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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line

Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line

By: Andrew W. Savitz with Karl Weber

Published by: Jossey Bass, February 2013

ISBN-10: 1118140974

Employees are central to creating sustainable organizations, yet they are left on the sidelines in most sustainability initiatives along with the HR professionals who should be helping to engage and energize them. This book shows business leaders and HR professionals how to: motivate employees to create economic, environmental and social value; facilitate necessary culture, strategic and organizational change; embed sustainability into the employee lifecycle; and strengthen existing capabilities and develop new ones necessary to support the transformation to sustainability. Talent, Transformation, and the Triple Bottom Line also demonstrates how leading companies are using sustainability to strengthen core HR functions: to win the war for talent, to motivate and empower employees, to increase productivity, and to enliven traditional HR-related efforts such as diversity, health and wellness, community involvement and volunteerism. In combination, these powerful benefits can help drive business growth, performance, and results.

Since the publication of my book, CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices (Greenleaf, 2010) and even for some time before that, my mantra has been "It is time for HR to wake up to CSR!" The opposite is also true, and business-led CSR also needs to wake up to the potentially massive contribution that the HR function can make in advancing sustainability efforts. This is why the CSR-HR partnership is so necessary. My book was hailed as the first on the market which covered this aspect of embedding CSR in corporations. Too often, we hear about employees being critical to sustainable success, being the heart of the business and a key actor in sustainability efforts, but all too frequently, the role of HR in galvanizing, catalyzing and activating employees in support of an aligned organizational sustainability-enabled culture, is overlooked. My book was an attempt to bridge that gap, showing how HR can and should get on the playing field and attempting to provide a highly practical approach to doing so.

Since 2010, I have been engaged in many conversations around this topic: I have chaired a conference on CSR for HR, presented to groups of sustainability professionals in companies, and at local CSR events in several countries (see, written in several publications, run a training webinar series and also, a 12 hour online course for Masters students at Steinbeis University for the past three years. I was also delighted when HR-profession-thought-leaders at the SHRM Foundation commissioned an Effective Practice Guideline on HRM's role in Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, which I co-wrote with distinguished professors, Sully Taylor and Michael Muller Camen, and which is now freely downloadable, showing that the profession is starting to sit up and take note.

And now, I couldn't be happier to note that a second book has been published, adding important context and background to the role of HR in organizations and the role of business leaders in understanding the HR contribution. The book is Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line, by Andrew Savitz and Karl Weber. Andrew Savitz is a well-known player in sustainability fields and many will know his excellent earlier book, The Triple Bottom Line, published in 2006, also with Karl Weber as co-writer.

This new offering is a fabulous review of all the points of interaction of the HR function in a business and a further call to action for business, sustainability and HR leaders. The book is structured in four parts:

Part One provides an overview of how GE drove sustainability core product offerings, and an overview of the evolution of sustainability;

Part Two examines HR processes and products in the light of sustainability needs;

Part Three looks at organizations and culture change; and

Part Four examines  employee engagement and its role, and that of HR, in advancing sustainable business.

The book offers examples of thinking from several large companies such as GE, Campbell's Soup, PepsiCo, Nike, AEP, J&J, BT, as well as some case studies from smaller companies. Each chapter concludes with questions that business leaders could ask themselves to help them identify the state of Sustainable Leadership and Sustainable HR practices in their own organization.

The first part of the book,  an in-depth study of the way GE has transformed itself into a company focuses on sustainability practices and the opportunities provided by ecomagination and healthymagination. These initiatives now only hit the "sweet spot" of sustainability (using the term coined by the Savitz -Weber partnership in their earlier book) but also have become attractors of talent. 75% of  students want to work in ecomagination, says Beth Comstock, GE's SVP and CMO, quoted in the book.

The rest of the book takes us on a journey through all traditional and new HR processes, products and activities,  providing important context and persuasive arguments that support HR becoming a full partner in sustainable business, and also, the opposite...that business is not optimally sustainable without this contribution. Take the example of J&J, whose performance in product quality and product recalls in recent years has deteriorated, despite the Tylenol affair of the 1980s which gave J&J significant credibility as a responsibly-led business. Savitz writes: "In the case of J&J, we believe that at least on significant cause of the failure involved flawed personnel practices, especially related to the hiring and firing of employees". Recruitment and "winning the war for talent" is a key theme of Sustainable HRM and PepsiCo is featured, showing how "Performance with Purpose" has become a "powerful recruiting tool". Onboarding for sustainability, career development, leadership programs and compensation for sustainability are discussed, making the CSR-HR link clear. Andrew Savitz says: "Many of HR's traditional corporate roles - whether linked to employment processes managed by HR or to specific products or deliverables that HR is expected to create for the organization - are being transformed by the advent of sustainability. But the age of sustainability is also creating enormous opportunities for HR professionals to accomplish many traditional objectives and guide the companies they work for in even more innovative ways".

In Part Three, the focus is on organizational capability, and Savitz talks about seven "of the most crucial capabilities that organizations need in order to become more sustainable". These are: Innovation, Collaboration, Long-term Orientation, Outward Focus, Interdependent Thinking; Learning and Adaptability. Savitz maintains that "HR is  uniquely positioned to ensure that these and other essential capabilities are nurtured across departmental and divisional boundaries". In the book, examples are provided of how the HR function can support the development of these capabilities.

In a chapter entitled "The Link between Sustainability, Engagement and Profit", the book refers to the movement toward sustainability which may strengthen the loyalty, motivation and commitment of workers but cites lack of awareness as blocking the realization of these benefits. "The failure to connect these dots may be a huge missed opportunity for sustainability leaders, HR professionals, CEOs and the organizations they serve". Savitz's "Golden Triangle" of Sustainability - Business Results - Employee Engagement demonstrates that "as employee engagement increases, the company may enjoy related business benefits such as higher productivity, reduced turnover and absenteeism, and lower costs of employment..."  The case of Marks and Spencer is offered as an example of turning "bystander employees" into participants in the company's sustainability efforts under the umbrella of Plan A, "which was deliberately designed to involve rank-and-file employees throughout the organization". Plan A, as most of us probably know, has yielded impressive results since it was launched in 2007. Employee engagement is noted in Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line as "perhaps the most critical component of the .. transformation process".

This book reinforces the message that HR leadership is necessary for sustainability, and sustainability is necessary for HR leadership. For those business and sustainability professionals who are not yet convinced, or who do not understand the multiple linkages or even the potential power of the HR contribution, Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line will help you get things in perspective.


elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency and CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)
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