Motivating champions to lead the

marathon – Kiran Dhanapala

Sustainability is a marathon, not a sprint. Organisations wanting to be sustainable – whether due to internal business or market pressure – must understand that harnessing the enthusiasm, motivation, energy and skills of staff is the smart thing to do early in the journey.

In fact, staff is the secret sauce to any sustainability initiative since it’s about change management. Therefore, employee engagement is vital.

A corporate strategy will set out the business case for this process, and identify your destination and mile markers. After finalising your goals, you will soon need to get your passengers (including champions) on the sustaina-bility bus; and they in turn will engage new passengers.

Many of them will initially need to be your sustainability champions across the organisation, embedded in all its operations and aspects. They are your tentacles to further embedding it in your business operations.

Employee retention and satisfaction is the key to creating a sustainable workforce. Sustainability helps bring about committed engagement and meaning that goes beyond a paycheque. Moreover, empowering and recognising staff, and encouraging personal growth, can also help save money.

Often, there is the temptation to charge ahead and create a network of sustainability champions without thinking things through carefully. Some brainstorming is needed on who, what, why and how.

The worst case scenario is to create a team and lose momentum by not having clarity on what they are to do, not equipping them on how to do things and so on. This also means specifically noting how much time is expected of them in their champion roles, and informing line managers and colleagues of these additional responsibilities.

Read the tips that are listed in the accompanying box on how to set things up for a motivated team that will push for the changes you wish to see in your enterprise.

Your champions need great communication and influencing skills. They’re most needed as your support network to raise awareness and market sustainability throughout the company. They need to carry a uniform message that’s grounded in your company’s business case for sustainable operations.

The team must also understand how priority issues intersect with sustainability including the relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and work with relevant focal points within the organisation – e.g. energy.

While enthusiasm and commitment are surely needed in champions, it’s wise to check with experts before pushing ahead with suggestions and ideas. There needs to be an overall plan rather than a shift to whatever a CEO or CFO feels is right. Further, HR must track champions’ contributions, and formally endorse this in their incentives and rewards systems.

Once your team of champions is formed, it’s vital to pick up and share examples of best practices from the group, respond promptly to requests for help and send useful snippets of information regularly. Developing this team is vital in terms of skills, motivation, vitality and powers of persuasion.

Growing and supporting champions is about building relationships and often keeping it personal. It pays priceless dividends in terms of motivation and delivery of the company’s global sustainability goals.