Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Year, No Fear!

Every new year brings with it moments of self-reflection about the past year’s ups and downs and possible resolutions for the coming year.  Like many people, I tend to be highly self-critical, running down all the ‘failures’ in my head - and then trying to calm myself by remembering the ‘successes’.

It goes something like this:
I didn’t stick to a regular exercise schedule
I didn’t attain the perfect work-life balance
I didn’t start that painting I’ve been sketching for years
I barely made a dent in my bed-side tower of “must-read” books….

Luckily, despite those personal disappointments, there are many professional accomplishments to celebrate from 2011.

On an organizational level, this past year saw the formal transition from Green Roundtable, which was created to put green building on the map, to Sustainable Performance Institute – an evolution to focus on the critical role of organizations. Moving from individual impacts – project based technical assistance and individual education – to organization and portfolio wide impacts. Clearing up mass confusion about who we are – with a legacy of projects and programs over 13 years like our former role as the USGBC Affiliate and our NEXUS resource center.

Brand transitions are never easy, but this hard work has paid off and there are 6 achievements that we are very happy about celebrating as 2011 draws to a close:

SPI Evaluation Criteria created the first industry framework to measure what makes a truly “green” firm, vs. those that are guilty of “professional greenwashing”. The SPI Criteria went through a public comment period and peer review and are being implemented within 13 companies.

The SPI Certification Program awarded its first certification – and we’re proud to say that it’s to a company that embodies the values of SPI and is a shining example of excellence in professional practice: Wight & Company. We have more companies in the pipeline looking to complete certification this year.

The SPI Leadership Circle, was launched via LinkedIn, providing a multi-disciplinary peer community for those responsible for implementing sustainability initiatives within their firms. LC already has 113 members from 21 states and 6 countries. LC members participated in bi-monthly virtual meetings and we shared their stories with the larger community.

SPI Organizational Assessments & Report Card was created to help companies find out how they rank competitively and where they can improve their systems and processes to achieve higher performance and profitability on sustainability projects. The Assessments provide valuable feedback with no risk and help put companies on the path for Certification should they wish to pursue that path.

A series of “Green Firm Bootcamp” workshops were conducted around the country, hosted by AIA and USGBC Chapters. Participants focused on the process and strategies to effectively institutionalize sustainability within their organizations, discussed the barriers they face on a daily basis and learned a new framework to set goals and measure progress.

First industry-wide survey “How green is your firm?” highlighted for the first time the disappointing truth about what’s going on in the (self-selected) leaders of green building.

Not bad. I may not have yet attained the perfect work-life balance, but the year has certainly not been a waste!

Which makes me think about how much work is still to be done.

After talking for literally hundreds of hours with CEOs, COO’s, VPs, Sustainability Directors etc., and reviewing thousands of responses to our survey, I find we are much farther from our collective goals than I had hoped.

--There is still often a disparity between the spokespeople who hawk their vision of green firm and the rank-and-file who execute projects.
--There are still all too many firms that don’t value sustainability or understand why it’s important to the business of design and construction.
--There are still talented and committed people who are frustrated in their efforts to help their companies evolve and lack the professional education to be effective change agents.
--There is still a gap between LEED, 2030 and Living Building and companies’ ability to deliver.
--Most of the dialogue in the industry focuses on technology, metrics, economics and environment. Little is said about process and transformation. We may talk about IPD, integrative project delivery, or BIM, but there is little conversation about strategies for change management.

Here’s what’s not working:

Leadership is half baked: leadership is polarized (one is committed to sustainability, another “thinks it’s a dirty word”), or they are only committed to getting work without realizing that there’s an need for organizational change, or they speak publicly about sustainability but don’t communicate the same expectations internally. All result in confused, frustrated and disheartened staff.

Buy-in paralysis: those that want to get the company to commit don’t have the skills, strategies or confidence to implement a strategy to get buy-in from peers, leaders etc.

Making data matter:  It’s hard to collect and track data, and even more challenging to report and use that data to inform future decision making and learning.

Crossing boundaries: internal change is a bear—external change is a grizzly!  For green design, effective collaboration with outside partners is critical and getting partners to change is hard.

Initiatives vs. goals: there are lots of “random acts of sustainability”, but fewer well-conceived SMART goals that are driving the initiatives. Not a single person in our workshops could list their company’s SMART goals for sustainability – and these are companies recognized for being green building leaders! Either the companies don’t have clear goals, or they don’t communicate them effectively enough for folks to be able to say what they are and act on them.

LEED still a 'stretch' (no rotten tomatoes, please!): For all the good it has done, those of us in the industry for a long time don’t perceive LEED to be a “stretch,” but in every workshop I've done, I hear people still trying to “get their minds around LEED” (direct quote). In much of the industry, sustainability is still defined by LEED.  This means the focus is external only (on projects) with no connection to what the ORGANIZATION has to do to deliver consistent, high quality projects. 

The “What” and the “How”: for those companies who have gotten to a level of commitment that says ‘we will deliver LEED’, “We commit to the 2030 Challenge” or similar, there is still a disconnect between the What, or goal, and the How.  Many lack consistent methodologies to ensure quality control around project implementation to support collaborative, high performance, healthy design.

That’s the bad news. The good news is – once you understand the problem you can work on a solution!

This is where our role as an organization and the 2012 resolution comes in.  The 800 lb gorilla in the room is change management; the process of effectively addressing these challenges and removing the barriers that lead to long-term, intentional transformation. We resolve to focus in 2012 on shedding light on this issue, and helping companies understand how they can be more intentional and effective in achieving their sustainability goals.

The next article will outline a 'Roadmap for Change' to institutionalize sustainability, based on recognized tenets of change management experts.

