Ministers risk falling into ‘Latte Levy’ trap

In this brief but excellent article Roger Harrabin has captured the very essence of why, when it comes to changing behaviours or improving the way we do things, all too often little gets done. Change initiatives often fail due to the lack of a clear strategy, no achievable and realistic scope, or reflecting on lessons learned.

This article provides some really helpful reminders that equally apply to many improvement initiatives that managers & businesses try to deliver. Many initiatives fail (as do changes in Government policy). Far too often, decision/policy makers misunderstand how to get things done. They rely on things like targets or policy directives. They need to focus more on measuring the improvement.

The background of the article is whether or not to charge for the use of paper cups when we buy a cuppa on the go. MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee had suggested an extra 25p charge for disposable coffee cups to reduce their use. But ministers say it is better for shops to offer voluntary discounts to customers bringing their own cups.

Most improvement initiatives are set up in a rush, appoint a project manager and set up the inevitable Gantt chart.  But, taking time over the following three steps will achieve better results, faster. There will be a lot less stress for all concerned, too!

Having a clear strategy:

The BBC, through its Blue Planet2, Sir David Attenborough, many environmental campaigners and lobby groups have done a great job on raising awareness. Taking action on reducing the amount of waste we produce and what we do with it has become part of a national conversation. This is widely understood and is acknowledged by many people. Even Government Ministers seem to agree on this one!

When it comes to changing behaviours or improving the way we do things, far too many businesses and their managers miss this vital first step. They often prefer to rush ahead imposing change on their staff. It feels like it’s quicker and easier. Trust me – it isn’t! Taking time talking to staff, making the case for change and building consensus and then uniting behind an agreed strategy will get better results every time.

Setting an achievable and realistic scope:

Part of the rationale for rejecting a levy seems to be that coffee cups make up 0.7% of total paper packaging waste in the UK. Ministers want to look at things more widely saying, “We believe it is important to look at the packaging and waste management system as a whole.” With a scope as broad as ‘the system as a whole’ how many years will elapse before anything gets delivered?

A much better way, is to start off with a small change that people can buy into.  Why not take immediate action on an identified improvement opportunity as long as it fits with the overall strategy? You can still have a look at the ‘system as a whole’ at the same time. But, importantly, you’ve signalled to everyone that this is an issue that’s important to the business. As staff get involved with one improvement, they’ll soon start suggesting more and even better ideas.

Reflecting on lessons learned:

Committee chairwoman Mary Creagh said: “The UK’s throwaway culture is having a devastating impact on our streets, beaches and seas. Our report recommended practical solutions to the disposable packaging crisis.” She said evidence to the committee showed charges work better than discounts for reducing the use of non-recyclable materials – as was the case with the plastic bag charge.

When setting up any improvement initiative looking at what’s worked well before is always a good place to start.