Because sustainability impacts occur in the hands of decision makers and front-line employees across an organization, a successful approach to sustainability requires that managing or acting sustainably be a job function for every employee, every day. This means everyone is responsible and no one is exempt from managing and acting with sustainability in mind.
But many organizations are missing the point when trying to engage employees to reach sustainability goals. Effective employee engagement requires much more than flashy messaging campaigns and feel-good events. Instead, to align employees with a sustainability mission, organizations need a comprehensive and strategic approach that integrates key objectives into employees’ day-to-day actions and decision making through careful, cross-functional employee-engagement planning and implementation.
Red Lion Hotel Corp, a hospitality management company with more than 50 hotels across ten states, used this kind of thinking when creating a strategic resource-management plan that centered on operational changes dependent on employee engagement. The hotel was able to save six figures and reduce energy consumption by 6.5 percent in just two years after implementing the plan. Yet it was more than just the numbers and figures. With this strategic and holistic approach, which involved everyone from executives to frontline employees, Red Lion managed to achieve a true cultural shift that was instrumental in reaching their sustainability goals.
In order to achieve results like Red Lion and make sustainability a part of the company culture, an organization’s employee engagement program must be designed to maintain action and results. This can be done through a simple, continual improvement process that involves four steps:
- Establish Commitment and Accountability: The first step is to ensure buy-in and support from key stakeholders on the overall sustainability plan. Securing commitment from the leadership team is essential to the success of the plan, otherwise your efforts will never get off the ground.Commitment needs to equal accountability: Who is responsible and accountable to the overall success of the plan? What are the performance metrics that need to be agreed upon to ensure all are defining success by the same measure? These are all questions that need to be addressed in the first stage of designing the program.
- Conduct an Initial Assessment: With commitment and accountability in place it’s time to assess the company’s needs and opportunities for putting a successful engagement program in place. These can be evaluated and mapped by identifying the following:
- Highest-impact employee groups: Identify which employees have the biggest impact on sustainability efforts and resource consumption; these groups should get the most focus.
- What these employees need to know and do differently: This can include informing executive leadership on the value and progress of your initiatives, training facility managers to incorporate utility cost savings into capital improvement budgets, and ensuring frontline employees are turning off lights and doing their part to optimize recycling and composting services.
- How to reach those employees, how often and by whom: Every organization has accountability structures, communications, training, and engagement habits and standards. Work with internal communications staff to identify the most impactful and actionable methods to reach employees.
- How will progress and success be reported: Ensure there are functions in place to measure against the pre-defined goals of the employee engagement plan. Identify how these will be reported in order to maximize efforts.
- Plan and Implement: Ad-hoc communications, trainings and events don’t lead to a comprehensive or strategic initiative. Map out how to meet the needs of your identified high-impact groups using the information gathered from the initial assessment, and then roll out the plan to the individual groups and overall employee population with well-timed and compelling outreach. It’s important to note that the information should come from a trusted and respected voice in your organization that makes the case and provides a clear and concise ask.
- Evaluate and Modify: To drive continual improvement, organizations need to consistently measure and evaluate the impact of employee engagement programs. This requires a multi-level approach, mapping back to what was outlined in the initial assessment phase. Progress must be consistently measured from a starting point, which is why it’s so important to establish a baseline and metrics in the beginning. Consistently measuring against these metrics will help ensure continual improvement.
Employee Engagement in Focus with Red Lion
In order to reach the Red Lion’s sustainability goals, which included reducing energy consumption by 10 percent in five years, the hotel realized employee engagement was integral.
Establishing Commitment and Accountability: Engagement at Red Lion started with the executive team. We leveraged Ecova’s Strategic Planning service and met with each executive team member for input and buy-in to a long-term plan. In these meetings, Ecova delivered an engagement plan that was based on the business case and aligned to a long-term sustainability plan. Through this process, Red Lion leadership clearly recognized the need to get every employee on board and assign relevant responsibility to key groups in the organization.
Assess, Plan and Implement: Red Lion was able to identify key groups within the organization in optimal positions to address sustainability impacts. They worked with their communications and training teams and department leads to find opportunities to integrate guidance into existing efforts and delivery channels. Along with development of a larger plan to cut energy, water and waste impacts, they included a plan to reach all employee groups with the sustainability message, and to reach key impact groups such as their facility managers and housekeeping staff, with direct and actionable guidance and expectations.
At Red Lion, general managers and facility managers are responsible for budgets impacted by energy, water and waste services, and they also play key leadership roles in the organization. To get these employees on board and ensure they were effective in their position, the cost of resource use was tied to their job responsibilities and clear guidance was provided on how to manage these resources. Red Lion continues to engage this key group through a series of trainings, sharing of performance metrics, and highlighting successes of individual properties through a strategic communications campaign.
For many hotels, the housekeeping staff is a high-impact employee group, as they are responsible for daily upkeep in the hotel rooms and interface with controls for lighting, HVAC and water use all day long. Because of this, housekeeping staff were a primary focus for Red Lion’s employee engagement strategy. The group was provided training, tools and oversight to help them reach the company’s sustainability goals through their day-to-day tasks. These efforts ensured that the simple activities – such as turning off lights in unoccupied areas, opening drapes to make use of natural light to clean, and reporting leaky faucets – are a reliably integrated part of the housekeeping routine. Red Lion also implemented a visual weatherboard system, which consists of color-coded cards to help the housekeeping staff quickly and easily identify how to adjust the room thermostats based on the day’s outdoor temperature.
Evaluate and Modify: Red Lion continuously measures the progress of its plan by tracking the performance of each site through a monthly report delivered by Ecova. The report provides in-depth data on water and energy consumption by each property. Additionally, Red Lion annually surveys all employees to evaluate their awareness of the sustainability effort and expectations. With these results, Red Lion is able to see where targeted efforts are having impact and identify employee groups or locations that need more help with engagement. Finally, and most importantly, performance information is shared regularly with all employees to bring home the message that performance is a result of every employee’s efforts, every day.