These days, we hear more and more that a company’s stance on social and environmental issues plays a significant role in choice of employer. A recent survey found that over 50% of American workers report being inclined to work for “green” companies. Women and Generation Y in particular want their company’s mission to go beyond profitability, encompassing benefits to the wider community, on social, environmental and economic dimensions (with men and Boomers not that far behind). They are eager to work with companies in which they feel they can make a difference.
These ‘value driven’ individuals are like gold. Get them to work for your organization and fully engage them in work that feels meaningful – with outcomes they can influence and for which they are recognized – and they will go above and beyond. They will have pride in being associated with the organization, recommending it to others as a great place to work, which in turn will contribute to an improved reputation with customers. HR departments have not missed this trend, and now recognize that sustainability is a significant tool to recruit, retain, inspire and motivate the workforce.
But how do you make sure that you fully engage your employees? How do you enroll not only those who are already committed to sustainability, but also those who are sitting on the fence – or even cynical?
First, you need to find out where your employees stand. A written survey or focus group can be used to gauge how employees view your company’s commitment to sustainability, as well as their own personal thoughts on environmental and social issues. You can gather their ideas on what steps to take to advance sustainability efforts, and then find out how employees would personally like to be involved. This information will help you build your strategy for employee engagement.
When people talk about employee engagement for sustainability, they typically think of “green teams”. However, there is far more to engagement than that. Traditional green teams often have little or no involvement in the company’s official sustainability efforts. They are typically composed of environmentally-minded individuals, who are driven to green their lives at home and at work. While many green teams have produced fantastic results, full employee engagement requires a much broader strategy.
Putting in Place the Foundation
An employee engagement program will not go far without first establishing the management infrastructure required to support sustainability. This means integrating sustainability into the overall business strategy, with clear vision, goals and metrics. It means having strong executive sponsorship and a collaborative governance structure for decision making and resource allocation. It requires a rewards and recognition program to support and reinforce sustainability behaviors. You will also need to put in place a project management structure to execute your sustainability strategy, and allow your initiatives to scale throughout the business. With such an infrastructure in place, you will be able to develop a strategy that fully engages employees, while fully realizing the benefits of their contributions.
Cornerstones of an Employee Engagement Strategy
With the foundation built, the next step is to create the cornerstones of your engagement strategy. On a 1-10 scale, how would you rate your organization? Where are your biggest gaps?
- Articulate the vision for sustainability, why it is important, and what people need to do to support it.
- Communicate performance expectations and how progress will be measured.
- Clarify roles and competencies required for managing/participating in sustainability initiatives.
- Provide education and training on sustainability as it relates to technical and business skills, including collaboration, innovation and project management.
- Engage employees in sustainability planning and implementation, from business case development to reporting results and continuous improvement.
- Establish informal cross functional teams to provide education and help brainstorm issues/solutions.
- Establish a Continuous Improvement program to review processes, environmental issues and generate/prioritize new sustainability initiatives.
- Establish a Community of Practice/Center of Excellence in Sustainability to share and develop best practices.
- Provide necessary resources to support engagement, e.g., education and training budget, time, information, backfilling.
- Inspire/energize employees to commit to the strategy; show its benefits and the importance of their contributions.
- Solicit and address questions and concerns.
- Reward behaviors needed to support sustainability.
- Celebrate accomplishments.
The Bottom Line
Without fully engaging employees in your sustainability initiatives, you lose one of your most dynamic and powerful tools to build a culture of commitment, and potentially a competitive edge.
FairRidge Group is a team of management, strategy, and change experts focused on business transformation through the practical application of sustainability for operational improvement and strategic innovation. FairRidge Group brings a new framework for sustainability management that integrates strategy, operations, branding, measurement and organizational development to drive profitable business transformation.
Anna Ewins is a FairRidge Group Affiliate, and founding partner of Ewins & Winby. They deliver comprehensive organizational readiness and commitment building solutions to clients who are implementing business transformation requiring strategic change. Anna’s clients have included Chevron, Blue Shield, HP, Sun and Stanford University. Anna holds a Ph.D. in Psychology (Organizational) from Saybrook Institute, and a B.Sc. in Life Sciences from Aberdeen University.