It's a common problem in sustainability consulting: how do you get employees to pay attention to sustainability and integrate social and environmental considerations throughout their job responsibilities and daily behavior? New research in psychology has some insight, and we're diving in for a closer look at how focus on values and virtues can help drive organizational success.
In 5 Reasons You Need to Instill Values in Your Organization, Jessica Amortegui outlines the connection between good intentions and effective transformation in the workplace. "It is an old truism: employees do not turn to written statements on the company intranet for clues about how to behave--they look to each other," Amortegui writes. "If your goal is to intentionally shape the actions and interactions of employees, you know the importance of creating a 'values-based' culture. However, you also know how difficult it is to implement one."
She further adds: "For companies to truly close the chasm between their stated and lived values, they must enter the human psyche to extract excellence from the inside-out, not dictate it from outside-in. This requires organizations to pivot their approach: rather than get people to live the values, they should focus on the values that live in the people. This taps into the innate qualities that exist across mankind: human virtues."
There a lot more great information in the article (read it in its entirety here) with many helpful links to additional studies and research, but what caught our eye was how Amortegui's thinking could easily be applied to the sustainability work we do with clients. Below, we take excerpts from her list (in italics) and add our own commentary on how it applies to sustainability-oriented change management.
1. Virtues Are a Workplace Game Changer
Amortegui: Employees who feel welcome to express their authentic selves at work exhibit higher levels of organizational commitment, individual performance, and propensity to help others.
Just as Walmart found with their Personal Sustainability Projects, allowing employees to identify a sustainability-related behavior that was personally relevant and valuable was instrumental in creating corporate-wide momentum. Consider how you engage employees -- are you making it clear how "green" opportunities and expectations in the office allow them to bring their most authentic selves to the job?
2. Virtues Lead To Growth Of The Whole Person
Amortegui: The ideal company makes its best employees even better--and the least of them better than they ever thought they could be. Employees are not just looking for the best places to work. They want to join the best places to grow.
Find ways to tie sustainability goals into personal growth opportunities. Whether it's allowing employees to practice a hands-on skill (how to build a rain barrel or the basics of composting), develop speaking skills (hosting brown-bag workshops on green topics), or engaging with senior managers (participating on the Green Team), make sure that you cultivate a clear link between the initiative itself and the opportunity it provides for participants.
3. Virtues Lead to Greater Onboarding Success
Amortegui: When companies emphasize newcomers' authentic best selves, versus an organizational identity, it contributes to greater customer satisfaction and employee retention after six months.
Start talking about the opportunities for employees to exhibit their personal values by contributing to the company's sustainability efforts from day one. Include an overview of your sustainability goals and strategy in new employee orientations. Find out how their personal interests and virtues align with the organization and invite them to participate accordingly.
4. Virtues Improve Engagement
Amortegui: Two of the most important predictors of employee retention and satisfaction are reporting to use your top strengths at work and reporting that your manager recognizes your top strengths.
The more that mid-level managers understand and communicate sustainability goals and priorities to their staff, the easier it will be for employees to "get" how their individual job responsibilities play into the larger picture of organizational sustainability. Provide the training and leadership needed to get managers to 1) understand, 2) communicate, and 3) recognize sustainability potential in their departments.
5. Virtues Increase Self-Awareness
Amortegui: Organizations that realize this potent potential for human excellence will transcend their current cultures and create a greenhouse effect: shining brightness on what is best about their people while cultivating the conditions for any organizational value system to live, breathe, and flourish.
There is great knowledge within your workforce about the practical realities of achieving sustainability in the workplace, within your industry, and in your community. Companies that tap into that knowledge on a regular basis will find that they reap a myriad of rewards: enthusiasm, morale, expertise, and engagement. Why not take advantage of it!
Want to read more about employee engagement? Check out another article we wrote on the subject for 2degrees, Three Ways to Engage Non-Wired Employees.
Thanks to 2degrees for publishing a version of this article!