Baking sustainability into talent management

Want to be a truly sustainable business? You need to start hiring talent with sustainability credentials

Sustainability and talent management

Communication, emotional intelligence and problem-solving are just some of the attributes companies currently prize when looking for talent. However, it’s recently emerged that sustainability recruitment is being overlooked in the interview room, which could come at a real cost for any company not making it a procurement priority.

The disconnect has been highlighted by research released earlier this year by executive recruitment specialists Russell Reynolds, which revealed that out of 1,500 appointments in 2019, only 2 per cent of role profiles specified a need for sustainability credentials as a candidate requirement.

“Conversations around sustainability have never been louder, yet this is not always translating into action on the ground,” says chief executive Clarke Murphy.

“Sustainable business cannot happen without sustainable leadership and change will only occur if companies find leaders with the right skills and motivations to drive sustainability outcomes alongside financial success. This will require a radical rethink in the way board and C-suite leaders are selected.”

Role specs for sustainability

Of course, the rise of the chief sustainability officer role in the C-suite has been marked of late, but Murphy believes that to create a truly sustainable company, boards must go further.

“Increasingly, companies that do not live and breathe their values are called to task by their own employees. This is not just grumbling around the watercooler. When employees complain today, they do it on social media, for everyone to see. If a company brands itself as supporting the environment, but employees know executives do not act that way, they are going to tell the world,” he warns.

Informing the recruitment team

This isn’t the first time human resources departments have had to take a pivotal role in future-proofing an organisation to cope with emerging market pressures.

Murphy draws an interesting parallel between the necessary shift towards sustainability recruitment and the digitalisation revolution of a decade ago when business started to wake up to the fact that hiring candidates with data acumen would be essential to growth. That’s when we began to hear about companies hiring chief digital officers and chief data officers, roles that are now the norm.

However, it didn’t stop with C-suite appointments and companies began to respond to the changes by hiring candidates, with digital competency, at all levels.

Similarly, companies need to adapt their procurement policy to focus on the sustainability issues that are particular to their business practices so they can draw on that talent pool in coming years.

C-suite sustainability priority

However, a sustainability recruitment strategy isn’t just the opportunity to align a business with sustainability thinking because, as we move into 2020 and beyond, it will also become a necessity for any organisation that wants to attract top talent.

By 2025, millennials will comprise three quarters of the workforce and they bring with them a set of standards, confirmed by the 2016 CONE Communications Employee Engagement Study, which found 64 per cent of millennials wouldn’t take a job at a company that doesn’t have a strong sense of corporate social responsibility.

The successful candidate will choose you

There has been a quiet revolution going on when it comes to hiring and savvy procurement teams are realising that as much as they are recruiting talent, the talent is also recruiting them.

“Hiring managers who can’t articulate their company’s sustainability credentials and goals will find it harder to attract high-quality candidates as they will simply go somewhere that does,” argues executive graduate talent engagement specialist Amelia Jory.

“Every day I talk to candidates who are looking for their dream role. What’s encouraging is that the conversation rarely focuses entirely on salary, and there’s one ‘must have’ that comes up time and time again and that’s sustainability.”

HR departments also have to ensure they not only secure the talent through sustainability recruitment, but that they retain and maximise it in the coming years by implementing coaching and mentoring schemes, and instigate a learning culture where sustainability knowledge is successfully shared.

The goal is simple, but it’s time critical. Identifying sustainability-focused leaders and corporate activists today will ease the environmental burden of tomorrow. It will present the C-suite with a massive opportunity to inject sustainability into the very DNA of their business.

Walking the walk

The Danish bioscience company Chr. Hansen was hailed as the world’s most sustainable company in the 2019 Corporate Knights Global 100 Index. However, the accolade didn’t happen overnight as sustainability became part of the company’s hiring process in 2015, when it formulated a “passion for a meaningful cause” branding strategy. “We deliberately highlight our strong sustainability profile across all touchpoints, from our career section on the website to the storytelling on social media and in our job postings. It’s a clear differentiator for us in the war for talent,” says corporate vice president Alice Larsen. She is aware that the world is at a tipping point and sustainability is rapidly becoming a skill applicable in every career. “We believe that change-makers are needed in every corner of an organisation, not just in a designated sustainability department. We need to have professionals in every part of the organisation who are capable of making conscious, sustainable decisions, whether they are scientists, number-crunchers or marketers,” she says. Obviously, the organisation is still looking for skills and personality in the hiring process, but they are also seeking candidates who are looking to build a sustainable future. “We work for a better world” is one of the key tenets of the company’s culture model. “This is a platform which has been included in our competence-based interview guide for managers when hiring,” says Larsen. “The hiring manager is asked to judge if the candidate upholds ethics and values, and encourages organisational and individual responsibility towards the community and the environment. “Sustainability is indeed running through the veins of our employees, no matter the function they work in.” And these sustainability recruitment credentials don’t end with a signed offer letter. In 2019, the company instigated a Better World campaign, which challenged all employees to launch initiatives that support a sustainability focus. This focus has ensured a sustainability profile that ranges from 82 per cent of revenue directly supporting United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to safety shoes, made from plastic waste recovered from the oceans, being tested at the company’s plants. It’s an active demonstration that when it comes to environmental impact, the company not only talks the talk, it quite literally walks the walk.