The Sustainability of Results: Part II

by Tom Devane

Six Factors that Work Against Sustainable Solutions

sustainable solutionsIn a perfect world, organizations would address sustainability problems before they occur—and design conditions for sustainability from the beginning of an improvement effort. But as a senior vice president once said to me: Tom, I live in the real world where those preventive conditions just aren’t always possible. What can I do once these problems manifest themselves if I haven’t set up sustainability question at the start?

Here are the six factors that work against sustainable solutions and some quick-action shake-up tactics you can use to jump-start the process:

Lack of Time

Leadership wants a new project implemented ahead of the competition. Your downsized organization has little time for continuous improvement. Sound familiar? Not having enough time is one of the most frequently mentioned reasons for not designing for sustainability.

Management shake-up tactic:

Shut down “regular work” for just three or four hours each week. Provide time for employees to get together and work on change.

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Lack of Money

Adding change-management activities to a project plan certainly extends timelines—and this means spending more money to get the work done over a longer duration of time. It’s not surprising that this is often met with resistance or refusal from top management. But that’s when ‘we don’t have time to do it right, but we have time to do it over’ rears its ugly head and you’re faced with battling change resistance months after a project implementation.

Management shake-up tactic:

Dedicate some part of the budget to improvement or change activities. Let teams develop budgets to effectively use that money.

Ties to the Status Quo

Managers have a vested interest in keeping the power base they’ve built. After years of hard work to get the people, information systems, personal connections, and budgets that they want, managers can be resistant to changing an organization’s structure.

Management shake-up tactic:

Move capable people to different parts of the organization to head up unfamiliar areas.

Perceived Value of Sustainability Activities

Others still question the perceived value of change activities designed to support sustainability. Some, who get past the initial hurdle of whether or not it’s worthwhile, end up discarding plans because it’s thought that the costs outweigh the benefits.

Management shake-up tactic:

Publicly reward new behaviors and risk taking that support sustainability.

The Occasional Sustainability Afterthought

As a consultant visiting client organizations, I’ve often entered late in a project life cycle. And time and time again, I’ve heard some prescient, anguished soul cry out, “Hey, what are we doing about sustainability?” Unfortunately, thinking about sustainability in the last four weeks of a two-year project isn’t likely to produce very fruitful results.

Management shake-up tactic:

If you haven’t planned up front for sustainability, at least get all the stakeholder groups involved in developing a sustainability strategy near the end of the project.

Change Management Ignorance, Change Management Bliss

Oftentimes, managers simply don’t know that change management needs to be a component of an overall successful implementation strategy. And that ignorance can translate into change-management bliss. They see the technical components of their improvement solution (like new computer programs, or new laws) and believe the solution to be so obvious and self-explanatory that absolutely no adjustments of human psyches or behaviors are necessary.

Change-management biases by organizational level also occur. Senior managers tend to believe change management needs to be done for the top two layers of the organization, and the remaining four layers below can just be told what to do and everything will be fine. Faulty change foundations such as this can cause large improvement projects to fail shortly after implementation.

Management shake-up tactic:

When you can’t provide up-front education about the topic, convene discussion forums about change management with internal organization development professionals, external consultants, and other top leaders from similar corporations or communities.

These management shake-up tactics are simple, quick-hit actions you can take to jolt the organizational system out of complacency and address change issues head-on. However, far better than these knee-jerk, after-the-horse-is out-of-the-barn actions is the discipline of designing sustainability conditions into your project from the start.

Want to learn more? Read A Checklist for Organizational Change


Source: The Change Handbook