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Five ways to weave ESG principles into your purpose as a business

December 8, 2022

People are seeking purpose and meaning in their work. How can you weave ESG principles into your business and put your organisation in the best possible position to thrive.
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ESG In Sight

Introduction

People are re-evaluating their working lives. In a world where climate change is a major global challenge and geopolitical threats are prompting big questions about the world we live in, it’s no wonder that people are seeking jobs with meaning and purpose.

This has big implications for companies. The most engaged employees are often those who believe that what they do is part of a bigger picture. That all-important sense of purpose gets people out of bed in the morning and inspires them to bring their best selves to work. When enough people find meaning in their work, the result is an inspired and productive workforce.

Lockdown was a pivotal moment, when a sense of pulling together in extraordinary times gave people a strong shared sense of purpose. Now, many people remember lockdowns as a distant bad dream. As life returns to normal, how can companies preserve one of the very few positives to come out of the pandemic: that all-important sense of purpose?

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles could be the thread that ties people back to their organisations. Companies that weave ESG principles into their overarching sense of purpose give their employees a clear framework of their beliefs and values. This can help people connect what they do every day to a greater shared purpose.

Below we share five practical ways to weave ESG principles into your business.

  1. 01

    Define your mission – and then live it

I would go for simplicity, rather than complexity.”

Vassilis Fragkoulis | Head of Corporate Total Rewards, Nestlé

What is driving your company’s ESG agenda? Is it achieving your net zero goals on time? Is it encouraging your people to behave ethically in everything they do? Perhaps all the above? Next, consider: how does your mission affect every-day decision-making? What does it mean for leaders and managers in their careers?

Write out your mission and then describe what actions you need your people to take collectively to achieve it. Only by articulating your goals and the pathway to getting there will you inspire people to come to work with that purpose at the forefront of their minds .

  1. 02

    Embed ESG into your development programmes

Greenwashing is much talked about, as the media, investors and the public shine companies’ ESG approaches under the microscope. This highlights the importance of companies going beyond impressive ESG rhetoric. They must put their money where their mouth is, linking compensation to achieving ESG goals, as MasterCard did.

MasterCard has tied its executive pay to improvements in achieving carbon neutrality, financial inclusion and gender pay parity. “We have embedded inclusion, sustainability, and decency into the heart of our business —blending purpose and profit,” said MasterCard’s CEO, Michael Miebach. “We believe these ESG goals, which our senior leaders have the ability — and responsibility — to influence, will help our business grow and thrive for years to come.”

Where should companies which are seeking to follow in the steps of companies like MasterCard start their journey? “I would go for simplicity, rather than complexity,” advises seasoned HR leader Vassilis Fragkoulis, who is head of Corporate Total Rewards for Nestlé. Fragkoulis is mostly seeing companies setting targets for the short-term, rather than the long-term, because it gives them more flexibility to evolve these targets from year to year, as the landscape and their priorities evolve.

WTW senior Tom Hellier advises: “When you think about your company’s readiness, take as much guidance as you can from external and internal stakeholders. Institutional investor guidance – particularly in relation to the inclusion of ESG measures in executive incentive plans – must be both material to the business and aligned to the broader strategy of the business in question. They must be quantifiable. And they must be easily disclosed.”

OKRs – or Objectives and Key Results – are a forward looking and very transparent method of encouraging cross-functional collaboration.”

Tom Wooldridge | Director, WTW

His colleague Tom Wooldridge encourages HR leaders to learn about and use OKRs. “OKRs – or Objectives and Key Results – are a forward looking and very transparent method of encouraging cross-functional collaboration and are particularly helpful when it comes to meeting short-term objectives.”

One technology company adopted OKRs to help it towards its goal of improving online safety, particularly for young and vulnerable people. The teams which were responsible for this goal spanned the business, from the policy team to talent acquisition. Through the OKRs which the company set, the people who worked in this diverse range of teams were able to see how their work fitted together into a bigger jigsaw, ultimately helping them to achieve their top line goal.

  1. 03

    Make it fun

Boeing is finding imaginative ways to inspire employees to work towards its 2030 goal of being 100% powered by renewable electricity. The aerospace company is bringing its ESG values to life in its company-wide Battle of the Buildings competition. Over 230,000 actions were taken to improve the environment, which is equivalent to not driving 7.8 million miles. It also created a huge sense of community across the organisation.

The great thing about this example is that not only is it fun and light-hearted, it helps people to see that many small changes have a much greater impact.

  1. 04

    Use technology to bring your company’s ESG goals to life for new recruits

Gone are the bland homepages of the past. Today, prospective recruits expect your company’s website to be a shop window for what matters to the organisation. “Technology has a huge role to play in bringing the career experience to life and we're seeing organisations getting more and more creative in the way they reflect their purpose and values,” says Stephanie Rudbeck, senior director in WTW’s Employee Experience business.

Rudbeck is seeing companies using A Day in the Life videos which prominently focus on their ESG priorities. Also front and centre for many organisations are the steps they are taking towards net zero, as well as their DE&I goals and pledges, volunteering opportunities for employees and much more. “It’s all front and centre now, but not that long ago you would probably only have stumbled on it if you’d managed to find the right combination of clicks,” says Rudbeck.

  1. 05

    Treat your people like consumers

In the war for talent, hiring great people is just one side of the coin. Retaining them is also all-important. To do so, companies need to offer a consumer-grade experience, making it possible for people to access all the information they’re looking for in a couple of clicks.

These days, a new entrant to the world of work sees their chosen organisation as a representation of who they are as a person. Purpose and values are especially important to generation Z and millennials. Almost half (49%)1 of Generation Zs have made choices about the work they are willing to do and the organisations they wish to work for based on their personal ethics.

For that reason, articulating your organisation’s purpose and values clearly – and then making them easy to find for your own employees – has never been more important.

Key takeaways:

People are seeking purpose and meaning in their work. Companies which weave their ESG principles into their business operations are putting themselves in the best possible position to thrive.

As an HR leader, one way to do this is to clearly articulate your ESG mission and how it plays a part in your wider objectives, and then explain how people can work together to achieve it.

Another idea is to weave ESG into people’s own objectives; we give some tried and tested ideas about how you could make this happen.

Make it fun; gamification and competitiveness can have a huge impact, as the Boeing example in this article shows.

Embrace technology to bring ESG to life, for existing employees and new recruits. Make it easy for people to find out more about your business’s purpose and mission.

Footnote

1. Deloitte’s Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z survey

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