When Barbara moved to the East Coast and joined a new company, it was on the heels of working for a small San Francisco start-up. Her former office had been filled with environmentally conscious Millennials who did all their work electronically, commuted by bike and public transit, and held office potlucks centered around healthy, organic meals.
So Barbara was a bit out of her element when she landed in a more conventional office setting in her new city. The office went through reams of paper every week, they brought sugary foods to every meeting, and no one seemed to even think much about recycling – let alone more complex environmental issues. Since she secretly believed her new co-workers also cared about the environment, Barbara wanted to introduce some ‘green’ practices to them. However, she wasn’t sure where to start, because she didn’t want to step on toes or start off her new job on the wrong foot.
On our coaching call, we discussed a few basic principles that would enable Barbara to be true to her values, while also being thoughtful of others. Her goal was to integrate smoothly into the team, while getting to know everyone. She knew that if she were too forceful, or too early in her attempts, her good intentions could backfire.
We created these guidelines so she could begin the process of initiating change without alienating anyone.
- She would try to get to know people and ask questions to feel out their awareness, perspectives and positions about environmental issues before making suggestions.
- When she encountered “global warming is a myth” mentalities, instead of falling into a the trap of thinking change was impossible, she would try to think of her new organization an opportunity to educate and raise environmental awareness.
- When she was ready to make suggestions, she would tread carefully so that her message would not be perceived as political advocacy or threatening – either of which would likely provoke backlash.
In her first few months, Barbara’s main goal was to get to know her team members, while asking any environmental awareness questions in a neutral manner. This way she could learn where there might be an opportunity to make a difference without coming across as an extremist or having too strong of a personal agenda.
In order to help Barbara stay in a neutral, information-gathering mode, we developed a list of sample questions she could ask or keep in mind as she observed her new environment:
- Do any of the buildings have energy efficient features?
- Does anyone use online platforms or documents for sharing information?
- How do people get to work each day?
- Are there marketing materials or initiatives that emphasize green practices – even if only for PR purposes?
- What overarching topics arise repeatedly in meetings? (Barbara had already noticed that the concept of keeping donors happy often came up.)
Questions like these could help Barbara discover a “way in” that would resonate with what motivated people in the organization from a business standpoint. If she could advocate for her own values in a way that aligned with the organization’s core goals, mission, vision, and culture, she would be a lot more successful other than simply bringing it up in terms of personal responsibility to the environment. This approach would work especially well if those in power didn’t share her values. She might even see opportunities where green practices helped save the company money and time, which would provide an extra boost toward her goals.
What Barbara Did
After asking a lot of questions and getting to know her coworkers, Barbara learned that the majority of employees lived far away, and public transportation in the city wasn’t very sophisticated. So advocating for less car-dependent commuting was not a good starting place. She also heard a lot of people complaining about weight gain, but there was a general attitude of suspicion around her vegetarian salads and organic protein smoothies. So while there might be room to broach the food topic down the line, it seemed like too sensitive an area to start in.
It was less obvious, but Barbara noticed that people in her department talked a lot about coming up with ways to streamline processes, and they looked at it in terms of cutting operational costs. While this was not directly correlated to environmental practices, she realized it might be her “way in” – since many environmental practices come with long-term cost savings. She decided to take this more indirect but important route, since it offered the most promising way of tapping into the existing culture and organizational priorities.
She also learned that Human Resources was looking for a fun team-building initiative for employees. So she researched some ideas that would be fun, easy to arrange, and could potentially raise environmental awareness at the same time.
While there were larger priorities in her mind, she refrained from any attempts to advance those agendas right away. It was quickly clear that there were politics and personalities to navigate, and she needed more insight and an established rapport to suggest larger changes.
Since reducing paper usage seemed to satisfy both the company’s financial priorities and her own goals, Barbara did some research and suggested some paperless business strategies at the next team meeting. They were simple ideas, such as using shared document applications to reduce paper consumption during team editing – and then uploading information to a cloud service instead of printing and filing documents. Overall, the ideas were well-accepted since they gave the department ways to reduce their budget without cutting programs or hours, and they were straight-forward to implement since the frameworks already existed.
A few months later, Barbara was surprised to see that coworkers had spring-boarded from her ideas and had done a few initiatives on their own. One member put in energy efficient light bulbs and another person replaced their single use coffee pod system with a communal coffee machine. A few people also bought some cups that could be washed and reused instead of using disposable ones.
Overall, the department had saved thousands of dollars in a short timeframe. There was still a lot of skepticism about any ‘green’ effort that took more time, effort or money to implement – but the small steps they made were enough to help Barbara feel like she was making a difference toward something that honored her values of supporting the environment.
After getting a second request for retreat ideas from HR, Barbara proposed that each department go on a team volunteer trip to clean up a section of the nearby river for Earth Day. The department that collected the most trash would win a certificate for a day off. HR loved the idea because, as with her office team’s green initiatives, it took very little work and it was much less expensive than the retreat they did the year before. Plus, volunteering was gratifying, a great bonding experience, and it generated lots of good press for the company.
Over time Barbara managed to influence her organization and make several changes that have made it more environmentally conscious while also offering business benefits. Some of the steps were small, but even the little changes continue to impact the company culture in positive ways. In the long run, Barbara’s prospects of making larger, lasting changes are strong because she started out small and with an approach where she integrated her ideas into the organization’s existing priorities and without threatening them.
If you want to advocate for a change or cause in your business setting, these same principles can assist you in making a difference without jeopardizing your image or conflicting with organizational priorities. To be successful it will take some introspection and planning in order to implement your ideas, but the small investment is worth the effort involved.
If you would like assistance to walk through a process like this, feel free to contact Nahid and schedule a consultation. Or if you have had success in advocating for a worthwhile goal in your organization, we’d love to hear about it!