Mary Leslie is always amused when someone points to the stagnant economy as an argument against change. If you hit rough waters, she says, you would be foolish not to alter course and steer toward a clear horizon.
As president of the Los Angeles Business Council, Leslie tries to convey as much when advocating for area business leaders on key issues that impact their companies and communities. On the issue of sustainability, for example, she argues that companies that embrace environmentally friendly practices can cut operating costs, attract business and encourage a healthy lifestyle among employees.
But you’re not going to get everyone on board just by laying out the benefits of change. And sometimes, you just have to let employees go, a lesson that Leslie has learned throughout her professional career, which includes positions as deputy mayor of Los Angeles and deputy director of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Smart Business spoke with the versatile businesswoman about how to reap the benefits of sustainability and how to get resisters to buy in through training.
Embrace sustainability. It’s a competitive advantage now to embrace sustainability as a concept. You can either choose competitively to embrace this phenomena and the reality of limited resources, or you can choose to ignore it, and then it will be forced upon you.
The first thing is always education. We’ve gone to academia the major universities and institutions. We partnered with the companies that were already doing it. Then we went to government. Where are the leaders in government on these issues?
Between academia, your colleagues who have to be knowledgeable and government, you can pretty much find all your answers
Second, you talk to your employees. Figure out if this is of value to your employees.
Then, you start looking at all the things you do all the things you control: procurement practices, transportation issues, telecommuting, work-related issues.
[If you practice sustainability], you have happy employees and potentially healthier employees. A lot of research has shown in sick buildings buildings where there are fumes coming from the carpet that are toxic people who are sensitive and highly allergic get sick.
The second [benefit] is a lot of employees like the feeling of being part of a solution. If you engage in recycling and doing things that are more sustainable to the environment overall, you have civic pride. You feel like you’re bettering your community.
Also, we know now from a marketing promotional standpoint that it has become an important criterion to a lot of consumers and other businesses.
To many major municipalities, you’re viewed as a better citizen if you have a thoughtful policy and commitment to sustainability.
The other reason, if you own buildings, is that you’ll actually be more efficient and reduce your costs. There’s a bottom line to this also; you’ll save money.
Offer training to resisters. The people who don’t want to change resent it, and you get push-back.
Listen to what the perceived issue or problem is. Try to figure out if that’s right or not or if there’s any credibility to the argument.
There might be some legitimacy to it. If there’s legitimacy to it, often you might slow the way you implement something. But in the end, once you make a commitment, you’ve got to do it. You have to accept that you won’t change some people’s minds. You keep some people, you lose others, and you get some new people. It’s the great cycle.
One of the most legitimate reasons for resistance to change within any business is potentially the fear that the person can’t do whatever you’re asking them to do. Nine times out of 10, if you dig down, the reasons somebody’s resisting you is that they have a fear that they don’t think they can do it.
I’m a big believer in training people or retraining people so that you’re not asking them to do something that they can’t do.
Start with the goal. ‘This is the goal. We all agree on the goal.’ If they don’t agree on the goal, then you’ve got a problem. But assuming that we all agree on the goal, you figure out who’s going to have the aptitude toward that, and then you empower them to do it.
If they start getting frustrated and they still can’t do it, then we try to retrain and move people to positions where they can do well. Once you’ve exhausted all of those things, then you help the person move on.
Find like-minded employees. You want to attract people that value the same things that you do. That’s important.
Part of it is the way you present the job. In the interview process, talk about what the goals and objectives of the organization are and see the response you get.
I always ask the question, ‘Why do you want to work here?’ You learn a lot (about) what their long-term objectives are.
If you say one of the qualifications is you have to have some enthusiasm and passion for the purpose of the organization, I think that’s fair. You’re not just hiring a skill. Hiring a skill is important, but you can teach a skill. You need an attitude. That’s got to be a good 50 percent of it or more.
The benefit of that is that you have people who will do what it takes to get things done and work cooperatively in a team.
HOW TO REACH: Los Angeles Business Council, (310) 226-7460 or www.labusinesscouncil.org