What Greta Thunberg teaches us about project management & social change campaigns

Illustration of activist Greta Thunberg public speaking
For decades, scientists have been trying to convince the world that our climate is in serious crisis, but too often it has fallen on deaf ears. Finally, people are listening - but it’s not the scientists who have caught the public’s attention. It’s not even a politician or somebody in a senior role in some important capacity somewhere. It’s a teenager. A 16-year-old self-proclaimed “climate and environmental activist with Asperger’s” by the name of Greta Thunberg.

That’s pretty incredible – and clearly the team here at ROI (ή) aren’t the only ones impressed. Since launching her emotive climate change campaign outside the Swedish Parliament, penning a book and addressing the UN, among many other feats, the young activist has even, as you’ve no doubt heard, been named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019. The youngest person ever to receive the accolade. It’s not hard to see why Greta Thunberg is inspirational to so many people.

And what have you done today?!

So what can we learn from Greta Thunberg? Surely there is a whole wealth of good stuff we can adopt from this inspirational teenager’s approach, especially for those of us working in the public sector or charity sector, in which change management and social change campaigns are commonplace and so increasingly vital in today’s turbulent climate (no pun intended).

Here are a few of our thoughts…

Good leadership is authentic leadership

In our eyes, one of the key factors that makes Greta Thunberg’s approach so impactful is its reliance on authenticity. She is who she is – the manner in which she addresses the public is extremely direct and presumably quite true to her core a person – precise and measured. There is no sugar-coating, few theatrics, nothing overtly ‘Hollywood’ or constructed about her actions or persona. Put bluntly (as Greta would no doubt like it), she is the stark opposite of many of the world’s current leaders… not mentioning any names! That is just one of many reasons why Greta is a great leader, a gamechanger even.

What Greta reinforces is that good leaders are authentic leaders. Those who are clear & transparent in their messaging. Individuals who value action (ditching the convenience of plane travel, for instance) over mere talk (“I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is”). People we can believe in. Authenticity and all the other great attributes associated with it (trust, transparency, passion, action, change…) at the top tends to have a trickle-down effect. It can, and will, lead to better project management, better teamwork, a better approach to marketing and community engagement, and, if all goes to plan, social change.

Small changes, one project at a time, make a big difference

As Greta so clearly shows us, sometimes we can’t rely on our political leaders to communicate with us in an authentic way and thereby inspire the social change that is so desperately needed. However, she also reminds us that even the smallest changes can have the greatest impact. Those of us lucky enough to be working in the change management field or on projects steered towards social good can be adopting a Greta-like approach right now. In fact, anybody can. Here are a few suggestions how:

  • Consider the ‘authenticity’ of your project boards and management teams. Is there transparency and clear and direct communication from the top down? Are those in leadership positions doing everything they can to convey a sense of trustworthiness and strong belief in the project at hand and its value? Do even the ‘littlest people’, as Greta has described herself, feel comfortable voicing their opinions and getting involved? If not, maybe it’s time to shake things up.
  • How authentic are your communications, marketing & community engagement strategies? Nowadays, especially in the internet age, members of the public are more savvy than ever and can instantly get a sense of whether they are being communicated to in a direct, honest way. In this vein, utilising a ‘human’ element in your comms strategies can really help. This is particularly important for the public sector, where every dime spent is often scrutinised by the press and public. Before you start planning your next campaign, ask yourself: How can we communicate our messages in a manner Miss Thunberg would approve of?
  • Are you being honest with yourself and your teams about project results? It’s a trend we see over and over again – projects not quite working completely as planned but excuses being made or even stats being a little bit falsified to suggest otherwise. If you’re serious about change management, it’s vital that teams and team leaders take a critical and analytical look at what is working and what is not. Having this information, even if underwhelming, is ultimately a positive thing given it can be used to inform and tailor future campaigns for success. Accountability is key and we’re sure Greta would agree.

Change management and social good campaigns, Greta-style

Here are a few more thoughts on how we can use Greta’s logic to shape our project management teams and change management campaigns…

  • Be reactive and don’t be afraid of humour. Greta is famous for frequently changing her Twitter profile description in response to comments made by the likes of US president Donald Trump. After her UNGA speech, for instance, Mr Trump tweeted a video of the Swedish teen engaged in passionate speech about climate change with the comment: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”. Moments later, Thunberg changed her Twitter bio to “A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future”. She did so again in December following another mean-spirited tweet by the US president urging Greta to “chill”. This smart maneuver by Greta not only endeared her even more so to the public but gained her substantial media coverage. Sounds like a successful campaign strategy to us!
  • Be a storyteller. One of Greta’s great skills is her ability to tell a universally relatable story through her speeches and writing, one that resonates deeply and thereby inspires change. In fact, one of the most Googled Greta-related search phrases currently is: Greta Thunberg Speech Text. Also popular is: What Does Greta Want Us To Do? Evidently, her speeches, her stories are making an impact. Remember though, good storytelling skills are important not just for members of the marketing department, but for all those involved in the project management process. How else will you motivate your colleagues and promote optimal teamwork? Passionately promoting your story is a big part of that.
  • Think big, act small. Greta reminds us that Every. Little. Thing. Matters, especially when it comes to the environment. We all have the ability to influence change. How so? If your board room is stocked with disposable cups for example, replace them with proper ones or, even better, purchase your staff reusable thermal bottles. Another not-so-eco-friendly practice especially common in the public sector and charity sector is the unnecessary printing of flyers and other promotional materials. #BeMoreGreta and set your team a challenge to go as online as possible this New Year.

How has Greta Thunberg inspired you or your team? Do you agree that Greta is important to teams in the public sector and charity sector? What has she taught you about effective social change campaigning? We’d love to gain your insights. Join the conversation on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/roi-operations-management-ltd