A Brief Guide to Change Management for Sustainability

Change Management: what is it?

How many times did you set New Year’s resolutions for yourself? And, how many of those did you actually manage to stick to? According to Statistics Brain Research Institute, only 8% of those that start the year with new intentions can stick to them.   

We experience it in our daily lives, how human beings are naturally brought to resist change.   

Organisations witness that too.  

Organisational change can impact one’s job in a variety of ways, from the tools used to the people one has to report to (Figure 1).  

10 aspects of change impact

Integrating sustainability in the core of organisations also implies change. Pressure to do so comes from:  

  • New regulations and disclosure requirements; 
  • Higher consumer awareness; 
  • Increasing impacts of their business-as-usual activities on the planet and society.   

As much as directing organisations towards more responsible practices is an urgent matter, it cannot happen overnight.   

Imposing change rapidly and not properly engaging with those directly affected by change is the perfect recipe for failure.   

In fact, multiple statistics (McKinsey, 2019) highlight the challenge that organisations face in successfully carrying out change:  

  • 70% of organisations fail in implementing change;  
  • Among the various causes of failure, research finds: 
  • Employees’ resistance to change (39%);  
  • Lack of management support (33%); 
  • Inadequate resources and budget (14%); 
  • 44% of employees don’t understand why change is needed and 38% of them don’t agree with it.  

Change management comes in to avoid the above. It can be defined as:

The application of a structured process and set of tools for leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome.

Why do you need to manage change?

The numbers above already depict some of the reasons why you need to manage change.  

To summarise, Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management Research finds that initiatives with effective change management are 6 times more likely to meet objectives (Figure 2):  

Effective change management results

And there is more. Organisations need to manage change to:  

  • Assess – understand where they currently stand and where they want to go; 
  • Inspire – communicate the benefits of change company-wide and boost motivation; 
  • Engage – employees' engagement drives adoption and brings everyone on board; 
  • Prevent – as said, you will most likely face some sort of obstacles while implementing change. You need to develop strategies to anticipate and ultimately overcome these challenges;  

In the end, organisations don’t change. People do. Hence, to successfully carry out change you need to support employees and make sure they understand why and how executing change in their daily work.   

At this point, you might be wondering, how do I make sure I’m managing change well?   


How to 'change'?

As said above, when change is to happen in a blink of an eye, the chance of underachieving is high.   

To carry out change well, it is key to take a structured approach. We identify 7 main steps to change, based on the model put forth by B. Willard in The Sustainability Champions Guidebook (Figure 3).  

7 step process to change management

Step 1 – Wake up and decide  

Internal motivations or external factors can be the wake-up call you need to understand the need for change.   

Step 2 – Inspire shared vision(s)  

Make sure there is alignment on the needed change across the board and secondly bring this shared vision to the rest of the team.   

Step 3 – Assess current realities  

Map your current position compared to the end goal you wish to achieve.  

Step 4 – Develop strategies   

Based on the previous step, you can proceed in developing appropriate strategies to move towards the future ambitions.   

Step 5 – Build the (business) case(s) for change   

That is identifying the underlying reasons that motivate change. With respect to sustainability, it can be a matter of complying with new regulations, reducing operational costs or even being able to find talent.   

Step 6 – Mobilise commitment   

This is the step in which you move from planning to implementing. You start to carry out change in practice across the organisation.   

Step 7 – Embed and align  

Lastly, you embed change within the organisation and align fundamental elements such as the team’s structure, skills, tools, etc.   

 On top of this 7-step process, the ADKAR model provides relevant insights concerning the people-side of change.   


Figure 4 (1)-1


First, you raise awareness across the team about change. You educate and promote the change you want to implement.   

This could entail:  

  • Short trainings;  
  • Communication campaign;  
  • Management or department meetings.  

The goal is to create a shared understanding of the change that is to happen.   


Here the goal is to create the shared vision we talked in Step 2 of the above process. This is crucial to ensure that everyone understands how change is going to benefit the organisation as a whole and them as individuals.   


This aspect refers to spreading across the organisation the knowledge regarding the topic covered by change.   

For example, when subject of change is sustainability, this means increasing the team knowledge on ESG.   


This element can often be confused or merged with the previous. However, ‘ability’ refers more specifically to the way change will impact employees’ day-to-day job.   

For example, if the organisation decides to start sourcing its raw materials more sustainably:  

  • The ‘knowledge’ will concern understanding sustainable procurement, how it works, what it’s hinged on, etc. 
  • The ‘ability’ will affect mainly the procurement team and how they select suppliers and work with them.   

Both knowledge and ability can be built through:  

  • Trainings;  
  • Guidelines;  
  • Policies; 
  • Procedural descriptions.  

Finally, it is important to recognise success and reward teams or individuals that positively carried out change.   

The aspect of reinforcement also focuses on how to continuously improve through constant communication, engagement and upskilling.   


Best practices for your organisation  

To conclude, we summarise 5 best practices your organisation should keep in mind when implementing the next change:  

  • Think systematically – Seeing the bigger picture is a crucial ingredient for success. There is a multitude of elements that interrelate with each other when it comes to change: people, resources, processes, and much more. Also, the process of change is not straightforward. You need to have the flexibility to accept trial and error and reiterate the process.  

  • Develop an inspirational future vision – As mentioned before, to boost internal motivation and buy-in, you need to create a:  
    • Shared future vision;  
    • Clear direction towards which the organisation is pointing.   

Additionally, co-creating the future shared vision can be extremely powerful. In fact, people happen to be much more motivated to contribute to something they took part in creating.   

  • Get credible, stay credible – Make sure that the change you are suggesting is in line with the overarching strategy of the organisation. Show how achieving these results feed into the organisations’ goals and priorities. Moreover, boost the team’s morale by sharing progress and successes on the set objectives.   
  • Dialogue and collaboration – Dialogue needs to happen and each level and in between them. Change cannot be imposed as a top-down decision nor as a bottom-up action.   

Additionally, collaboration can happen both internally across functions and teams as well as externally. In this second case, the support of clients, suppliers or even peers might be needed to inspire and accelerate the     transition.   

  • Influence the influencers – Implementing change cannot be a one person’s job. You need like-minded allies from different levels that support you in implementing change.   

Finally, manage change by supporting people in the process. Success will be possible only when employees have the knowledge and tools to change their behaviour at work.