"Unless an organization sees that its task is to lead change, that organization whether a business, a university, or a hospital will not survive. In a period of rapid structural change the only organizations that survive are the change leaders.

It is therefore a central 21st century challenge for management that its organization become a change leader."

-- Peter Drucker

Becoming a green company is an opportunity to add value to your company by incorporating some of the strategies used by Fortune 100 companies to align their vision with their businesses and increase their bottom line. Corporate America has been undergoing a quiet revolution in sustainability for over a decade, and since then, the United States has become the most productive nation in the world.

Management consultants like Peter Drucker have led the charge by guiding CEOs through the process of change. He now instructs them in how to become change leaders. Green builders are the change leaders in the building industry. By keeping one eye to the future and the other on the bottom line, you can learn how to do better business while creating a new market niche for your company.

Building a green company involves more than just using green products. For a green company to be successful and capture the market, all the employees and trades people need to buy-in to the green program and actively participate in it. One essential factor in achieving buy-in is to create a vision for your company. From the vision you create a mission statement, which establishes a framework for making decisions. Your mission statement is the glue that will hold the company together through time and employee turnover.

Creating the Vision

Tom and Caroline Hoyt have created an environmentally aware company culture that has sustained them over time. McStain Enterprises has been developing unique properties and building homes in Boulder, Colorado, for 35 years. The company has become an environmental construction icon in the eyes of the public and the building industry. The Hoyts attribute much of their success to their employees’ contributions to the organization’s vision. The company’s mission statement is: “Building a better world.”
McStain, offers insight into developing a vision for your company. “Sit down and figure out what you really want to do.”

  • What are your goals and objectives?
  • Develop a sustainable vision for your company.

Your vision provides guiding principles that you can use for years to come. Down the line when decisions need to be made, you can look to those principles to provide answers.

Tom Hoyt says, “The trick is to get your whole company to buy in to that vision. Today especially, the advantage of having that kind of outlook is that most of your employees really want more than a good job and good pay and good benefits. They want to know they've got a purpose in this world.”

When you make a commitment to green building, your employees feel like their job and their company are contributing to a greater purpose. It’s powerful for them, it's powerful for you, and it’s powerful for your customers. But it has been the convention in business, and especially the building business, not to think about those things.

Sue Jordan-Kertzner and Ron Kertzner are CEO and president, respectively, of ChoicePoint Consulting. ChoicePoint is a consulting, coaching, and management education firm, which helps individuals and organizations create the results they truly desire. They focus on the following competencies: creating shared vision, personal mastery, collaboration, and conflict resolution, mental models, and emotional literacy.

Studies show that employees today want effective leaders with a clear vision. Ron Kertzner of Choice Point Consultants, which provides management consulting to Fortune 100 companies, explains: “Since the 1950s the command-and-control style of leadership has been the dominant model, but now we are moving toward a more collaborative style of leadership. Employees want their CEO to say, ‘This is who we are, and this is where we are going.’ And they want to be involved in creating the vision.’ ”

Sue Kertzner says, “To create a corporate vision, I would offer guidance for you, the CEO. We would sit down and figure out what your core values are, what impact you want your life to have, and what kind of legacy you want to leave with your company. Out of that thinking you would create a personal mission statement.”

Once you have developed a personal mission statement, Sue says, make a list of values that would depict green for your company. Examples might include:

  • What does it mean to be green?
  • What other values are important respect for the individual, respect for the client, respect for the environment?
  • How would being green change your decision-making process?
  • When potential customers call on the phone, what kinds of questions are you going to ask them?
  • Why would being green be important to both you and your customers?

Then have a round of internal “town meetings.” Start talking about your vision with the rest of the company.

1. Buy-in

How to go about enrolling the whole organization in your vision and core values? The way you don't do it is through the edict approach: ‘This is the way we are going to be!’ That’s a fallback to command and control management style. You can't start like that. Start with your vision. Then ask your people for their input, for their comments. Ask them what ideas they have about how to improve the way the company is operating.

Kertzner says to tell your people what your vision and values are for becoming a green company. Ask them:

  • What about this do you like?
  • What doesn't work for you?
  • What do you need?
  • What are your interests?

In the course of that conversation, you’ll find out what their deeper concerns are. Maybe it’s that when they build faster, using familiar conventional methods, they get bigger bonuses. So you think of new ways you could work your bonus system create new criteria. And that's key: line up the compensation and reward systems with your values. Otherwise people won’t buy in to the values.

  • Mini-workshops are valuable. For example, employees can participate in personal vision and values exercises. They identify what is most important to them and see how strongly their values do or do not link up with the corporate vision.
  • Address the company norms—the unwritten rules of the game. Have sessions with your employees and ask them: What are the unwritten rules of the game in this company? Then ask which norms would have to shift to align with the new vision. What you want to create is consistent behavior.

Managing the Difference Between Your Vision and Current Reality
Getting buy-in requires managing the creative tension that exists between your vision and the company’s current reality. Speak clearly about the vision you want to create, but at the same time, tell the truth about where you are right now.

For instance, how do employees feel about the challenges you face in becoming green? Where is the green market now, versus where you would like it to be? Holding that tension between the current reality and your desired vision creates room in the middle for ideas, possibilities, and solutions, all of which will emerge and move you toward your vision.

Flexibility and Commitment

Achieving buy-in from employees demands that you be flexible in how you implement your vision, but at some point you have to draw the line and say, "This is what our company is about." After that, people will choose to buy-in or leave. The very nature of change will push some people out. Those who remain after the line is drawn, however, typically show higher productivity and strong commitment to the green vision.

2. Implementation

Too many companies stop at the vision stage. It is a mistake to believe that just creating a vision is sufficient to enroll all the staff in a new direction. Implementation requires follow-through, patience, and good listening skills to really hear what your employees are feeling about the change. Change isn’t easy for anyone, especially when wages are on the line.

Since fear is inherent in implementing changes, you can do an exercise that addresses these fears. You or a consultant can run a corporate “town meeting.” Have your employees brainstorm questions like:

  • What if we took this new path of green building?
  • What is the best case scenario of what our customers will experience?
  • What would the community at large experience?
  • How we would feel coming to work?

Then do the same process with these questions:

  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • What is the most probable?

Discussing different scenarios alleviates some of the fear because most fears are a fantasy about the future. The key to employee buy-in is to harness the excitement of creating a different kind of future with a different kind of company.

Credibility of the Leader is Important

Credibility is essential in implementing change. First, leaders need to take symbolic actions such as changing the smoking policy in the office to show they are really living their green values. Credibility is also developed when leaders are open to the fact that, like all of us, they sometimes don't live up to their values. Being honest about that, but also communicating a continued commitment to those values, can go a long way in building credibility. Leadership in a green company is an internal design component and is as important as what kind of roofing or paint you choose.