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Olly Lawder, Senior Creative Planner at change agency Futerra, gives three ways to connect staff to a company’s efforts to become more sustainable, ahead of our forthcoming webinar: Internal Engagement: Turning Words into Climate Action.
So you want to save the world? Good stuff. But by now you’ve probably realised you can’t do it alone. It’s not just that you need to "take others with you on the journey," you actually need others to solve the real, everyday problems that make your business a daily contributor to things like global climate change.
You’re not alone. Almost every internal engagement brief I have worked on in the last six years at Futerra has been fundamentally the same: they begin with a version of “I want sustainability to be part of everyone’s day jobs”. The main idea: embed sustainability in the business, have everyone on the lookout for new ideas, better technologies and collaborations across silos, suppliers and stakeholders. It’s a good strategy, but it’s a tough one to pull off.
So why is it so hard to embed sustainability in a business? And what can you do to change that?
Understand the Nature of The Beast
If sustainability is your subject, you have one of the best and one of the worst topics to communicate at the same time. Take a core issue like climate. It is a complex beast; nuanced, abstract and distant. It can’t be seen or touched, its effects feel far off, and no one person can fathom it all. In short, it resists two of the key maxims of successful communications: “keep it simple” and “make it relevant to the audience.”
But do not despair! You also have one of the best possible subjects to communicate.
Sustainability is full of positive, world-changing, impact-making, technology-advancing, feel-good stories. It brings humanity to business and has the potential to give employees some of the things they most desire. “Such as?” you ask. To answer that, let’s take a few notes from Daniel H Pink, the best-selling author on work, management and behavioural science.
In his book Drive, Pink takes us through the three key motivational elements necessary to unleash higher productivity involving cognitive skills, decision-making, creativity or higher-order thinking – perfect for the complex challenges facing aspiring sustainable businesses. Here’s how his three primary motivators – purpose, mastery and autonomy – can help you achieve your internal engagement goals.
1. Purpose – our desire for meaning
Pink locates our yearning to lead purposeful lives as a desire to be part of something meaningful, to contribute to “a cause larger than [our]selves”. Purpose is all about your company’s contribution to the world at large, that thing which is not just bigger than profit but the reason you deserve to earn any at all. This is why sustainability teams need to be best friends with the communications teams to help shape the company’s "why" and then together build the culture. Don’t just align with business objectives, align with the brand’s ethos.
2. Mastery – our desire to get better at a skill
One of Pink’s fundamental motivational insights is that learning and self-improvement is rewarding in and of itself. An "intrinsic motivator," humans will work on enhancing their skills without need for reward or fear of punishment. The task for you the sustainability practitioner is to present taking action on sustainability as a chance for your colleagues to hone their skills, put them to the test and take on something that will help them become better at their jobs regardless of what function they are in. Make it a challenge for people to rise to.
3. Autonomy – our desire to be self-directed
The opposite of autonomy is control. According to Pink, it’s time to let go. If you want to motivate your colleagues to solve sustainability challenges, you need to give them the power to do so, on their own terms and in their own style. This is not, then, about the typical top-down CEO message, but a bottom-up approach of self-forming teams, pilots, experiments and room for failure. Think about how you can hero the individuals and teams who are taking the initiative and leading change. Give permission but give up control.
At the end of the day, internal engagement isn’t that different from any other form of communications. You have to start with solid audience insights. Pink’s three motivators are insights you can use constructively to rally your colleagues to get involved, stay engaged and truly embed sustainability in the day to day of your business – while becoming better at their jobs along the way.
Here some examples of Futerra's work to engage staff in sustainability at our webinar on 26th April: Internal Engagement: Turning Words into Climate Action with Futerra co-founder Solitaire Townsend, VMware Senior Sustainability Manager Natasha Tuck, Interface Inc. Global Director of Sustainability Nadine Gudz and Natural Capital Partners VP Western Region Saskia Feast.