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AASHE 2011: Change Management at Harvard

More than anything at AASHE 2011, I hope that the lessons from Leith Sharp’s talk stay with me once I get back to work. The former sustainability director at Harvard, she focused on change management strategies for large organizations. My big takeaway? My role at Berklee (and the sustainability coordinator’s, if we ever get one) is not to do all the sustainability work, but to enable others all around the college to do it. In grantmakers’ language, it’s capacity-building. As I’ve heard over and over again at this conference, we’re doing our jobs if we’re helping to create leaders all around the college, from student environmental group presidents to subcommittee chairs  to project heads. Having this distributed network of leaders is what will really effect change.

On that note, I just want to take a moment to say thanks to John Eldert, Berklee’s VP of Administration. I can see that in sending me to AASHE this year, and in supporting my sustainability efforts in general, he’s doing exactly what Leith’s talking about, enabling leadership in others. I can’t wait to talk this all over with him!

Leith Sharp opened her session with a little song.

As Leith put it, our role is threefold:

  • Removing risk and fostering stability for others to lead successful change
  • Creating forums for people to be socially supported, elevated, and engaged with their peers
  • Taking calculated risks (personal and professional) to create tension and force change

Some tips for accomplishing this:

  • Start with pilot programs. They’re low risk, they require little preapproval, and their success builds momentum. A sustainability office should be a pilot program incubator. Innovation requires iteration (my new favorite word), learning day by day.
  • Adult learners want to learn from each other. Skill sharing programs  are the way to go, empowering people and spreading knowledge. Everyone has their specialty.
  • Just do it. In large, lumbering institutions, when there’s not an already established decision-making process for something, the default is either to do nothing or to get approval from absolutely everybody. Often, if you start the program, its momentum will carry it along past any objections.
Leith teaches an Organizational Change Management for Sustainability class at Harvard extension school that I’d really love to take. She’s so inspiring!

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