Goal Clarity and Goal Congruence
Organizations need inspirational, meaningful, and measurable goals to guide their sustainability-related efforts. Then the goals must be communicated to employees in such a way as to shape their work-related behaviors. Sometimes this occurs formally (e.g., through formal socialization and training), but employee assessment of formal goals also can be transmitted using informal communication. In this section, I focus primarily on how employees respond to the formal communication of goals. If employees are unaware of or do not support their organization's sustainability-related goals, little will be accomplished and employees may experience emotional stress. In addition to helping to create a clearly understood and shared organization culture, the cohesive execution of an organization's goals is one component of its socialization capabilities.
Organizational goals regarding sustainability ultimately are enacted by individual employees. In order to act, employees must see how their behaviors can further the organization's goals. Therefore, individual-level goals become important. Goal clarity involves the degree to which the organization creates clear objectives and performance expectations for individual employees (van der Post et al. 1997) and whether or not employees understand their associated role. It includes employee awareness of how to work together to achieve the mission and values of the organization. A great deal of organizational research has focused on measuring issues such as goal and process clarity and role ambiguity, especially during times of organizational change. Individuals seeking to promote sustainability-related initiatives at the organizational level must design, communicate, clarify, and reward individual-level goals.
Building on the TPB and the value-belief-norm models, Unsworth et al. (2013) proposed a model describing the psychological conditions under which organizational interventions designed to promote pro-environmental employee behaviors are likely to succeed. Their model draws on theories of values, self-concordance, goal hierarchies, goal systems, and multiple goals. Within an organization pro-environmental behaviors are only one of many behaviors or tasks that employees may choose to engage in. Pro-environmental goals are only one of many goals (e.g., efficiency goals, service and relationship goals, family goals, career goals) toward which employees are working.
Goal Conflict at Aspen Skiing Company Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company, wrote about this inherent goal conflict in his book, Getting Green Done (2009). When we spoke he said:
This is the same problem that every corporation faces and the problem is that organizations have a mission of doing something other than sustainability. And people in the company understand that is their focus, so they are only willing to do so much on something that they see is ancillary. So, for years, I fought many, many battles trying to do some very simple basic high return on our investment sustainability projects. And lost many of them. If you google “Little Green Lies' in Business Week, that article is a very good summary of some of the challenges we faced. But I'll give you an example. My classic example is trying to get a hotel to retrofit light bulbs. And having the hotel manager refuse for half a dozen really good reasons ranging from the quality of light, to a concern about AAA ratings going down due to fluorescent lighting, to the opportunity costs of capital.
Within an organization, new pro-environmental goals communicated as part of an intervention designed to change employee behaviors are more likely to be activated if an individual sees the proposed environmental goal as addressing the problem and as attractive (Unsworth et al. 2013). Attractiveness depends on the intervention's characteristics and the individual's initial self-concordance. Selfconcordance involves the degree to which the pro-environmental behavior expresses any of an employee's stable interests and values. Julia Spence, Vice President of Human Resources at the Neil Kelly Company, talked about selfconcordance saying:
I think a part of it is that they [employees] really like being able to come to work and do something that makes them feel good about the value of the work that they are putting in. That it's not just, let's sell this cabinet, but let's do something that really moves things forward and matches what they would like to accomplish.
Employees do not necessarily have to have humanistic, social, or biospheric values. What is important is that the employee sees (1) the proposed behavior as expressing as many of his or her values or long-term goals as possible, even if they are egoistic values, and (2) the link between his or her own behaviors and the organization's values. I asked Susan Anderson, Director of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, to discuss any challenges her office faced when discussing sustainability with city staff. She said:
There is still a contingent that's like—'I've got work to do. Go away'.. .. [How to respond?] Talk about stuff they care about. Show them how it helps them get their job done, saves money, looks good to the boss. [Say] we will help you tell your story, or [when] they finish the project, we write it up, submit it, and get a reporter to write about them and put their picture in the paper. That kind of stuff really goes far. They see a benefit. They see a benefit to making all the parking meters solar.. .. Not because they care about climate change. But because their boss or politician liked it or they got some kind of personal feedback.
Self-concordant goals activate related higher order goals (more abstract and long term such as self-esteem or self-actualization) (Unsworth et al. 2013). When a pro-environmental self-concordant goal is activated, a spillover effect is likely to occur so that other behaviors connected to the higher order goal also are activated. Employees ultimately abandon behavioral goals that are not self-concordant. However, even when self-concordant, when goal conflicts occur as employees attempt to balance their competing goals, they prioritize performance or work relationship goals because green goals are generally background goals. Intervention-related pro-environmental goals are more likely to be pursued when other important goals (e.g., performance goals) are either very close or very far away from being achieved. When the intervention-related goal is focal, there are no conflicting cues, and if the behavior is perceived as self-concordant, pro-environmental activity is more likely to occur. If an intervention is to succeed, goals should be efficacious and attractive, self-concordant, in limited conflict with other goals, able to spillover into related behaviors, and achievable. Organizational messages directed toward employees as part of an intervention should stress that the proposed action is consistent with something they value and will solve the problem, that employees are capable of engaging in the proposed behavior, and that the behavior will have the desirable outcome (Unsworth et al. 2013). Leaders can increase employees' perceptions of the self-concordance of the pro-environmental behavior. Interventions can address goal conflict by providing cues to remind and refocus employees back on the pro-environmental goal. Earlier you read about how the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the State of South Dakota utilize on-location cues to reinforce behavioral change (e.g., signs over light switches). Multiple concepts appear in Unsworth et al.'s (2013) psychologically based model addressing conditions underlying pro-environmental behavior change: intervention characteristics, an individual's initial and ongoing perceived self-concordance, goal attractiveness, goal efficacy, behavioral and higher order goal activation, short-term effects, goal conflict, equifinality, the proximity of non-green and green goal attainment, longterm spillover, rebound effects, and green fads. I encourage you to look at and think through their model.