Helen Amiss March 15 2018

Sustainable behavioural change – and why you’ve got to break old habits

Sustainable behavioural change – and why you’ve got to break old habits

The success of organisations depends on them getting three things right: strategy, leadership and culture. And underlying each of these non-negotiables is individuals’ behaviour.


Leaders are responsible for choosing the direction their company takes, and they decide on the tone they want the culture to have. But it is the behaviour of employees which determines whether or not strategic goals are reached.

Typically, those goals are changing all the time as they adapt to the various challenges around them such as:

  • The globalised market has opened businesses up to competition.
  • Global and domestic economic issues put pressure on public organisations to become more self-sufficient.
  • Demands and expectations of organisations from employees, clients and customers have grown. Mistakes made by organisations do not go unnoticed in an age of social media saturation.

Sustainability as a strategy

Sustainability has moved from being a goal of a minority of organisations twenty years ago to a crucial component of corporate strategy.

Policies which address environmental issues such as carbon emission-reductions, social matters including equal opportunities, ethics issues and customer and product-related issues have become the differentiators of success.

Is sustainability the key to success?

Research from Harvard Business School has found that organisations which adopt more sustainability policies outperform organisations that embrace fewer policies by 4.8 per cent on the stock market. This suggests the more sustainable the organisation, the higher performance.

Businesses are having to continuously evolve to meet the demands and expectations of the current market. Sustainability is now at the forefront of an organisation alongside meeting their targets.

But to become sustainable and reach targets, organisations often need to undergo considerable culture change, which usually means a change in behaviour across the workforce.

But behaviours needs to be sustainable, too...

This is only part of the journey. Behaviour which underlies a sustainable culture needs to be sustainable in itself.

Organisations’ high performance is demonstrated in its long-term financials, people, environmental and societal indicators, according to the CIPD.

Whatever the external and internal challenges that the organisation comes up against, it is successful because it can sustain its high level of performance over time and reap a return on investment.

Empower employees to change

The start of this journey is removing the outdated habits that cost money and hinder progress towards the culture change.

Employees need to feel empowered to change their behaviour and habits. Communication campaigns which highlight the savings to be made and benefits to be realised by changing habits forever and incentivising that permanent behavioural change with competitions can help.

And these individual behaviours need to be linked to the organisation’s cultural and strategic goals.

For example, organisations should be able to demonstrate the positive effect that minimising electricity use has on its goal of becoming carbon neutral, or illustrate the impact greater staff wellbeing has on its target of increasing retention levels.

Once these changes in behaviour have been made, organisations need to monitor new behaviours and measure the effect they have on meeting strategic targets.

They should also consider tweaking or setting new targets in order to maintain behaviour change. Only then can cultural change become sustainable.


  1. Identify the end in sight – what targets do you want to reach, what culture do you want to have?
  2. Examine the habits or behaviours that are stopping you from reaching those targets and create a plan for breaking them – but look beyond this, as you also want to examine the behaviours that you strive for within the business.
  3. Use communication campaigns and incentives to empower and engage staff to change their behaviour.
  4. Link this behaviour to the overall organisational goals and desired culture, by highlighting the role behaviour change plays.
  5. Regularly measure behaviours by setting new goals once previous targets have been met to sustain behavioural and cultural change.

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