I love speaking to new Sustainability Managers, especially those who are moving from another role in their company. Often they’ve spent years manoeuvring themselves into a position where they could make a difference, and they’re always excited about the new role.
The most important piece of advice I give again and again is this: the real difference between a ‘normal’ job and a sustainability job has little to do with knowledge or skills. The key difference is one of mindset.
There are three big mindset changes that every new recruit to sustainability need to make:
1. Your role has changed
You’re no longer a ‘normal’ employee – you’re now a change agent. You need to start looking at your company differently, because a major part of your new role is going to be challenging those who set the business strategy to do better.
To do this well, you’ll need to understand the sustainability challenges facing the world, and how they are likely to affect the business – and accept that your colleagues may not see their relevance immediately.
You’ll need to tell the best story you can about your company’s sustainability record to external stakeholders, while pushing for more change inside the company.
In other words, you’ll need to be one step ahead, preparing your business to prosper in the future. That’s usually be one step behind those stakeholders who are most vocal in their criticism of your company.
In short, you won’t be loved by everyone all the time, and you’ll have to get used to it. Sorry.
2. You can already do 90% of your job
Just because you’re Sustainability Manager now, you don’t need to become an expert overnight on renewable energy, employee volunteering or thought leadership. You can buy in those specialist skills as and when you need them.
What an external consultant can’t bring to the table is your knowledge of what makes the company tick. That’s the most important part of your job: getting buy-in from the right people at the right time to make change happen.
Without your instinct and hard work, the company can have the most beautifully written sustainability strategy in the world – but it won’t be achieved.
Well done already for just being you!
3. Your new job is simple. It’s just not that easy…
All companies are different and your sustainability strategy will be unique – but the process you follow to get there is the same:
– Do your research. Competitor analysis is one of the best ways to interest your colleagues in sustainability. After all, who doesn’t like to check out what the competition is doing and help think of a way to beat them?
– Don’t be afraid to talk to stakeholders. Some of them will be critical, but they’re not enemies – they are the people who are going to help you shape a clear, relevant strategy. If you talk to them now, you’ll not only have a better strategy, but it will also get a better reception when you go public.
– Make your strategy simple and clear. You’ll need a long-term vision and annual targets, key performance indicators and a plan to report on progress. And make sure you have some ‘quick wins’ as well as slow-burn projects, to show your stakeholders you can deliver.
But ‘simple’ doesn’t always mean ‘easy’. Each of these steps takes time, effort and constant reassessment.
You’ll find yourself on a steep learning curve that doesn’t really let up; the nature of sustainability is that new challenges arise all the time, and you’ll need to be ready to respond.
Don’t expect to achieve everything in the first year. It takes time to persuade people of the need to take action. Prioritise your goals, expect to work hard to achieve them… and remember to celebrate when you do!
Ready to go?