Learning Sustainability

Learning Sustainability

If at all consensus prevails across our fractured world, then it is the one around the importance of sustainability. Concerns are emerging from every corner, on shrinking resources and the looming pandemic of scarcity. If there ever was a time to act, it is now. Sustainability is no longer an option, but a business differentiator. It is time to give it a push in the corporate priority list, and the Learning team is the one that can do much about it. Sustainability is simply defined as meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their needs. One of the key players in this crisis are the corporates, who are responsible for such an extent of consumption and generation of plastic waste and other chemicals which spell doom for planet earth. In order to ensure that the corporates can begin contributing significantly to make our world sustainable again, the concern must begin at home. Along with aligning its strategies with sustainable goals, which many corporates are doing now, organisations must take specific practical steps to steer the existing talent towards showing concern for sustainability, and at the same time, attract young talent for whom this is a prime concern.

It is difficult to ignore the impact of your company on the community and the environment. At some point in time, CEOs used to frame thoughts like these in the context of moral responsibility, but today, as the CEO of Unilever points out, it is also about growth and innovation. In the future, it will be the only way to do business. Concern for the planet is a business as well as an issue of morality. Increasingly, organisations are moving towards infusing concern for people, planet and profits into their core strategy, and in doing so, are attracting the best, and a highly qualified talent. Sustainability is no longer a moral prerogative dependent on the goodness of our hearts, but a hard‑nosed strategy. Companies with strong reputations for having a triple‑bottom line or sustainability focus accrue benefits in several areas related to talent management, including reduced recruiting costs, reduced attrition costs, and increased employee productivity. According to research, 92 per cent of employees surveyed “would feel better about themselves” if they worked for a socially responsible corporation, and 96 per cent would like to work in a company that also aspires to do good. Respondents also believe that companies have an obligation to help the environment and that employers should support social issues.

So, it makes business sense to weave your Talent Management plan with the focus around sustainability. Some of the steps to keep in mind are: -

1. Your talent management plan needs to be fused with sustainable business strategy: The talent management plan needs to be fused with the overall strategic execution plan. Once that is in place, then the best talent can be aligned to its execution, identify opportunities to implement sustainability and reward key players associated with its implementation.
 

2. Embrace qualities of the state of the art Sustainable Enterprise: The state of the art Sustainable Enterprise reflects a long term, holistic and system oriented mindset. It supports what is known as the Triple Bottomline focus, in which the central strategy simultaneously embraces social, environmental and economic factors for the short-term performance and long-term vision. It works to emphasize ethics‑based business principles and sound governance practices and pays attention to replenishing natural, human, social, financial and manufactured capital.
 

3. Re-look at organisational values: Most companies define and articulate a set of corporate values for all their stakeholders. Values often consist of respect, consideration, equity, justice, freedom, honesty, humility, etc. The focus on sustainability values provides a powerful and an exciting opportunity to engage your organisation’s top talent, encouraging them to stretch themselves and bring their most innovative and creative thinking to the table. Often, organisations do undertake various kinds of environment friendly initiatives, or adopt non-profits working on sustainability related concerns. But, these are not sufficient to transform a company to a sustainable organisation. There needs to be a shift in operations and processes as a first initiation of change. And, Learning & Development can and should play a pivotal role in embedding the dialogue about values and sustainability into the value systems and the competency framework so that HR processes radiating from the competency framework are imbued with the focus on sustainability.
 

4. Align your talent management systems and practices with sustainability: Once the foundational elements are in place, it will be infinitely easier to align your talent management systems, processes and practices with sustainable strategies and values. Like building a house, the foundation has to be solid and it has to come first. There are two key systems to be aligned to be effective - leadership development and performance management system, which includes recognition and reward.

Leadership Development

Leaders set the tone for organisations, as they do for nations. Leaders in sustainable enterprises have a way of being that is distinctly different from the command control hierarchical management styles prevalent in the 20th century. They interact with the people inside the organisation as if it were a living system, and, recognizing that it is operating in the larger ecosystem of the world. They work towards creating conditions that encourage people to self-organize and unleash their natural creativity and energy. The leaders together with the staff, foster the principles and practices of a self-initiating culture, in order to co-create the future.

In Quotes “Leaders set the tone for organisations, as they do for nations. Leaders in sustainable enterprises have a way of being that is distinctly different from the command control hierarchical management styles prevalent in the 20th century. They interact with the people inside the organisation as if it were a living system, and, recognizing that it is operating in the larger ecosystem of the world.”

Performance Management

Recent research found some of the lowest scores for HR leaders related to helping other executives visualise the link between sustainability strategy and HR investments connecting sustainability strategy to talent and performance management systems, and, working across boundaries inside and outside the organisations. This is true even in organisations most deeply involved in sustainability. Often HR executives individually bear an in-depth care about most global issues, but they do not find many incentives in their organisations for acting on their concerns. Therefore, it is important to weave it around HR processes including the following:

Recruitment and Selection: Weave in concerns and experience of sustainability into the Job Descriptions, and seek candidates fitting the description.

L&D: Develop a learning programme around sustainability, with modules around the multiple aspects of scarcity, replenishment, and execution of such initiatives. 

Coaching and 360 Degree Feedback: Many employees, particularly tenured ones, need to be sensitized around the issues to develop this in their teams and nurture a culture of concern.

Performance Management: Reward systems should be made to recognize and reward those working on the lines of sustainable growth.

Compensation: While compensation alone cannot drive change, but complemented with the above, it provides a positive incentive to think different.

Career advancement: Develop tracks based on concern for nature and execution of green initiatives.

Communications: Last but not the least, focused communications is a powerful catalyst of change. All initiatives in this direction, can multiply the impact and influence employees to step out of their comfort zone and participate in the culture of volunteering and re-look at their traditional business culture. All these steps would ensure all hands are on deck and sustainability would not be a spectator sport, but a participative goal.

In Quotes “Focused communications is a powerful catalyst of change. All initiatives in this direction, can multiply the impact and influence employees to step out of their comfort zone and participate in the culture of volunteering and re-look at their traditional business culture. All these steps would ensure all hands are on deck and sustainability would not be a spectator sport, but a participative goal.”

Dipankar Das is Head – Learning and Development at Tata Projects Ltd. He specializes in Managerial and Leadership Development across a cross section of industries, including Automobile, Telecom, Travel, F&A, etc. Prior to working with TPL, he worked for IBM and Genpact.

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