Emperor Foundation
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Emperor foundation

Responsible business
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Responsible business

Emerging Talent
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Emerging Talent

Societal and stakeholder pressure is ramping up for companies to start meeting their net zero targets and ambitious sustainability goals. As the urgency grows, employee engagement will become more and more critical to their success.

After all, it is people who power sustainability strategies within organisations, and take action to deliver on them. That’s why companies need to look beyond targets and platitudes to meaningful, inclusive engagement to drive action and behaviour change. 

At Emperor – one of UK’s leading strategic communications agencies - we recently hosted a roundtable to discuss this pressing challenge of how to go about engaging and empowering employees to take action. Companies across a wide range of different sectors attended, and while they each had different sustainability challenges, the employee engagement challenge was the same. Here are some of the learnings that internal communicators can take forward when looking to create a sustainable culture and embed it across the business…

1) Forge a partnership with the sustainability lead

As experts in mobilising workforces, internal communications professionals can play a valuable role in activating companies’ sustainability strategies. But often, that job is left up to the sustainability function or lead.

Whether sustainability and internal communications functions have large teams or single leads, what they do have is complementary skillsets. By combining the sustainability lead's technical, regulatory and reporting knowledge with internal comms’ storytelling, engagement and change expertise, you can forge a formidable, impactful partnership. By tapping into each other’s resources, skills and experience, together you can drive action across the business.

2) Simplify sustainability to engage hearts and minds

Sustainability is a broad, complex and fast-evolving area accompanied by an alphabet-soup of acronyms and jargon. Internal comms professionals need to ensure that it is communicated to employees in a simple yet compelling way that will reach everyone and resonate at the right level, from shop floor to the boardroom. In your internal comms and employee experience roles, you will have an innate understanding of how to position content to land well with different employee audiences – so it’s important that technical sustainability strategies get translated to a level that all employees can understand and engage with.

3) Listen to different functions’ challenges and needs

To achieve that vital, genuine buy-in from different functions and teams, take time to listen and empathise with their differing challenges and potential barriers. One-to-one meetings were considered an effective format - that way, they’ll feel heard, and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what other content your sustainability messaging is competing with for attention. It will also give you insight to help land sustainability with them in a way that feels authentic and relevant to them.

4) Embed sustainability across the business

For sustainability to be authentically lived and breathed, it needs to be fully embedded across the different touchpoints, processes and areas of the business and employee experience. It’s most effective to utilise the existing rhythms and routines of the business, rather than reinvent the wheel by adding additional channels, norms and processes. This can add confusion and complication for employees and implies that sustainability is an ‘add-on’ rather than part of the existing DNA.

5) Rewarding and recognising sustainable behaviour

With many employees holding a ‘what's in it for me’ mindset, rewarding the behaviours of those acting sustainably and supporting the strategic ambitions is critical. To form sustainable habits and for long-term behaviour change to occur, recognising and positively reinforcing behaviour, and celebrating success can help employees to feel seen, involved and motivated. This can be as small as an informal 'thank you' or as big as a financial bonus.

As all companies big and small grapple with this challenge of how to people-power their sustainability strategies, one thing is certain – internal communications professionals have the empathy, employee engagement and change management skills to drive the mobilisation needed to make it happen.

If you’d like to explore any of the themes in this article, reach out to me at [email protected].

This article was originally published by the Institute of Internal Communications.