Corporations are designed for efficiency. When everyone clearly understands and executes against their role, the organization operates at maximum efficiency. Factories exemplify the system. Corporations try to emulate the model. And some would argue that for the most part, it works.
One of the challenges companies face when working to engage employees in sustainability efforts is related to this model. The model is a prescriptive one. There is a formula for satisfactory execution, and projects are managed to the most minute of details. It is a top-down model that discourages initiative that might question the status quo (sorry to sound cliché), even if that change could produce better results. In brief, success is delivering against what was requested and expected.
Sustainability requires a plan and a model and metrics—you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Methodologies for measurement and program plans are essential. But we also need to make room for the unexpected and the initiative of the employee base itself.
The knowledge worker is the new corporate norm. He or she has ideas and talent and initiative that can rarely be expressed in their day-to-day work. But it can and does emerge when an employee becomes engaged in environmental efforts. If you look around at most corporate programs, however, once green engagement becomes a priority, the efficiency model is implemented: There are guidelines, rules, policies, limitations.
What if we threw out “the plan”? What if, instead, we stated the end goal loudly and clearly, repeated again and again across communication channels. It would be up to employees to determine how to get us there. Think about it. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t say, “I have a plan.” He said, “I have a dream.”