by Ben Kellard, 27th May 2009
Reposted extract from: Forum for the Future

How can you embed sustainability in a way that motivates employees? It’s a challenge for many leaders faced with the question of how to maintain the momentum of their sustainability strategy, especially in a recession.

The case for using sustainability to motivate employees is compelling. There’s a strong correlation between activities which come under the umbrella of corporate responsibility and employee satisfaction and engagement, according to the latest Sunday Times Best Companies survey.

And research from the Hay Group shows that highly engaged employees can improve business performance by up to 30% and that fully engaged employees are 2.5 times more likely to exceed performance expectations than their “disengaged” colleagues.

A good example of this is property company Gentoo, which launched ‘Gentoo Green’, an internal programme to engage employees in its sustainability vision and strategy. The programme was backed by the CEO and was supported by internal communications, champions, training, and opportunities for employees to get involved. This led to over 700 suggestions from employees about how to improve Gentoo’s sustainability performance, and it’s been estimated that the programme has already delivered half a million pounds in savings to the group in its first year.

Despite this strong business case, many organisations seem to struggle with how to engage employees with sustainability, perhaps not knowing where and how they should start.

[Here is an approach that can deliver sustainability]. It is in four parts:

1. Direction: communicating why and how

Use existing communications methods such as the Intranet to convey a sense of direction:

why are you doing it? – provide a compelling sense of purpose and ambition; for example, through a vision.
how are you going to do it? – give employees clarity and confidence that the strategy and goals will achieve the vision or ambition.

Branding can be used to ensure a clear link in the minds of employees between the different methods of engagement. For example, property company Gentoo launched a ‘Gentoo Green’ internal programme to engage employees in its sustainability vision and strategy, supported by the CEO . It used an internal communications programme to raise awareness of environmental best practice, including articles in newsletters, web pages, posters around the office and videos shown to all employees.

Sharing updates on progress and successes recognises good work and builds momentum and awareness of the strategy. It’s also a powerful way of sharing best practice across the organisation and bringing the strategy alive for people by providing specific examples of progress within the organisation.

Senior leaders should also make their support visible, explaining at every opportunity how sustainability supports the organisation’s success.

2. Capability: what people need to know and be able to do

Identify and prioritise the skills and knowledge that your key staff groups will require to deliver the strategy:

· leaders – need to own, drive and deliver the strategy
· project teams – need to deliver specific parts of the strategy
· all employees – the wider organisation not directly involved in specific projects needs a basic understanding of the strategy.

This could be delivered in a variety of ways ranging from e-learning packages and courses through to the sharing of best practice through networks. Networks are powerful ways of enabling and motivating those involved directly in the delivery of the strategy, through sharing best practice and mutual encouragement, often across different parts of the organisation.

3. Performance: individuals making sense of the strategy

Employees need to know what the strategy means for them and their role. The following ‘people processes’ in particular can help to achieve this:

· performance objectives which identify what it means for individuals – [each person should have a personal review item linked to sustainability]
· feedback and recognition for improved performance
· rewards which support sustainability performance improvements

Using these techniques creates a clear link, or ‘line of sight’ between the employee’s role and the sustainability strategy.

The line management relationship is also an important way for employees to both understand their responsibilities and feed ideas and suggestions up the line. This enables them to see what the strategy means for them and to identify ways in which they can contribute to the strategy with their own ideas and suggestions.

4. Involvement: owning and adapting the strategy

Creating advocates, or champions, are a powerful way of coordinating activities and motivating peers. They are well placed to identify risks and opportunities in their department. As peers they can also influence their colleagues’ behaviour more effectively than senior managers or representatives from the corporate centre.

Team meetings, Employee Forums, away days and other existing forums can also be used to discuss the strategy and explore what individuals and teams can do to support it. These groups can spot opportunities and develop new ways of working which support the strategy and feed ideas up the line. In the process they make it their own by adapting the strategic goals to their local context.

Existing methods of communication can also be used to feed back ideas and suggestions, including line management or departmental reporting lines, or a sustainability forum or steering group. When ideas are taken up and implemented, it’s important to communicate this back to employees so that they can see it and gain recognition. Competitions and awards are great ways of providing this visibility and recognition, and in the process best practice is shared across the organisation.

In each of the four components, reviewing progress allows leaders to adapt the implementation of the strategy by building on what works and changing what doesn’t. This balances a top-down approach that sets the direction and parameters through the strategy, with a bottom-up approach that responds to employee suggestions and enthusiasm and allows flexibility to account for the departmental or regional context.

This approach has two main advantages:

It avoids setting up parallel initiatives and activities that can duplicate existing management processes and create additional demands on already stretched employees. An integrated approach makes the best use of people’s time by building on existing practices.

The approach also grounds the strategy for employees by drawing out the changes and opportunities within the context of their job, team and department. This means that the strategy is seen as something that contributes to the organisation’s performance over the long term, not just as a disconnected ‘flash in the pan’.

SOURCE: Forum for the Future

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