How to get everyone on board with the sustainability strategy

14. December 2021 - Af Julie Ring-Hansen Holt, journalist Share

How do you roll out your company’s ambitious sustainability strategy so that employees take ownership and are engaged rather than sceptical about the change process you are undertaking? Get expert advice in this article.

transformation til større bæredygtig

 

Sustainability is the word on everyone’s lips at the moment. If your company’s customers demand it, it’s also something you need to consider as a manager. When management has decided on a strategy, you need to implement it. This is often easier said than done as a sustainability strategy is likely to also mean a change process. This requires, among other things, employee involvement, says consultant Berit Kristine Bøggild.

‘Sustainability strategies need to be relevant more than ever. Employees must buy into the idea and find it a viable strategy for it to succeed. Otherwise, it’s just words from the top – without momentum and action from the organisation,’ she says, adding that the strategy, which can be developed in collaboration with employees, needs to be relevant to customers, the company and the employee.

 

Management should not just present a ready-made concept but show clear direction and ambition, be transparent about everything that is still unclear, and allow employees to contribute in areas where they have expertise.

 

The communicative challenge

Your job as a manager is to communicate with employees and create an understanding of why this is important, because embedding starts the moment management starts communicating the strategy. Employees quickly recognise whether this is a rhetorical exercise or whether management’s intention is genuine.

Management should not just present a ready-made concept but show clear direction and ambition, be transparent about everything that is still unclear, and allow employees to contribute in areas where they have expertise.

‘The most frustrating thing for employees is to hear that something is going on and then not hear anything official for a long time before the management presents a final strategy and roadmap,’ says  management consultant Berit.

‘It’s like TV kitchen input, where you’ve “cheated a bit” and already made a ready-to-roll-out plan earlier. The challenge here is to get management to have the courage to be open earlier, because many managers seem to think they have to have all the answers when launching a new initiative. That approach simply doesn’t work for complex issues like sustainability, so you have to approach it differently as a manager.

‘It breaks boundaries, being open and transparent before you have the answers. On the other hand, it’s incredibly productive if you have the confidence to say that everyone is essential to the strategy’s success.

‘In numerous contexts, managers have told me that they would like to be more open earlier but are worried about suggestion generation getting out of hand and subsequently rejected by management, which can create a climate of resistance. However, in my experience, employees are incredibly accountable when they are included in the process in a meaningful way,’ she adds.

 

‘You can therefore opt to use examples of what management anticipates will be the outcome of the change process, so that employees can see that you have a plan and a vision.’

 

Beware of the pitfalls

When involving your employees in the process, Berit Kristine Bøggild says you should not underestimate the impact of scepticism if you appear unreliable. ‘You can therefore opt to use examples of what management anticipates will be the outcome of the change process so that employees can see that you have a plan and a vision,’ she says.

Another challenge to credibility can be that last year you said that you were categorically not going to focus on sustainability as a company because customers were not demanding it. Whereas now you’re finding that customers have had a change of heart, it is hugely important to state clearly, that there has been a shift and, consequently, this year you have a different stance from last year.

It is essential to be aware of the investor and talent movement.

‘Today, far more capital is being invested in sustainability initiatives because investors can see that it makes sense – just as they can see that companies are at greater risk of losing market share or being sued if their environmental footprint is too detrimental. These companies are consequently less attractive investments,’ Berit explains.

Outside talent is also attracted to sustainability because both young people and experts want to work on what makes the most sense.

‘So it’s important to keep up and be a company that employees are proud of.’

A final challenge: it’s also essential to be aware that employees may require new skills to be part of the new strategy in a transformation like this.

‘Employees can get concerned about how they fit into your trajectory, and then you risk losing their engagement,’ she says.

 

‘Action applies both internally and externally – and in big and small ways. (…) However, it is also important to have your own house in order when you choose to address sustainability.’

 

Big and small actions

Once the strategy is set, you have prioritised what is vital for your company in terms of sustainability, and communicated the strategy to your employees. The next step in implementation is to generate action and a culture that supports your change process, explains consultant Berit Kristine Bøggild.

‘Action applies both internally and externally – and in big and small ways. If you work in the food industry, you can make a difference in nutrition, food waste, packaging consumption, etc. Perhaps you’re developing a product that improves your customers’ carbon footprint. However, it is also important to have your own house in order when you choose to address sustainability,’ she says.

In conclusion, it’s important to stress that just saying ‘Now we are green’ does not guarantee that employees will be proud and get involved.

‘If employees don’t believe in the strategy, they won’t generate the best ideas. Therefore, if you need your employees’ brains and creativity, it is crucial that you give them ownership and perhaps new skills. Otherwise, you are missing out on their ideas and work quality,’ Berit concludes.

Tips to take ownership of sustainability

  1. Communicate the sustainability strategy’s purpose, vision, and plan to staff from the outset, even if you don’t have everything in place yet.
  2. Involve employees in the sustainability strategy by allowing them to provide input.
  3. Don’t underestimate the scepticism that can arise if you appear unreliable. Use examples of what the management intends to achieve with the sustainability strategy.
  4. The strategy must be realistic and meaningful. It is not always possible to say, for example, exactly how a CO2 reduction is to be achieved, but it must seem possible.
  5. Be open about the circumstances that have changed if you change tactics on sustainability.
  6. Recognise that staff may need new skills to be part of the sustainability strategy and its goals.
  7. Focus on organisational sustainability both externally and internally.
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Berit Kristine Bøggild

Berit Kristine Bøggild has an MSc in Business Administration and works as a consultant, Client Director, and Service Line Lead for sustainability at Mannaz.

Berit has worked with change and transformation for more than 20 years. She has often taken the leading role herself on strategic change projects. Additionally, Berit has both supported client transformations as a consultant for several years and taught change and transformation management as an instructor.

Berit has worked in several companies and organisations with the implementation of increased sustainability in order to save resources and to strengthen the business and the brand. She is very concerned with moving from intentions to change in behaviour and concrete results.

You are more than welcome to contact Berit at bkb@mannaz.com or +45 2295 0151