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#NewMetrics ’14 Workshop Reveals Secrets to Effective Employee Engagement

Stephanie Bertels, director of the Embedding Sustainability Working Group | Image credit: Sustainable Brands

There is a disconnect between what we are doing for the environment and how we are treating our people, and four thought leaders in integrating the two gathered Wednesday at New Metrics ‘14 to share solutions on solving that gap.

Key Thought: Engagement Delivers Value

Measuring the impact of employee engagement on positive business outcomes has been extremely challenging for most organizations — so CEO and founder Susan Hunt Stevens has led the charge at WeSpire to bring a tech solution that aims to close that gap between the 80 percent of employees who want to do something versus the 20 percent who actually do, and measure those outcomes.

The WeSpire engagement platform does the work of understanding:

  • The scale of company operations
  • Accessibility of employees to information (example of retail employees with smartphones but no personal computer)
  • Metrics of baseline and goal employee engagement
  • Steps to move employees from doing random tasks to projects that are in line with company values and goals

Understanding and effectively communicating sustainability goals and programs to employees can deliver value by reducing cost and environmental impact, enabling innovation, driving community involvement, deepening customer loyalty, and attracting and retaining top talent, Stevens said.

Conversely, what is the price of disengaged employees? There is an estimated $450-550 billion cost associated with lost productivity (3x what is spent on utilities). But employers often don’t see employee engagement/retention as a real value — when it certainly is.



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The solutions:

  • Triple Bottom Line programs: When sustainability is positioned as an enterprise rather than a department, companies can move past the blame game of ‘someone else’s responsibility’ and begin to more deeply empower employees to take sustainable actions.
  • Connecting HR and sustainability metrics: Asking the right questions before hire can lead to recruiting the right people in your business. “By nature, we find that sustainability students tend to give back more to their community,” said Jason Jay, director of Sustainability Initiative at MIT. Hiring people who are personally passionate about your goals will only enhance your opportunity to fully engage with them. If sustainability is embedded into every job, your company becomes much more competitive with the talent pool.
  • Embed sustainability into the employee life cycle: strategize how to socialize sustainability while employees are on-boarding.

Now we know what the solutions can be — where do we start? Stephanie Bertels, director of the Embedding Sustainability Working Group, shared her team’s effort to build a systematic approach to help companies understand their strengths and opportunities in CSR. An early issue arose — how do companies embed sustainability to endure changes in leadership?

Bertels said scales were developed to compare performance on determined indicators, to really understand what good storytelling looked like for each company. Understanding the sequencing of reported success with their CSR practices, this scale can predict where companies are likely to get stuck. The result of this research and assessment: guidebooks to be published by the Network for Sustainable Business, to assist companies in embedding sustainability through storytelling, leveraging interest and cultivating champions, into the employee life cycle. Ultimately, EmbeddingProject.org will allow companies to conduct this self-assessment for free.

Questions to Consider:

  • To what extent do you make explicit statements about sustainability in communicating your organizations mission/vision/values?
  • To what extent do you employ a brand to distinguish or highlight your sustainability programs and/or to differentiate and communicate your sustainability vision?
  • To what extent does your HR team screen candidates for fit on sustainability?
  • To what extent are an understanding of sustainability and sustainability-related competencies such as systems thinking part of employee development?

“Just by asking questions, you can provoke change,” Bertels said.

Susan Hunt Stevens, Zeynep Ton, Jason Jay

L-R: Susan Hunt Stevens, Zeynep Ton and Jason Jay

And answering these questions can help leaders determine the areas ripe for quick gains and then longer-term investment opportunities. The next small win may be as simple as adding your sustainability vision to the HR hiring questionnaire.

The Good Jobs Strategy author and professor Zeynep Ton said she believes in the power of operational excellence as a key to employee engagement, providing a culture of care where sustainability vision and goals can flourish.

Ton is largely interested in what sets some retail operations apart from others — stores are often so full of operational problems — but what were they caused by? To answer that question, she began to study four retailers known for their positive, value-driven cultures — Costco, Trader Joe’s, QuikTrip and Mercadona — and described how “operational excellence enables companies to offer the lowest prices to customers while ensuring good jobs for their employees and superior results for their investors.”

What does it take for these employers to operate in a virtuous cycle? They invest in their people, and it is the core of their operations. “If you don’t have great people operating, your achievements won’t be great,” Ton said.

The Good Job Strategy means:

  1. Offering less: With more choices comes higher complexity, and higher complexity creates more risk.
  2. Standardize and empower: Standardize tasks that benefit from efficiencies while empowering employees to make decisions for local customers.
  3. Cross train: Employees who can serve cross functionally meet the needs of customers with flexibility at high traffic times
  4. Operate with slack: People need to have time to come up with ideas. When you have extra employees on hand, employers can make better hiring decisions

The common values of these highly proficient operators are simple: take care of customers, take care of employees, and choose excellence over mediocrity in everything they do. Their goal is to create a flourishing community (company) by recruiting people who are capable of caring, and then taking care of them. When jobs make people feel dignified, change and progress is easier.

The bottom line? When provided with the right environment, employee operational excellence and innovation are able to thrive. 


I am a CSR professional with a passion for developing exciting and strategic connections that create meaningful change. Having managed CSR programs for the retail and biotech industries, I am now leading Northeast CR efforts for PwC. Sustainable… [Read more about Sarah Andersen]


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