The people with the problem are the problem – and the solution.


I recently sat through yet another conversation all about WHAT we have to change. This drives me a bit crazy because we actually don’t know much about HOW to change. Maybe the focus on WHAT is because we believe that purely technological approaches are capable of solving the ecological and climate crises that we are facing. Maybe we just don’t think about it enough. Read on!

Sustainability practitioners (and anyone else leading organisational changes of almost any type) face many challenges – including:

  • Too much to do and too few resources to do it with
  • Difficulty finding the language to explain the complexity of the issues
  • Conflicting priorities of their own and their senior management/executive

Rarely does anyone tell me that a big problem is understanding HOW to change – rather, they say things like “people don’t have the will”.

Here’s the thing …. It’s not a lack of will. It’s not that people don’t care.

Rather, it is that you have not yet learned how to create an environment in which they will respond by changing. That is not your ‘fault’…you probably haven’t ever been taught how to help people challenge and alter their own deeply held beliefs and reprioritise their values.

We assume (because we are deeply trained in linear, direct cause-and-effect thinking) that:

  • Change occurs when you tell someone to do something differently (we often refer to this as pivoting or being agile)
  • We can predetermine the change and deliver it like a car off a conveyor belt
  • The end result is what matters. The process to get there is not important.

But the truth is that with the changes required now, we need to challenge deeply held beliefs, values and worldviews. This change requires:

  • Leadership that strongly holds the space for difficult and challenging conversations (harmony is not guaranteed), where safety and goodwill are encouraged. This leadership must come from you, not just those in higher authority.
  • An iterative process that dances between WHAT needs to change and the PROCESS of changing it. The process of inquiring into unconscious assumptions and beliefs means new WHATs will open up as we inquire more deeply and broadly.
  • A process that engages widely with people who are often overlooked in the usual delivery of the WHAT to understand new perspectives and innovate genuinely new ways of doing things.
  • Time. Allowing the process to take the time it takes. Jamming another deadline in and pressuring people will not speed up the process.

Controversial perhaps… ‘Unrealistic’ is often a response. My experience in guiding groups of people to work through complex challenges suggests differently. The truth is that there is no other effective way. Please, as you think about WHAT you are going to change, spend more time considering HOW you are going to engage people to contribute to the solution.