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How the 4 stages of employee engagement ensure a bright future

<p>Coro Strandberg&#39;s newest Green Team continuum sets a simple framework for HR professionals to build long-term sustainability into businesses.</p>

I love observing the evolution of sustainability from my human resources and talent vantage point. Take the current buzz about shared value for example. Unilever just announced its shared-value-heavy Sustainable Living Plan 2014, which includes the "Enhancing Livelihoods" goal. How does this apply to employees, talent, retention, and engagement?

When thinking about the employee angle, I often turn to Coro Strandberg of Strandberg Consulting. I previously interviewed Strandberg about her widely used CSR HR checklist for employee engagement.

I find Coro to always be one step (if not more) ahead of me. Her latest is the Green Team Continuum that I call "Coro's 4.0." We're not talking Sustainability 2.0 here: we're talking the future of sustainability.

Sustainability 4.0?

Coro's 4.0 covers 4 stages: 1.0) Incremental; 2.0) Strategic; 3.0) Cultural 4.0) Transformational.

At the Incremental level, a small number of volunteer employees participate in CSR activities with the goals of education and cost savings. In the Strategic stage, a CSR department manages sustainability activities that promote internal operating efficiency; sustainability begins to be integrated into company goals. The Cultural step seeks to promote employee health, wellness and sustainable behaviors, with greater integration of sustainability into the product and company. And in the Transformational stage, the company looks outward by integrating the industry and community, using sustainability and shared value as the focus for a business model.

Beyond focusing solely on benefits for the organization and its employees — where many CSR programs may begin — Coro's 4.0 provides a longer-term vision for broader impact and shared value at the levels of industry and community. So Coro's 4.0 is shared value meets employee engagement.

How to engage more employees?

The full potential of employee engagement is reached when the work of employees feeds into the core of the business and the continued improvement, innovation, sustainability, and overall success. Corporate sustainability may begin at the grassroots or CSR department level, with a small number of employees participating, but its greatest benefits will occur when a majority of the company is actively engaged in CSR.

Grant Ricketts addresses the oft-asked question of how to increase employee engagement. He writes, "Companies must link sustainability to business strategy, operating processes and work functions, engage mid-management and make it relevant to one's 'day job.' In doing so, employees will be better able to see the possibilities that exist and take actions that contribute to the overall success of the organization, regardless of whether they are true believers."

Image courtesy of Strandberg Consulting.Coro's 4.0 envisions an employee participation rate of 70 percent and higher at the Transformation stage. This may seem an ambitious goal, but it underlines the importance of wide-reaching engagement in creating powerful, positive transformation.

Shared value and the community

Beyond engaging employees, how does 4.0 relate to Michael Porter's concept of shared value?

Coro says, "Shared value becomes relevant at level 4.0, as the first three levels are focused on internal alignment. 4.0 is focused on external engagement with community, industry and other stakeholders."

She adds, "The goal is sustainable purpose and 'shared value.' Shared value involves identifying societal issues where the company can make a contribution while generating business benefits and 4.0 is focused on this, with results directed at business-community innovation, business-industry innovation and product innovation. Porter's focus on local cluster enhancement is also relevant to the idea of the business teaming with community interests to advance collective well-being. The ultimate vision of 4.0 would see a blurring of the boundaries between employees working for the company and employees working for the community — where shared purpose becomes 'one purpose.'"

In this way, the health and wellness of the community are aligned with the health and wellness of the business.

Andrew Stegemann, Community Program Manager at Mountain Equipment Co-op, chimes in, "Coro's 4.0 model instills a form of divine discontent as to how we're engaging with the community. The model forces me to constantly consider which resources and relationships we aren't taking advantage of. Then, I can figure out how we can use these to integrate people at every touch point of our value chain to collectively impact the complex social and environmental issues we are focused on."

Where is the bed?

Embedment sounds promising, but where does the embedment take place?

Coro points out that there are different approaches to embedment. Companies should use the approach that best fits their corporate culture, goals and vision.

Following are four different approaches in Coro's Sustainability Embedment Continuum, with pointers describing where companies can embed sustainability.

1. Compliance and transaction. Embedment points include management systems, policies, procedures, employee management systems and communications.

2. Strategy. Embedment points include KPIs, business and performance planning and incentive structures.

3. Knowledge and competencies. Embedment points include trainings and competency models.

4. Business Model. Embedment points include mission, vision and corporate purpose.

Taking your company to Sustainability 4.0

What is Sustainability 4.0 for you? In what direction is your own company heading? How can you be one step ahead?

Top image of thumbs up by William Perugini via Shutterstock.

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