On June 13th, professionals gathered at the Walper Hotel in Kitchener for a Change Management and Sustainability event, where change management practice, tools, and how to apply them were discussed. Matthew Day, Manager of SWR’s Regional Sustainability Initiative, opened the event with a brief overview of Regional Sustainability Initiative’s end-of-year member survey. The top three goals across all members were: reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reducing energy use, and increasing employee engagement. The goal of employee engagement stuck out because many members expressed a desire for help from SWR in this particular area. Change management is an effective strategy for dealing with the “human side” of reaching sustainability goals and bridging the energy-performance gap.

Carrah Johnston, Senior HR personnel and Change Leader, began the introduction to change management by offering some key definitions. ‘Change’ is defined as a transition from the current state to a future state; the word “transition” implies a process that takes place over time and includes many components. Therefore, ‘change management’ is the application of a structured approach to transitions within an organization. Johnston says change management is important because organizations invest many resources into achieving sustainability goals, but often lose traction when the change is brought to the employees.

Johnston then introduced the ‘change curve’ model which represents the emotional cycle that people go through when they are confronted with any change. Every individual will begin at different points along the curve and will progress at their own pace. The first two stages are 1) denial and 2) resistance, which occur when employees are not yet ready to let go of the old ways. At the mid-point is stage 3) acceptance, whereby the employee is no longer aligned with the old way but has not yet embraced the new system. As the employee transitions out of acceptance, they enter a stage of 4) exploration and then finally 5) commitment, whereby they become integrated into the new system and eventually embrace the new culture, vision, or project. Johnston says knowledge of the change curve is important for two reasons: firstly, as a change leader, it is essential to recognize where you are along the curve. It is ineffective to lead a team through a transition if the leaders themselves are stuck in the initial denial or resistance stages. Secondly, leaders must know where their team is positioned on the curve in order to effectively move them along. Leaders must meet their team where they are currently at, and work to develop ways to nudge them along the curve.

Johnston then concluded her presentation with five main focus areas for initiating a change management strategy. How much time and energy an organization commits to each focus area will vary, but Johnston says that it is essential that each step is addressed.

  • Evaluate the change, impact, and organizational readiness. Johnston says this first step is often overlooked but is critical in attempting organizational change. Change leaders should evaluate the desired change, considering factors such as its overall size and impact, who will be impacted, how much time is available, and what the desired end state should look like. The organization itself should also be evaluated, considering the organizational readiness and capacity for change.
  • Formulate a change management strategy. Once the change and organization have been analyzed, Johnston says the next step is to ask: “how will we go about tying this initiative into the fabric of this organization?” This requires clearly articulating how the desired change is aligned with organizational goals, vision, mission, and values. It also includes conveying why the change is important, what’s at stake, and where the organization is heading.
  • Develop change management plans. At this stage, change leaders can now begin to formulate concrete plans for initiating and maintaining the transition. Johnston says that sponsors are useful at this stage; these are the individuals within an organization that can influence others and can develop stakeholder engagement. It is also important to develop a post-implementation plan, which requires a strategy for supporting the transition once the new system is in place.
  • Execute the plans. With the groundwork laid through the first three focus areas, it is now time to put the change into motion. It is important that monitoring and measurement tools be in place, such as feedback loops, behaviour audits, and observations. Another key part of this focus area is recognizing that the change is a transition; therefore, it is important to set tangible goals to help move things along.
  • Closing the change management efforts. The final focus area is concentrated on smoothly transitioning the work that has been done into daily operations. Change leaders should consider how to conduct this hand-off in such a way that the organization can “own the change.”

The event concluded with a panel discussion, with panelists Carrah Johnston, Will Stratford (Manager of Health, Safety and Environmental at Waterloo North Hydro Inc.), and Antoni Paleshi (Senior Energy Performance Specialist at WSP). Topics included discussions about how change management relates to sustainability, how change management helps to understand people and build trust, and the importance of communication in an organization. The audience, made up of professionals from many fields, was engaged throughout both the presentation and panel discussion and offered some interesting insight. Guests left feeling optimistic and inspired to consider ways that they can become change leaders within their own organization.


For more information, please email Matthew Day, Program Manager, Regional Sustainability Initiative at: matthew.day@sustainablewaterlooregion.ca