MG: I hate to stereotype here but I will. My experience is that most HR departments are mostly about paperwork. Have you really found HR people who know how to motivate and empower employees?
AS: Oh yes, and more companies are realizing that they need to have HR departments that are strategic partners. Business and talent strategies are increasingly interdependent, and sustainability can support and link them. There's a huge payoff for companies that recognize and develop the connections between sustainability, employee engagement and business strategy, and a giant opportunity cost for those that don't.
General Electric's HR department, for example, knows how to recruit and develop motivated employees, and they are using their ecomagination and healthymagination initiatives to do so. A high percentage of incoming candidates ask to work on those programs. Beth Comstock, GE's chief marketing officer, says: "The positive impact of sustainability on GE's corporate and employer brands is huge."
GE also has linked its innovative internal health care approach "HealthAhead," with its global healthymagination campaign and sees a common rationale that applies to its employees and its customers. As John Lynch, the global head of HR, told us: "Give people access to information, empower them with real options, and they'll make choices that are better for both their health and their pocketbooks."
MG: That's interesting. GE's Jeff Immelt once told me that the best thing that came out of the ecomagination program was that GE was attracting better people. Any other companies you care to mention?
AS: Starbucks' HR department seeks job applicants who share the company's sustainability values. Their business success depends on highly motivated baristas. Starbucks' environmental and social programs help to keep them highly identified with the company and its success. But it starts with hiring. Rick Badgley, Starbucks' vice president for global staffing, says that "if our values aren't in line with yours, I don't care how good you are: This isn't the right place for you." The next time you're in a Starbucks, ask the barista about the company's ethical sourcing program, for example, and stand back!
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