Put change gurus to work (Editorial)

Whether it’s introducing new processes or restructuring following mergers or downsizings, getting employees to change their ways is often a frustrating exercise for HR professionals.

Because so many HR and corporate initiatives flop due to employee intransigence, consultants and authors have discovered advising employers on change strategies is a lucrative business. HR professionals are all too familiar with corporate mergers that disappoint when it comes to meeting objectives because required changes are not accepted by the divergent workforces brought together.

How difficult is it to get people to change? Canada is about to find out. Meeting the Kyoto Accord’s targets for greenhouse gas reductions will require a behavioural shift of seismic proportions from Canadians.

If Canadians are unwilling to change their lifestyles to protect their own health and that of their children, while saving the planet from the effects of pollution, then what hope is there in getting them to accept workplace changes that improve productivity by a couple of points?

What’s the argument for individual responsibility for meeting Kyoto targets? Ottawa has a few good reasons to reduce green house gases, noting global warming hurts Canada in a number of ways: droughts affecting agriculture (you’d think Alberta’s devastating drought would get even Ralph Klein’s attention), reduced water levels, insect and rodent infestations, forest fires, reductions in fish stocks, melting permafrost, heat waves, poorer air quality and health problems.

And how are Canadians being asked to change? The federal government’s climate change Web site has a lot of tips on efficient appliances and reducing photocopying, but the real issue is changing the attitude toward cars. Transportation is the single largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and the change challenge will be weaning the nation from its love affair with driving around in SUVs. To realize the extent of the problem, witness a typical school at drop-off time when parents in monster-sized car/trucks discharge children and then continue on their way with a single occupant in a vehicle with capacity for 15.

How can these attitudes be changed? Why don’t we give all the self-professed change gurus a crack at it? If change consultants can’t convince people to switch to smaller cars to improve the health of their children, why should employers trust them to advise on less significant and taxing changes in employee behaviour?

Here’s a real chance for the experts to show us their stuff.

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