Putting the "Management" Back in Change...

In many ways, LEED has been the tail wagging the dog.
A tool originally intended to define green building metrics - repurposed as a ‘design’ tool.
An ‘end of pipe’ measuring stick relied on to drive change in professional practice and collaboration. That can’t end well.

Because sustainability was initially introduced to the industry through LEED and project implementation, it has taken many of us a decade to realize that sustainability must start with the organization, and not the project. 

Evidence of this can be seen in many company’s portfolios, where the (relatively) small number of LEED certified projects seem to have no influence over the larger percentage of projects not meeting the same targets. Only when sustainability is institutionalized throughout a company will all of its projects be "green". 

With LEED, the first place of engagement was the “front lines”, on project teams,  without a cultural shift at the top levels of organizations.  Because the project teams were 'temporary', situationally-defined groups, the substantive changes needed to institutionalize sustainable mindsets and cultures could not be addressed effectively.  Not surprisingly, the outcome of this change thrust upon transient project teams was a lot of resistance, the perception of LEED being inextricably associated with stress, anxiety and cost, and the need (by LEED consultants) to provide an inordinate amount of 'hand-holding' (often beyond the scope of what they were being paid to do).

Successful implementation of LEED happens only as a result of long-lasting communities of professionals united by a common culture, structure and systems.

Once your company understands that sustainability is more than having some LEED projects in your portfolio, and success  of a project is inseparable from high performing, healthy building, you know that internal shifts need to be intentional and change must be deliberately planned and managed.  (Those whose leadership is divided, who think everything is ‘ok’ as it is, are losing profit and competitive advantage without knowing it.)

Deliberate change achieves specific goals (or conversely, if you want to achieve specific goals, they will likely require deliberate change!)

In the corporate business world of change management models, the two dominant thinkers are Kurt Lewin and John Kotter. The gist of Lewin’s model is that in order for things to change, the initial status quo must be broken, a transition must occur and then a new status quo must be established. Kotter uses an 8 step model, breaking down different aspects of successful transformation.  Here, I will summarize Kotter’s concept in the context of what I’ve seen work in this industry.  In subsequent articles, I will dig more deeply into each step, with examples from our work with organizations.

John P. Kotter’s 8 Steps to Organizational Transformation
(Kotter’s steps in bold, followed by my comments on each):

A critical aspect of getting ‘buy-in’ is to frame the desired change with a credible sense of urgency. There are so many competing priorities and issues, anything that isn’t perceived as urgent will fall below the radar. There are 5 steps to doing this, from doing an assessment of current conditions to competitive analysis, which will be detailed in the next article.

Don Quixote tilted at windmills; effective advocates build coalitions and create a base of champions who represent different company functions. These people help inform the case for urgency as well as contribute to a process of broader engagement which can become viral. There are specific communication skills and strategies for creating coalitions that achieve results; it’s not enough just to include those who are already in “the choir”.

Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” A powerful vision inspires, excites and engages people. For a vision to help enact change, it also needs to infer exciting opportunities and be connected to specific actions that can be taken. Vision needs to be married directly with “SMART” goals and an implementation plan that shows employees what will be achieved over time, how, and what metrics will be used to track success.

Deliberate and comprehensive communication strategies are critical to expanding buy-in, clarifying confusion and overcoming the discomfort that will certainly be present as people are generally afraid of change and perceived risk. It is also a way of demonstrating commitment of leadership and promoting behavior/culture change throughout the organization.

Empowering others requires two main actions: creating a system and structure of accountability that makes people feel that they ‘own’ the change and are part of making it happen; and removing the barriers that would inhibit change/compromise reaching goals.

Nothing creates momentum like success. The plan must include short term successes in the areas that matter most to the company overall. Visible performance improvements, enhanced client relationships, internal gains – must all be acknowledged and individuals and teams rewarded for their success.

Credibility is key. Helping shift the perceptions of “green” from the fringe to core business issues means leveraging real successes into political capital and pathways to change systems, processes and behaviors so that they align with long term goals.

Last but not least, the actual systems, tools, resources, processes and methodologies that are the daily operations of a company need to be aligned with the new culture. Although this is very operational, there can’t be enough said about intentional culture change which is the thread running through all of the above.

In general, both Lewin and Kotter describe intentional processes that start by identifying the need for change and clearly communicating why the change is important, continue by a strategic and methodical engagement of stakeholders as part of the change effort and then focus on fully integrating changes into the systems, processes and monitoring of the organization. Both models address culture as well as procedure and recognize that change must be led, but is not only top down.

If you don’t think being a green firm means organizational change, than you should just give it up now, you will never really be successful and your competitors will leave you in the dust.
If you think the % of LEED projects in your portfolio is a true and complete measure of how green your firm is, you are missing the point.
And if you think green building is not important (or is a dirty word, as I've been told...) than you are letting your fears and ignorance compromise your long term success.

It is critical to differentiate between individual project successes and institutional transformation. Failure to understand the over-arching systems issues may lead to fixing specific problems without correcting the thinking that produced the problems in the first place!

Management consultants come and go, and from what I’ve heard, over-reliance on them can leave cynicism and no lasting change. As with anything, consultants have their place, but the real measure of effectiveness and commitment is to see how these efforts are internalized as part of the company’s DNA.  Anyone who has been successful at institutionalizing sustainability in their firm will tell you that it requires real change, culturally and otherwise.  The question is, how effectively are you going to take on this challenge? Being informed and intentional can make the difference between a long, bumpy process that results in “random acts of sustainability” and a more streamlined process with measurable results.

LEED is a program of the US Green Building Council