So you’ve embarked on a sustainability journey with your organisation and you have wisely decided to include some change management process in the programme to ensure these new behaviours are fully embedded into the organisational culture.  Good thinking! You’ve thrown some great communication planning in the mix, a few green champions, and you’re done and dusted, right?  While a good start, many organisations are finding that traditional change management programmes simply don’t have the impact on influencing sustainability as they do with shifting other organisational behaviours. Research has shown a key factor in embedding sustainability is that of self-efficacy, and it sometimes gets missed in traditional change management programmes.

Monica ParkerSelf-efficacy, a person’s own belief in their competence and potential impact, is critical in influencing new behaviours and learning new tasks. Self-efficacy determines how much effort people will put into initiating new behaviours, how they will face barriers and challenges over time, and their persistence in attaining long-term goals.   This means that a high degree of self-efficacy among staff will not only help jump-start a new sustainability programme, but keep the momentum going after the honeymoon period of a new programme has passed.

Self-efficacy is created through four main channels:

  • Performance and accomplishments: Our sense of self-efficacy comes first and foremost from our own experiences of success.  Successes raise a person’s expectations for further achievement. Failures and setbacks, real or perceived, lower a person’s expectation of success, especially if the setbacks are experienced at the beginning of a new process.  Creating individualised, trackable successes early in the programme will diminish the power of setbacks to derail self-efficacy.
  • Vicarious experience: If we see other people who we believe to be similar to ourselves modelling new behaviours, we will vicariously feel more capable of accomplishing those behaviours.  This is why it is so critical to have green champions from each level and department of the organisation, not just from the top.
  • Social persuasion: Communication plans are helpful, and visuals are a great tool, but there is no substitute for verbal reinforcement from one’s peers to build self-efficacy.  Sincere peer-to-peer conversation, not only about the desired outcomes, but about each individual’s role and capability of accomplishing new behaviours, is very impactful.
  • Positive emotional input: When people feel a sense of positive connection to a task, they are more relaxed and able to accomplish their goals.  If there is a sense of anxiety, stress, or fear associated with the new behaviour, our brains will naturally seek avoidance tactics.  Keep sustainability programmes positive, light, and optimistic to nip the avoidance instinct in the bud.

Of these four, research shows that the most effective way to reinforce self-efficacy is through performance and accomplishments.  There are several clever ways to integrate performance measures into your sustainability programme.  One getting a lot of attention from the likes of Google, the World Bank and United Nations World Food Programme is gamification.  According to gamification expert Gabe Zichermann, “gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems.”  For a great primer on how gamification can be applied to sustainability, you can hear Gabe talk about the multitude of examples of how this approach is so much more effective than traditional, pedagogical methods of embedding sustainability.  Why?  Simply put, games focus on reward and success, not punishment and setback.  And because games integrate social persuasion and positive emotional stimuli as well, they are particularly adept at improving self-efficacy.

Some examples of gamification in use would be smart energy dashboards or competitive sustainability online trackers like SuMo .  But games that focus less on competition and more on the individual shared social experience of gaming will be more successful in building self-efficacy.  Developing a game for your organisation does not need to be complicated.  A great way to start?  Find a social game that you enjoy and work with a consultant to use that as a gamification model to craft a sustainability version.  Good sustainability consultancies will have experts in gaming to help develop the right serious game for your organisational goals. And gamification can be low tech too, so don’t let technology be a barrier.

Looking to further embed sustainability in your organisation? Remember self-efficacy, and let the games begin!

Monica Parker

Director of Workplace and Sustainability Consulting


This blog post has been re-published here with the kind agreement of Monica Parker. The original blog post can be found here on the 2degrees website.