What makes Organization Development and HR professionals so well-suited to leading our communities and organizations in holistic change toward a prosperous, flourishing world?Read on . . . and if you want to learn more, we invite you to explore other organizations doing great work, books and articles written by us and others, and the United Nation's Global Goals to transform our world. Do you know a fantastic book, article, or organization that should be here? Let us know!
Why is this? System-wide sustainability initiatives, in order to succeed, require a community or business to act as a learning organization - that is, an organization that is able to continually observe it's own behavior, make adjustments, innovate and improve, all in stride with a fast-paced world. The same characteristics that enable an organization to successfully implement their sustainability goals will also help them out-perform their competition. The good news is that with leadership and commitment, any organization has the potential become a learning organization. As OD and HR professionals, we are in a unique position to offer the skills, expertise, and training to help organizations navigate the whole-system changes required to achieve successful sustainability initiatives.
Peter Senge illustrates this example in his book The Necessary Revolution. To highlight the relevance of OD principles to successful sustainability endeavors, Senge uses a pool of data from decades of ecosystem simulations where economically competitive teams share management of a fish hatchery. With great consistency, the teams participating in the simulation - including those populated by members of environmental protection groups - harvested the ecosystem to collapse. One exception highlighted a group that concluded the simulation with a thriving ecosystem, as well as the highest profit. According to Senge, this group owed its anomalous success to a business culture that "has long valued organizational learning, systems thinking, and conversation between and among groups as core business practices."[(2) p. 171]
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As citizens raise their voices and dollars in support of more ecologically and socially sustainable goods and services, organizations have responded with innovation to meet the demand.
While some organizations have expressed innovation through marketing and advertising alone - sustainability experts call this greenwashing - others have succeeded at creating meaningful shifts across all levels of their organizations, reconsidering their purpose, products, and decision making to pursue not only financial prosperity, but social and ecological prosperity.
Back in 2003, Hart and Milstein wrote that "addressing the full range of sustainability challenges can help create shareholder value and may represent one of the most under-appreciated avenues for profitable growth in the future."[(1) p.65] They have been proven right. Those daring enough to follow this path are now celebrated as proof that economical and ecological decision making are not mutually exclusive, as once argued. In fact, studies show the opposite: research points to a correlation between successful sustainability initiatives and competitive advantage.
It is significant that even those participants representing environmental groups fell victim to what is known as the tragedy of the commons, the human phenomenon of the individual pursuits of expansion, profit and growth among members of a community leading to the degradation and eventual collapse of a shared ecosystem (3). This shows that even the most valiant social and ecological values and best intentions do not ensure sustainability. What does ensure sustainability is knowing how to organize groups of people with shared interests for the long-term viability of the commons. And while hard systems such as protocols and regulations are important in achieving this, it is the soft systems - leadership, human capital, systems thinking, collaborating across boundaries - that are most crucial to success (4).
HR & OD professionals are uniquely trained in the art and science of soft systems. We have the skills to provide the necessary guidance to organizations, non-profits, government agencies, and community groups seeking to promote vibrant, healthy economic, social, and ecological systems. Anyone working in these fields will be familiar with the ubiquitous question....What is the future of OD? ODCFW exists because we believe we have answered the question, and embrace the challenge. - J. Bartenhagen
Take a look at this article for more on the topics mentioned above.
(1) Hart, S. and Milstein, M. (2003) 'The challenges of innovating for sustainable development', MIT Sloan Management Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 61-68.
(2) Senge, P. (2008) The Necessary Revolution: Working Together to Create Sustainable World, Broadway Books, New York, NY.
(3) Hardin, G. (1968) 'The tragedy of the commons', Science, Vol. 162, No. 3859, pp. 1243-1248.
(4) Epstein, M., Rejc Buhovac, A. and Yuthas, K. (2010) 'Implementing sustainability: the role of leadership and organizational culture', Strategic Finance, Vol. 91, No. 10, pp.41-47.