Tuesday, October 26, 2010

People Matter Engage

The World Businesss Council for Sustainable Development (WDCSD) has just published a very interesting paper as part of a project called People Matter on how to engage employees in sustainability and why it is important that you should. Maya Forstater (@MForstater) collaborated on the writing of this paper and alerted me to the publication. Thanks Maya!

"People Matter is a project to explore the link between talent skills and sustainability.Through this project, leading companies are sharing experience and developing thought leadership on how to prepare, engage, train, motivate, reward employees around sustainable development. This first in a series of issue briefs focuses on the links between employee engagement and sustainability. It is an introduction to the topic, presenting the business case and highlighting best practice. It is designed for sustainability experts as well as human resources leaders in their quest to understand what sustainability challenges and opportunities mean for their work."

The report stresses the need for creating a "sustainability culture" which I agree is an imperative for all businesses and writes: "Creating a culture of sustainability means ensuring that everyone in the company, from the expert to the shop floor worker, understands what sustainability means to the business, has a voice, feels involved and proud of his own contribution."

The report highlights 5 key elements in the business case for engaging employees in sustainability:

**Behaviour change by employees in all they do in the business
**Innovation motivated by an understnding of sustainability and concerns of employees
**Attraction and retention of sustainability minded employees
**Motivation and productivity - "when business has a purpose, employeees are motivated"
**Reputation - "employees can strenghten or damage brand reputation"

The evidence for engagement  (>> engaged organizations make more profit >> sustainability themes positively influence engagement)  are listed in the report. However, intiutively correct though this may seem, I always look at these survey results and wonder if the practice matches the theory. I am still waiting for one piece of research that shows that employees in a sustainable business actually are more productive, that employees actually join a business due to sustainability factors, that innovation actually is enhanced though a sustainable culture. Where is the evidence that, of all those people who say they want to work for a sustainable company, a certain percentage of them actually DO and that they also stick around ? This WBCSD report doesn't address this, despite the report being produced as a collaboration between 60 WBSCD member companies who are to a greater or lesser degree, sustainability practitioners and should have evidence of this in their own back yard. 

The report goes on to outline the ways in which companies can engage employees in sustainability - some good ideas are presented. Points I would add to the list which is mainly around communications and training tools  include sustainability themes in workplans or target setting or performance reviews  - these are some of the most fundamental ways of ensuring engagement.

The report includes three case studies from TNT, Nokia and Unilever.  The case studies offer some sense of positive outcomes such as at TNT: " Managers now report they are winning tenders because of the company’s environmental performance. They also say sustainability has become an important factor in securing employee loyalty and attracting high potentials." . Tangible or quantitative outcomes were not included in the other two case studies. I would have liked to see a report of this nature that is based on the actual practices of companies include some real hard numbers business outcomes as a result of inspiring employees in sustainability. Perhaps the following papers in this series will touch on this.

However, as the report concludes " Starting the conversation is the most important first step" and I agree that more companies should be having more conversations with their employees about sustainability and more importantly, how employees as stakeholders convert the impacts of the business ON employees into positive sustainability impacts OF employees on all stakeholders. In the light of this, this report is a good addition to the body of knowledge on this subject.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices. Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my website www.b-yond.biz/en

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