Sustainable Change

Around the theme of sustainability, there has been a lot of talk recently about the need for change and transformation. It is also clear that there are many tensions and emotions surrounding that theme and the way we are shaping the changes now. The way in which these social changes such as, for example, around the climate and especially the agricultural transition are being shaped leads to scepticism, negativity and the intrinsic motivation to change ourselves is not being triggered. People Change has developed a new learning program for organisations to profitably realise Sustainability from within and in connection with each other.


We find that, on the one hand, there are the ‘idealists’ when it comes to climate transition and tackling the nitrogen problem: they want to impose the change – a real ‘system change’ – often with technocratic arguments from above: a top-down change that ignores how people and groups themselves want and can change. On the other hand, there are the ‘conservationists’ who advocate preserving the current status quo and mainstream systems – i.e. no ‘system change’ – and they indicate that the imposed changes are not good and cannot happen. What we know from our experience with change: if you impose change and do not connect with how people can and want to change, the change process does not work, intrinsic motivation is not triggered and changes are also not successfully implemented.

What also doesn’t work is speculating on the effectiveness of purely ‘bottom-up’ stand-alone initiatives: the lack of a guiding framework that provides boundaries but also motivation is key to being able to change as a collective. Moreover, top-down support and coaching can be provided for people coming up with bottom-up initiatives.

Different priorities in organisations

In organisations, changes must also be made in connection and from within to be successful. There, too, different groups often come up against each other, for example groups that see different organisational priorities as important. On the one hand, within organisations there is often a group of people who like to see and also believe that the organisation should keep ‘profit’ as its highest priority and put that above everything else. And on the other hand, there is a growing group of people within organisations who see ‘planet’ (environmental sustainability) or ‘people’ (social and societal sustainability) as the most important organisational priorities from a sustainability focus. Particularly among the new generations of ‘millenials’ and ‘generation Z’, it is clear that many of them see ‘people’ and ‘planet’ as more important than pure ‘profit’ orientation. The new generations are also increasingly choosing ‘purpose-driven’ rather than purely ‘profit-driven’ organisations to work for: and the organisation’s ‘purpose’ or higher purpose or ‘intent’ indicates what the organisation wants to contribute to the world and to the environment in the long term, i.e. what added value the organisation has, and this is often reflected in the organisation’s core values. And the organisation’s Purpose should also involve more than a marketing statement or – worse – be pure ‘greenwashing’. The new generations also pierce through this given the sources of information at their disposal.

People, Planet, Profit, Purpose

Interestingly, even in the financial industry, forerunners in sustainability consistently measure ‘planet’, ‘people’ and ‘purpose’ alongside ‘profit’ as benchmarks for decision-making on financing new projects: Triodos has an “Impact prism” for financing decisions that includes ‘Purpose’, ‘People’, ‘Planet’ and ‘Profit’ (they call it ‘Prosperity’) as 4 criteria. So it is no longer enough to say ‘be good and tell it’, but the new adage for being successful in claiming sustainability in the broad sense (environmental, social and societal) and getting that funded is “be good, do it and prove it”. In 2024, EU directives will arrive, the so-called Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) that companies will have to comply with and non-compliance will have financial, reputational and even criminal consequences. And in terms of reputation, in the current ‘war on talent’, the profile and actual focus (‘put your money where your mouth is’) on ‘purpose’ will have to be clear, especially for the newer organisations, in order to get and keep the newer generations on board.

Measuring priorities

As a company or (public) organisation, you can no longer avoid focusing more and more on sustainability – on ‘planet’, ‘people’ and ‘purpose’ – alongside the focus on ‘profit’, and these additional organisational priorities will have to be monitored and measured more and more explicitly. To do this together in connection requires dialogue and for this the People Change scan offers a good starting point, language and ‘tooling’.

With the People Change scan, we can measure the organisational priorities that people consider important: we measure the extent to which they value (among others) ‘people’, ‘planet’ and ‘purpose’ compared to ‘profit’ and ‘principles’ (the latter is about whether the organisation follows the right agreed procedure and principles). Finally, we measure to what extent, next to these 5 Ps, “Trust” is seen as the highest organisational priority, i.e. whether people consider it most important to create trust in each other in the organisation. For example, by mapping out for a management team the score (scale 1-8) everyone assigns to these 6 organisational priorities, we can initiate and facilitate a dialogue that often provides great insight into the underlying tensions and (subcutaneous) conflicts between MT members. The scores and the dialogue about them provide many insights and inspiration for reaching agreement on the organisational priorities in a joint effort.

Strategic Leadership for Sustainable Change

For a better Sustainability approach and change, we organise at companies the newly developed People Change Learning Course “Strategic Leadership for Sustainable Change” where we invite not only final responsible leaders but also ‘leaders of the future’ for this course of about six months. These are people who have recently joined the organisation from their studies (age: thirty minus) and are highly intrinsically motivated to train themselves in a role & get tooling as ‘change coach and facilitator’. And they are keen to gain insights into designing, guiding and measuring results & impact of change interventions to take the movement they stand for – in which ‘people’, ‘planet’ and ‘purpose’ are the key priorities – together with others ‘beyond the tipping point’. Our belief is that they will make a great contribution as ‘mentors’ and ‘mirrors’ of the final leaders in the Learning Course. And that they, in turn, will also learn a lot from the end leaders. We have now organised several learning courses for our clients and they are very enthusiastic.

Are you interested in the Learning Course or do you want to participate in the next program, contact Rogier or Bert-Jan.

Image by Jame DeMers via Pixabay