Paradigm shifts are changing careers
Technology has profoundly changed careers during the last twenty years, now ESG (defined as Environmental, Social, and (Corporate) Governance) is doing the same. It is shaping everything from research and development to business models, and nearly everything in between. You might be thinking “yeah, yeah…I’ve heard all this before, but I don’t see much change”. It may be fair comment in some sectors, so let me elaborate.
Let’s imagine the impact on a sales role. Historically customers have been focused on price and value for the dollar in solving their business problem. Sales have been about maximizing units sold, revenue, profit, or a combination of these to meet their quota. Companies in turn have been focused on profit and market maximization – a traditional capitalist view of the market. Fast forward to today…
Customers are increasingly concerned with not only solving their business needs but also being an environment and community-responsible citizen. This means that sales reps need to sell differently – new communication and technical skills are needed.
A “simple example” is the need for all employees to now understand things like their employers’ carbon footprint (such as energy consumption within their entire supply chain or water management), social policies (such as customer and employee satisfaction or labour practices including equal pay) and governance (such as how the company prevents bribery or corruption or executive compensation). Beyond simply understanding, many employees will need to redesign products, production processes, forecasting models, supply chains, and post-sales services to name a few. Having to respond to any one of these aspects needs a different mindset, new skills, and transform business practices.
In a relatively short time, ESG roles have morphed from simple data collection and dissemination to business strategy development where ESG matters take the front stage.
Getting ready before paradigm shifts happen
Leaders need to consider skills within the team, in addition to skills for themselves. Unsurprisingly, they are slightly different yet important perspectives during periods of change. The skills within a team should be complementary. In other words, teams perform at their best when they are built on diverse skillsets. It may sound obvious, but you might be surprised at how often leaders favour candidates based on a common theme (similar skills, particular personality type, or our alma mater for example) rather than seek something different. ESG demands not only new skills but within its very definition (S for Social), diversity. The question becomes how companies and the leaders within it can proactively build the competencies needed.
Capability development for ourselves
The evolution from ESG data collection and reporting into developing business strategy, where ESG is front, and center demands new individual capabilities. The need for people who understand data and metrics can perform analytics, and by using both skillsets can build products for sustainability with intellectual and analytical rigor, as well as high ethics. This is merely the beginning…
Needs and roles are transitioning from doing to leading efforts within a company to coordinate and coalesce. For instance, people who transform the company from spreadsheets to systems. Or leaders who understand what investors want and how that leads to framing and positioning their reporting and their strategy. Financial skills are ever more important, from making decisions about resource allocation within the company to modeling and forecasting strategic sustainable alternatives. Let’s not overlook the importance of influencing senior management and getting the attention of the board. These are critical steps for sponsorship and longer-term resource commitments.
So, the optimal skill sets to land the best roles are:
- Adaptive and critical thinking
- Business experience
- A multidisciplinary and systems perspective
Building a sustainability ready team
What can companies do to help accelerate this journey? It all starts with the hiring process.
Leaders, and their HR partners, could benefit from using a skills matrix to ensure that key competencies are represented on the team. This tool serves as a systematic way to proactively include relevant expertise on significant ESG issues. So in this way, new recruits will naturally bring a range of attributes, expertise, and desirable skills to the team. This strategic approach is a longer-term play, so what else is possible in the near term?
Targeted learning and development programs can accelerate embedding the necessary competencies. For instance, regular training on relevant ESG matters to keep employees updated as these topics and issues evolve. A companywide educational approach builds knowledge and allows front-line team members to link their new insights to query and improve their own operational or management areas of responsibility.
It is important to remember that environmental and social issues tend to evolve quickly, and something on the horizon today can quickly be at our doorstep tomorrow. This is addressable by encouraging team members to proactively engage with other internal teams, and peers, to monitor trends and anticipate new ESG priorities. This regular peer-to-peer engagement often leads to new ideas and approaches for managing change.
The good news is that there are clear mechanisms and resources for recruiting people with relevant ESG skills. However, it is up to each of us to ensure that the talent already within the company is an active part of the ESG discussions, processes, and decisions. Are you doing everything you can so you can unleash the power of your team and your own talent?
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Cartoon credit: Peter Broelman