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Organizational Change
How HR, Sustainability Heads Can Partner to Embed Purpose Throughout an Organization

There was a lot of discussion last week at SB’15 London around the so-called ‘aspirational generation’ - a rising generation of millennials with higher sustainability expectations of brands whose products they buy, as well as for those they work for. How to attract and retain a motivated workforce (younger and older, alike) with more stringent demands for positive purpose and impact was the core theme of Tuesday afternoon’s breakout session.

The panel, led by Rosie Warin of Global Tolerance, boasted a wealth of experience - both from a company and employee perspective - with Abi Todd, Head of HR Business Partners at O2 Telefónica UK; Colm Coffey, Head of Corporate Responsibility at KPMG UK; Juan José Litrán, Director of Corporate Relations at Coca-Cola Spain; and Liz Vossen, from the London School of Economics (LSE).

Warin kicked the session off by defining this ‘seismic shift’ in attitudes and its importance for brands in harnessing employee talent. There has been a significant transition in recent years for people in the workplace; a growing number (mostly in millennial and Generation Z employees, but observed in those of all ages) are seeking organizations where they feel they as individuals, as well as the company, are making a positive impact. Employees are searching for organizations with purpose and vision beyond solely profit maximisation. This is proving to be a fundamental issue, especially for companies that don’t traditionally have these values embedded within their business strategy.

Warin revealed statistical evidence for this shift in employee attitudes:

  • 78 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds were more motivated and committed at work if they felt their employer had a positive impact on society;
  • 69 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds (60 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds) would leave their job for a similar one if that organization had a more positive impact;
  • 76 percent of participants (of all ages) think organizations should have ethics and sustainability embedded and woven through all departments (not just included as part of a CSR strategy).

The Power of '&': Integrating Sustainability into Business Strategy

Join us as Procter & Gamble CEO Jon Moeller and Chief Sustainability Officer Virginie Helias share their insights on how companies can embed environmental sustainability throughout their business and the role it can play in a business strategy — Tuesday, Oct. 17, at SB'23 San Diego.

The need for organizations to take note and act on this shift in attitudes in order to harness and develop the best talent is clear. But how can a company do so? Warin highlighted three key tiers of employee engagement:

  1. I know the story: Make sure the company’s purpose, values and initiatives are made clear and communicated effectively to those within and outside the organization.
  2. I believe the story: Iron out the contradictions and align what the company promotes internally with the action it’s actually taking. In other words, “walk the talk.”
  3. It’s my story: Provide individuals within the organization with the opportunity to feel they have a level of impact and influence. Give personalised opportunities for employees to use their specific skills and qualifications to drive positive change.

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Vossen, as the only millennial on the panel, shared insights on what organizations could do to attract younger talent. She offered three key messages: be bold by promoting a strong strategy that sets it apart, and be open to promoting the company’s values with prospective employees; be inclusive and responsive by having a strategy with a plug-in element to tailor roles according to an individuals’ skills; and be authentic by having values embedded throughout the organization, rather than using a CSR strategy as a marketing tool.

The three corporate strategists then shared some of their experiences in trying to tackle these employee shifts from inside a company. A key thread between all was making people and their unique personalised skills central to the overall business strategy.

“Volunteering at the heart of an organization is wonderful,” Todd said. “But volunteering where you can actually empower your people to use the skills, attributes and behaviours they have is really where the magic starts to happen.”

O2’s volunteering and graduate programme have been an integral part of its employee engagement efforts. Todd discussed the company’s open policy for idea-sharing and collaboration, highlighting several of the company’s external initiatives that have stemmed from employee suggestions. Its ‘Think Big TechStars’ campaign, which runs computer-coding workshops for schoolgirls, was pioneered by two female engineers from within the company. O2’s recycling programme (which has saved customers approximately £1 million) was kick-started from an employee’s idea.

Coffey described similar approaches KPMG has taken to drive employee engagement. In his role, Coffey discovered that younger employees were often more interested in smaller companies, rather than larger corporations, with the perception that this is where they could have a more positive influence. KMPG went through a 12-week R&D process to try to learn how to create an environment where everyone within the organization felt they served a purpose. The result was the creation of an inclusive academy for idea-sharing. Similar to O2, KPMG’s mentoring programme (where employees can use their skills to partner with external organizations and act as mentors within society) stemmed from an employee’s idea. Another successful mentoring project has been its City Academy school partnership in Hackney, London.

“The most important thing that came out of that, for me, was last year,” Coffey explained. “We started that project seven years ago when 35 percent of the Year 7 cohort were predicted to get 5 A-C pass results. I can’t tell you the buzz when last year 81 percent got 5 A-Cs. That’s what it does — it brings people together — and KPMG felt it made a small contribution to helping underprivileged children by giving them a chance in the world of work. It’s not just the big programmes. People really care about the small, local projects, too.”

The core of Litrán’s discussion was a challenge to the way we typically communicate and talk about an organization’s responsibility. When a company wants to talk about sustainability, it’s really talking about trust.

“I work for a company which has people — talented people — at its centre,” he said. “When we speak about sustainability, my point of view is that we have to speak about trust — trust in companies. That affects everyone within a company, and citizens. We are all citizens that are searching for reasons to believe and ways to make a change in our society directly and indirectly.”

Litrán went on to discuss the use of the term CSR, with a suggestion that it’s really about SR (social responsibility) — progress is not about companies but about citizens and the way we each participate and contribute.

The most widely discussed challenge was: how to retain talent in a culture where it’s now common to switch between companies every few years? Vossen shared some valuable tips on how to keep young talent:

  • Be authentic from the outset — be realistic about the company’s ambitions so employees are not disappointed after joining;
  • Be responsive and make it easy for employees to get involved in idea-sharing and company culture;
  • Ask them specifically what they’re looking for;
  • Make sure to recruit talent that really want to be there and have their values aligned with the company;
  • Be open to employees leaving if their energy is elsewhere;
  • Don’t forget to look after other people in the hierarchy: Young employees will be looking to the positions they will be in several years in the future.

All panellists agreed that this seismic shift is a new challenge for organizations — a test that few have yet managed to crack completely. Pulling together each of their experiences, it was apparent that placing people at the centre of a company’s authentic values is imperative to attracting and keeping talent who could prove vital to solving such challenges in the years to come.


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