How can HR support the sustainability strategy and talent?

Shannon Houde brings you three steps for synergising HR and sustainability.

It's essential for sustainability practitioners to build a long-term relationship with internal recruiting partners in HR.

As a sustainability career coach and former corporate recruiter, I understand the challenges faced by hiring managers in seeking, finding and keeping the very best sustainability and corporate responsibility talent.

Despite today’s competitive jobs market, filling roles with the key staff a company needs to drive its impact agenda forward remains a complex and somewhat turbid task.

On the plus side, as Net Impact's CEO Liz Maw points out, "HR professionals can play a vital role in supporting a company’s sustainability strategy. Engaging employees through sustainability efforts is essential to recruiting and retaining top talent".

Synergising HR and sustainability - in terms of finding the right sustainability professionals and maximising employee engagement generally - requires a targeted, strategic approach based on effective communication and strong relationships. So how can we do this?

Step one

The first step for a sustainability practitioner is to build a long-term relationship with internal recruiting partners in HR. Managers seeking staff with sustainability skills should first map out what’s important to the HR department in the hiring process, then spell out their own top five drivers or needs in the hiring process, minimising sustainability jargon where possible.

Once the two sides have expectations clear it will be easier to build from that. And perhaps take them to lunch once a month to get out of the office and be less structured – this is worth more than you can know.

Step two

Secondly, keep job specs realistic. The demand for a new combination of technical and commercial skills in sustainability roles can leave both candidates and HR a bit confused. Engage with HR in drafting your spec and don’t be tempted to get too wordy. You can drill down more on the technical requirements later in the interview process.

Try to support HR in writing the spec without trying to own it too much. Be clear and concise about what you need from the beginning and try not to change the goal post/requirements once the hiring process kicks off.

Step three

Thirdly, make it clear that you want HR to work with you, not for you. HR has an important role to play in leveraging a company's internal sustainability strategy to maximise employee engagement, so it's important to communicate your mission in a way that demonstrates the shared value you wish to create.

Find ways to link sustainability achievements of employees back to their performance reviews and incentives that HR roll out. Both of you are working towards better recruitment and retention of your staff so use that as your connector.

As a sustainability expert, you'll be used to translating your agenda for a variety of internal stakeholders. HR is a key one, so learn their language and processes, adapt your story to their technical understanding, and nurture a two-way dialogue that can be strategic for you both. Happy hiring!

Shannon Houde, MBA, is founder of Walk of Life Consulting, the first international career coaching business focused solely on the environmental, sustainability and Corporate Responsibility (CR) fields. Follow her on Twitter @walkoflifecoach