Friday, November 16, 2012

Viennese Sustainable HRM

This week I had the great honor and pleasure of attending and presenting at a Praxiskolloquium (=  Practical Colloquium, according to Google Translate) on the subject of Sustainable Human Resources Management, hosted by the Vienna University of Economics and Business Institute for Human Resources Management in the wonderful city of Vienna. The day was entitled: "Sustainable HRM: Fashion or Future?" and was well attended by both academics and Human Resources practitioners from Austrian industry.
Of course, it's hard to say that Sustainable HRM is a fashion, as it is hardly being practiced in a meaningful way by most companies (thought there are, of course, some isolated examples of enlightened practice in different companies around the world and, as we heard this week, also in Austria). For something to be fashionable, lots of people have to be doing it and lots more want to be doing it. Drinking McCafe Latte from a designer-made reusable FSC-certified coffee cup is fashionable. Sustainable HRM is not even at first base. Which is why we need to spread the word. Which is why the sort of event that took place in Vienna, in between bites of Viener Schnitzel and Apfel Strudel, was quite momentous.
The day opened with an enlightening lecture from Professor Sully Taylor, one of the most accomplished academics in the field of Human Resources Management with a sustainability tilt. Sully Taylor holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and is Professor of International Management and Human Resource Management at Portland State University, School of Business Administration, and Director of International Programs for the School of Business.   Dr. Taylor teaches courses in Leadership, Global Human Resource Management, International Management, and Sustainable Enterprise. 
Sully Taylor, Ph.D
Sully gave an overview of how research into Sustainable HRM can provide a basis for developing good practice, although research in this field is not extensive. Sully presented research from several sources that indicates that positive corporate sustainability image has a positive effect on recruitment and retention because people identify with their companies. An environmental stance can be even more important than pay or layoff potential for some job candidates, according to research.
Sully also referred to the taxonomy of green behaviours developed by Dilchert and Ones as a way to both understand and predict behaviors in recruitment and selection, aid motivation and support performance evaluation and training, tools which can be highly useful for any HR department.
Reproduced from Chapter 5, by Dilchert and Ones, in 
Managing Human Resources for Environmental Sustainability
by Jackson, Ones and Dilchert (2012)

Another interesting point made by Sully is that, when candidates have been recruited on a platform of sustainability, it is important that what they find in the organization matches the expectations set at recruitment time. Otherwise, disappointment sets in and performance and retention suffer. Similarly, on-boarding is critical in order to communicate sustainability from the outset, and in general, employees' immediate supervisors play a very important role in ensuring alignment. If immediate supervisors personally exhibit sustainability commitment and behaviors, this is likely to motivate employees and support retention more effectively than a general company sustainability orientation.
Sully Taylor addressed a whole lot more in her fascinating talk, and made a great case for expanding and broadening the scope and depth of research about how sustainability works in organizations and the role of the Human Resources function. For example, most research to date has been done in relation to business students (MBA), but very little about other professions. More research is required into the social aspects of how sustainability is embedded in organizations, rather than the green-employee environmental focus.
Sully's session was followed by breakout sessions - I attended the one about Sustainable HRM and Human Rights, led by the fabulous Eva Szigetvari, who  is a Project Manager at the Vienna University HR Management Institute. Eva presented the case for greater attention to Human Rights issues by Human Resources Managers and some of the challenges involved, highlighting examples of best and worst practice in actions relating to Human Rights, and also, the way Human Rights issues are (inadequately) reported in Sustainability Reports (more about that on the CSR Reporting Blog - coming soon - watch that space for interesting insights).
My presentation was about the business imperative for Sustainable HRM. Yes, there is one. As usual, my experience is more practical than academic, and I shared reapplicable and scalable ways that the HR function can support business sustainability as a full and equal partner while performing core HR roles in a more sustainable manner. The HR function has stakeholders, says me, and these are more than just management and employees. The HR function must realize the impact of its decisions on society and use this understanding to inform HR policy in a more complete way. Case in point about how not to do it: Didier Lombard, former France Telecom CEO, now indicted for his part in leading a toxic culture in which 35 people committed suicide in 2008 and 2009. 
The afternoon sessions included fascinating discussions about how sustainable practices are currently implemented in Austrian organizations and insights for ways forward. In one discussion, for example, we talked about wellness programs, which tend to be better supported at the HQ of most organizations and less well developed in other locations. In the case of a supermarket chain, for example, where there are extensive wellness and wellbeing options in the Austrian HQ offices, the company is having difficulty ensuring the same frameworks for and engagement of employees who work in stores, where the nature of the work is different and the locations are smaller. These are the good problems. The tougher problems for most organizations are how to get started and where to assign priority. I presented our roadmap (published in the SHRM Foundation's Effective Practice Guidelines on Sustainable HRM, which I co-wrote with Professors Sully Taylor and Michael Mueller-Camen) and offered suggestions as to how to measure HRM impacts and ensure more of a strategic presence for the HR voice at the sustainability decision-making table.
The day was flavored with wonderful Austrian organic and social-enterprise sourced food, and to my great surprise and delight, I was presented at the end of the day with my favorite food of all ... you guessed it: ice cream!
Yes, I did eat it all in one go!
Here's looking forward to hearing more of great Austrian businesses and Sustainable HRM practices!
And a big personal thank you to Professor Michael Mueller-Camen, of the Institute of HR Management at Vienna University, who is both a distinguished academic and a perfect collaborator, host and gentleman.
Oh, and as for fashion or future, I think we all agreed on future.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices.  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website
Related Posts with Thumbnails