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Integrating ESG: How to Prevent Fatigue When There are a Variety of Change Initiatives to Communicate

Posted on Categories Internal Communications, Organizational Change/Alignment, PurposeTags

How can you keep Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) top of mind when there are other priorities?

We often have clients who come to us when they recognize that a mind shift within the culture is required to influence real, transformational change within the organization. What we typically discover is that the communication of any change initiative without attention to the belief system of the organization provokes one or more of the following responses:  

  • What do they want this time?
  • This has nothing to do with me or my role.
  • Where does this fit in the list of priorities?
  • Another campaign – this too shall pass (insert eye roll).

And really, who can blame them during a time of constant change, pressure to do more with less, and honestly, a world in which most change initiatives suffer a lot of false starts. However, the reality with ESG is that it is here to stay – forever. Companies have to grow, evolve and adapt and absolutely critical to an organization’s ability to meet its ESG commitments is its people. The good news is that when it is done right, employees, as humans, really will care! So what do you do to ensure employees really “get it,” believe in it, and are willing to do something about it?

Campaign or Core?

The quick and easy route is to build an internal campaign to help communicate and promote major change or transformational initiatives. However, in a world of cynics and “here we go again” attitudes, companies are called to prove to their employees that ESG isn’t a side project but a natural extension of who the company is from a brand and values perspective. For instance, if one company value is to “Do the Right Thing,” it stands to reason that they would be committed to doing the right thing when it comes to investment in ESG principles. And at every touch and decision point, an employee feels empowered to do the right thing without negative consequences. In your organization, do things like performance incentives stand in the way of an employee making the “right” decision? You should readily be able to cite story after story of that value in action, not being contradicted. For example, what if you had the value “quality” but an employee’s incentive plan is based on budget and time? Can an employee make the appropriate decision to make something right if it means it will take longer or cost more? If a company holds sacred a value such as “approachable,” it stands to reason that employees should be able to easily access leadership without feeling intimidated. Can they? Strategy, values and actual behaviors must all be aligned to have real impact. It helps to assess what is happening in your company that stands in support or even contradicts your values so that you can build credibility for what you communicate – especially in the world of ESG.

The Power of Storytelling

When it comes to changing employee mindset and behavior to deepen ESG principles within your organization, you cannot think of your communications like another typical corporate campaign with a few posters in the breakroom and a slide in a town hall presentation. Communications are very important to building awareness and understanding yet typical one-way communications will not produce the same connection or recall as storytelling will. Stories are a way to demonstrate that leadership is actually walking the talk, that the business at every level is contributing and that efforts are making a difference. Stories are inclusive and aren’t about telling, they are about sharing – and anyone can tell one. Haven’t you heard the story about the janitor sweeping the halls at MD Anderson Cancer Center? If you ask him what he does for a living, he will tell you he is curing cancer. Where do those stories exist within your organization? 

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is 

To impact change on the scale that is required to make ESG real, it must be a directive and commitment from the top that it is integral and a core part of your business strategy hitting every level of your organization and connecting personal and team goals to ESG performance. As an example, there is a recent trend of restructuring executive compensation to incorporate a company’s ability to execute on ESG commitments. This measurement of success aligns company priorities with desired behavior and rewards. ESG committees are being formed at the Board level – that is another clear demonstration of the company’s level of commitment and seriousness. This type of alignment can be true for any role within an organization – from accounting to crews in the field – when people understand why they should and how they can personally impact the company’s ESG performance. One of our favorite examples is with a subsea technology company in which one of its core “mindsets” is safety. The story goes that the CEO in his power suit was giving a tour at one of the manufacturing facilities. The CEO, when he went to point something out on the line, literally stepped over the yellow safety line. Instead of ignoring it, the lineman politely asked Mr. CEO to step back over the line for his own safety. The CEO didn’t just apologize and step back over, he thanked the man for speaking up and keeping him safe. That story isn’t just an example of leadership meaning what they say, but an example of how a story becomes company lore – a memorable reinforcement of how serious it is about safety.

Making ESG a Mindset 

To keep ESG top of mind, it needs to become a true mindset, not just a list of behaviors. Industries such as oil and gas, aerospace, and transportation have done this successfully with safety standards by integrating behaviors into their culture. The same principles hold true as companies incorporate ESG into their business and culture. Some of the most important ones are outlined below:

  • Align ESG principles and strategy to your company’s larger purpose
  • Create personal connection and meaning so that people care and understand what’s in it for them 
  • Use language that your entire organization understands and can rally around
  • Connect the dots between corporate speak and what’s actually happening and being impacted – both materially and visually 
  • Provide a roadmap of how you will achieve ESG goals including how and when employees will be involved, what training will be provided, and what will be managed and measured
  • Incorporate ESG metrics into performance reviews and compensation goals 
  • Show (not just tell) it’s working and how it is making a difference through storytelling 
  • Celebrate successes with awards, rituals, recognition and rewards

Featured Resource:

Learn the five pillars to communicating your ESG story for maximum impact in our latest e-book: A Guide to Creating Compelling ESG Reports:

Savage Brands Compelling ESG Ebook Cover

Savage Brands believes in unleashing the good inherent within all organizations. Business results are driven by connecting with people at the belief level. That’s why we align everything a company says and does with its Purpose through a proven process that links strategy and execution with “why.” We solve the challenges corporate America faces by building tribal loyalty from the inside out, focusing on people first to deliver authentic brand experiences. Savage builds purposeful brands, communications, leaders and cultures.