Don’t overlook this group when communicating your sustainability story

Employees are an organisation’s most powerful advocates for creating impact, both inside and outside the business. Building a workforce that is highly engaged and activated in sustainability initiatives is critical to the success and delivery of any sustainability strategy.

Consistent communication to inform and educate an internal audience and sharing stories about how people and teams are making a difference, can mobilise and inspire. However, sustainability communications for employees needs to go deeper.

When asked what employees want more of when it comes to sustainability, marketing and communications leaders interviewed in Sefiani’s Sustainability Communications Survey said their teams wanted the ability to shape strategy and be actively involved in helping the organisation meet its commitments.

Turning employees into sustainability champions

In its Future of Work Trends 2022 report, global consulting firm Korn Ferry states that employees will no longer accept a lack of care for society or the environment, and will turn their backs on businesses that won’t commit to sustainability goals.

The firm predicts more organisations will realise science alone will not get them to where they need to be, but rather, meaningful transformation requires changes in mindsets and skillsets. Everyone in an organisation needs to be activated to deliver, or sustainability efforts will fall short.

So, how can communicators activate employees to create a culture of engagement that supports a successful transition to a sustainable future?

In line with Sefiani’s Sustainability Communications Survey, Korn Ferry’s Future of Work Trends 2022 finds few people are prepared to alter their attitudes and beliefs simply because senior management tells them to. Communicators have a key role to play in giving people a say, seeking their input, involving them in planning, and working to educate and align hearts and minds around a company’s sustainability goals.

By activating an organisation’s purpose internally, embedding it into the culture and aligning it to values and behaviours, employees gain a clear understanding of how their role can directly contribute to the achievement of purpose more broadly and sustainability goals more specifically.

Korn Ferry also recommends instilling ownership; when people are made accountable, they feel like valued and important members of the organisation. This sense of ownership inspires people to act more purposefully.

Democratisation of sustainability leadership

Meaningful transformation is a collective effort. The Harvard Business Review’s ‘The Myth of the CEO superhero’ captures it perfectly: “addressing the interconnected emergencies facing our societies and planet will demand systems change, and no CEO can deliver this change on their own. While there can be leaders, luminaries and innovators, there can be no singular heroes. Transformations on this scale are a team sport”.

Embedding sustainability into an organisation requires more than top-down elected working groups and executive initiatives. Sustainability stewardship and leadership can present itself in many forms across the full spectrum of an organisation, from the Board to the shopfront. While the executive team will ensure sustainability is part of the business strategy, it is an organisation’s employees who will bring a sustainability roadmap to life in a meaningful and enduring way.

Identifying, engaging and empowering sustainability leaders from all areas within an organisation can be a key role of communications teams. Meaningful communication leading to transformational change begins at the grassroots.

Summary: Tapping into your superpower

  • Employees want to be active participants – engage them early and ensure communication does not just inform early employees, but activates them to play an important role in the shaping of sustainability plans.
  • Aligning action to an organisation’s overarching purpose is crucial to building a culture of transformation; the overarching narrative should connect everything a company does, including all employee communications.
  • Make sure there is no disconnect between promises and actions – employees will be the first to sense this gap, and are increasingly likely to vote with their feet.
  • Identify and empower employees throughout the entire organisation to become sustainability leaders. Peer-to-peer leadership has the potential to be more powerful than executive communications in this instance.
  • Ensure sustainability and purpose are front and centre of the Employee Value Proposition in a way that is unique and enduring for the organisation

To learn how to tap into your organisation’s superpower, book a chat with our specialist sustainability communications consultants who can provide you with tailored advice for your business.

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