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What 'Making Sustainability Everyone's Job' Really Means

<p>Canadian insurance provider The Co-operators, has figured out a unique, and uniquely effective, systems-based approach to embedding sustainability into everyone's job. Their vice president of human resources explains how it works.</p>

Sustainability should be in everyone's job description. We have heard it before. But what on earth does that really mean? If you want to embed sustainability into a company, take a systems approach working through the existing competency model.

It appears that The Co-operators, the largest Canadian-owned insurance provider, has figured out a systems approach to embedding sustainability into everyone's job. It might help that they are a co-operative, owned and managed by its members. In 2011 The Co-operators was ranked as the #1 "Corporate Citizen" by Corporate Knights, which rates Canada's largest companies on their sustainability performance.

Coro Strandberg, Principal of Strandberg Consulting, which provides sustainability strategy services to companies including The Co-operators, observed that, "The Co-operators has a number of leading HR practices when it comes to sustainability, including staff training on sustainability and incentivizing executives to achieve key sustainability goals. These and other practices have earned them national recognition in their efforts to be catalysts for sustainability."

Bernie MitchellI talked with Bernie Mitchell, the Vice President for Human Resources at The Co-operators, about what their process looks like.

Mission, Vision, and Values

Mitchell said that Co-operators hard-wired sustainability into their Mission, Vision and Values statement. She explained: "this is about who we are, what we believe in and what we stand for. We want to make business decisions in support of our missions, visions and values."

Their Mission, Vision, and Values statement, updated in 2008, includes sustainability language such as:

  • The Co-operators aspires to be valued by Canadians as ... a catalyst for a sustainable society.
  • At The Co-operators we carefully temper our economic goals with consideration for the environment and the well-being of society at large.

Competency Model

While The Co-operators has been using Competency Models for over a decade, it was just last year that they developed a new core competency program called Achieve that applies across their entire group of companies.

That is one set of competencies to describe behaviors and competencies for 4,000 employees. And the natural place to articulate the essence of these employees was of course in their Mission, Vision and Values.

Competencies are the knowledge, skills, abilities and personal attributes that characterize performance ideals and standards within a specific position. The framework drives training, promotions, recruitment, performance reviews, job descriptions and compensation. Competencies frameworks are the systems for managing employees.

They are currently rolling out the Core after a year's work. As Bernie says, "We developed these competencies for all employees with an eye towards sustainability."

She makes it very clear, "We don't have a competency called 'sustainability.' We have core competencies for everyone with mission, vision and values at the top."

What it Actually Looks Like

Some behaviors that would fit into the core include attention to the customer, working collaboratively, decision making and communication.

Let's take the competency "problem-solving and decision making" as an example to demonstrate how sustainability might be integrated.

Within the problem-solving competency, all staff that are directors or above should exhibit and demonstrate the performance to "make strategic decisions that have social, economic, and sustainable impacts to the organization."

A further description of this trait include using complex models, thinking open-mindedly, and use collective intelligence to make a decision when there are competing long term implications.

I want to applaud The Co-operators for audaciously taking on Achieve with a very heartfelt approach. This was unchartered territory to develop the competencies with an eye towards sustainability.

I challenge other companies to do the same. My dream would be to assess and compare fifty companies that are taking a systems approach to embedding sustainability into everyone's job description.

Employees photo via Shutterstock.

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