Thursday, July 09, 2009

Motivating Staff to be Sustainable

Staff motivation is always an issue and it has been a recurring theme at the Low Carbon Best Practice Exchange events held around the country. Very often the question is “How do you keep people interested once the first enthusiasm has worn off?”

Representatives from all sorts of industries - from bus companies to barristers and hotels to hospitals - have all shared ideas. So, how do you keep the ball rolling once the first few months have passed?

The first point that nearly everyone makes is self-interest. “What’s in it for me?” People are often happy to help an organisation succeed, but after a while, if it’s all about how much money the company is saving and how much better the bottom line looks, they want a share of the savings for themselves. A leading confectionery manager addresses this head on with a bonus scheme. One of the nation’s largest bus companies does much the same. Fuel is a very significant cost for them. An extra 1p/litre on diesel increases their bill, (and reduces their profits) by no less than £1m annually, so they send all their drivers on economical driving courses. The drivers then qualify for a share of all the savings made.

Some people have a personal commitment to sustainability and are less motivated by money than by recognition of their personal achievements. A major telecoms company has Carbon Clubs with a website, news and awards. There is a pledging scheme where staff choose from a list or post their own targets. There is clear top-level endorsement, and 66% of staff say they take pride in the company’s environmental performance. Some organisations go further and encourage their staff to set targets for home as well as work. Incentives like a mountain bike can get people interested and sometimes it is possible to set up competitive rivalry between different departments. Some very generous organisations will advance loans for the purchase of hybrid cars or send employees off on trips to save the rain-forest or help with conservation projects.

Travel-to-work plans, involving car-sharing and cycling, can be popular, but there can be resistance to some green initiatives in this time of cost-cutting. There is often resistance, too, from middle managers who see other things as more important. Training is essential so that these people - many of whom are strongly sceptical of anything green - fully understand the business reasons for adopting environmental best practice. Sometimes a phased approach can help, rather than laying on a whole raft of new initiatives all at once.

In many cases the importance of environmental policy is gauged by the importance of the people who support it. The lead must come from the top. The green agenda must given due prominence in senior management briefings, and not just tacked on at the end. Don’t underestimated the difficulty of getting senior management on board. One organisation tried reimbursing business miles on the basis of the least reward for the least eco-friendly cars. The problem with this was motivating senior management. They were very reluctant to approve a scheme which penalised the sort of prestige car which they thought they ought to be driving!

Industrial psychology makes it clear that people will not respond if things are simply imposed; they must understand and agree before they will buy in. So while top management may be persuaded to buy in, the next essential is effective communication to all levels of the organisation.

I worked with a business machinery supplier where the green policy came from world head quarters. Nevertheless, local sales staff didn’t see it as a priority, so an environmental manager was appointed in each country to help middle managers and to provide a link with the policy-makers at HQ. They also worked with the local community and organised initiatives like farmers’ markets or cycle-to-work schemes. Many companies also use such environmental champions; often they are unpaid volunteers and sometimes their managers begrudge them the time off. In other cases heads of department may send along someone to environmental committees just to make up the numbers, not necessarily a person who is committed to the green agenda. Again this emphasises the need to inform and motivate management at all levels.

Experience shows that encouraging staff to work with the local community on green initiatives is a good motivator - and good PR. Some organisations will formalise environmental responsibilities as part of a staff member’s role and putting people on projects can be valuable learning experience for them. It is important to celebrate their successes. Feedback is essential. How about summarising key successes in bullet points and pasting them on the back of the toilet doors? Hard to ignore!

One problem with feedback is that many of the statistics about climate and emissions are very difficult to imagine. What does a tonne of CO2 look like, for example? These things need to be related to everyday experience - maybe something like the volume of Wembley Stadium. Or you could have a graphic on your website. What about a green tree which grows additional leaves as the company increases its carbon savings?

Sometimes there can be negative motivation at corporate level. The attitude of major customers and pressure from taxes and other outside factors can all make their mark. For example, supermarkets are very keen that their suppliers should be as efficient as possible, but then they expect these efficiencies to be passed on to them in lower prices. Secondly, since energy prices and waste disposal costs are rising, companies have to make continued efforts just to stay in the same place. BT is introducing its Climate Stabilisation Index to take account of the fact that while its emissions are rising the number of clients and services provided is rising as well, and the net footprint per transaction is falling. (This may be good PR, but the fact is that the objective is to cut CO2 emissions by 80% absolutely, regardless of the level of economic activity.) The Carbon Reduction Commitment comes into force next year and already some people are concerned that it will be biased against organisations that are already efficient.

So, in summary, here are our TOP TEN TIPS for motivating staff to be green:

1. Align messages with your corporate commitment

In other words - walk the talk. Make sure your policy is consistent both internally and externally - and seen to be so.

2. Provide an incentive

Maybe a bonus scheme, maybe an award ceremony, maybe both.

3. Choose an initiative that will reach everyone

Or let people choose their own challenges

4. Monitor progress

Otherwise how do people know what they’ve achieved?

5. Provide positive feedback

Thank-you may be enough; others may need a cash reward. Make it a win-win situation.

6. Provide resources to support action

Time can be as valuable as money

7. Be imaginative

Keep the ideas coming

8. Keep the momentum

Have a plan. There must always be the next success to strive for.

9. Continue to improve the process

Build on the knowledge gained from feedback

10. Empower people to get involved

The best way to ensure success in any field!

Cyber Associates can design your sustainability strategy, train your staff and set up the feedback loop to keep them engaged and motivated.

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