transition is not just a matter of strategy and operations. Remember Peter Drucker’s quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”? In the case of sustainability strategy, the last decade of successes and drawbacks leads me to adapt this to “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner”! If we want to accelerate a successful shift towards more sustainable businesses, the fundamental question to ask ourselves is: How do we accelerate corporate culture change? How do we get a high number of people to embrace change faster? 

In nature energy is essential to all living things. Corporate transformation is no different: it is fueled by the energy the stakeholders put into it. So how can we unlock the maximum change energy behind sustainability transformation?

A common pitfall in organizational engagement programs is to consider all stakeholders equal. Yet, just like we have seen superspreaders of the coronavirus, some of our stakeholders are superspreaders of change. They have a much greater desire and energy to put behind the transformation than others and will drive uncomparable impact. 

 

We call them the change frontrunners.

Once in motion and empowered with the right tools and structure, they spread their energy like no one, impacting the culture locally and shifting mindsets much more rapidly than you could ever have dreamed of with classic “engagement of all” frameworks. 

Are they substitutes to your change programs? No. But they will speed up the awareness, the engagement and the contribution to the change program through all layers of the organisation. And by their close proximity to local internal and external stakeholders, they contribute to build the organisation’s capacity for empathic understanding (meaning its capacity to tune in and adapt to the diversity of perspectives that forms the organization), which is another key element of successful change. Our experience at Innate Motion has shown that they offer higher quantity and quality of change than any other corporate change programs.

 

How to identify and mobilise the change frontrunners ?

Innate Motion’s 15 years experience of unlocking human potential in businesses and empathy-powered journeys of transformation led us to define a 4-step approach to mobilizing change frontrunners behind corporate sustainability transformation:

STEP 1: Trigger excitement. Formulate a Mobilising Change Idea that will be used as a rally call for the change frontrunners. It will voice the overarching job to be done to progress towards the sustainability vision and is therefore the necessary magnet for change frontrunners to feel attracted by and decide to steer their energy behind. 

Too often we see the corporate world talk of “Sustainability 2030”. This is neither a vision nor a Mobilising Change idea. It doesn’t state what vision of the future the company will contribute to nor acknowledge the starting point and the job to be done. If that’s what you have today, it might be time to re-think it.

For guidance, consider each word on its own:

  • Mobilising: It has been carefully crafted on the base of all stakeholders’ ambitions to ensure it is aspirational and has the capacity to get many engaged behind it. 
  • Change: it requires important transformation from the organisation.
  • Idea: it is not a reality yet, it is an ideal.

In practice: 

Unilever’s Mobilising Change Idea that drives their ambition to make sustainable living commonplace.

STEP 2: Drive affiliation. Unify the change frontrunners into a tight alliance where they will combine their energy for exponential impact. Get them to connect with each other, to have deep conversations, to share meaningful experiences and to collectively sign a pact for impact. For these change pioneers to be at their best, they need a safe, shared community to learn, co-create and be inspired.

Depending on the size and the complexity of your organisation, there can be several alliances created. External alliances with partners are also key to sustainability transitions, and mobilising your partners is a powerful tool to accelerate impact. 

STEP 3: Build empowerment. Enable the change frontrunners to drive local engagement and contribution. This means you can’t expect them to behave as communication relays focused on driving awareness of your change program. 

In order to shift mindsets and really impact the company culture, they need to have the latitude to adapt the change ambition to the local context and encourage local contribution. Culture is guided by values but based on shared stories. And there are no better stories than the ones we can add a verse to: empower your change frontrunners, and create a stage for them where they can share the stories from their micro community, fostering the transformation bottom-up. 

STEP 4. Feed their desire for achievement. Engineer for fulfilment through measuring progress on their pact for impact. Keep the spirits up and the energy flowing by clearly defining milestones for their actions and giving them the opportunity to witness their impact: how many people have they effectively engaged, number of change initiatives they have ignited, stories being shared, quantity and quality of meaningful conversations in the community… Use these to show gratitude and appreciation for their continuous engagement. 

 

This community of change frontrunners will build an incredible momentum in your organisation, the kind that is needed to implement systemic changes. 

Intentional energy and Empathy are 2 essential superpowers organisations needed to be set free in order to successfully transition towards sustainable futures. What’s holding you back from unleashing them ?


Would you like to learn more ? Reach out and let’s chat!
Muriel Soupart