Recently I was asked to provide input to an article exploring the concept of Sustainability from an offbeat, and wide-reaching online publication called the Big Smoke. It resonated with me and the stance we’ve taken at mwah. for years to not publish or market openly on our website who we work with. That’s anti-marketing, anti-advice but it has allowed us to speak freely, openly, see what we see and swim across lanes and intersections to navigate to what matters.

It’s a common trait of ours as a company, and as individuals within it, that some of the very best work comes when we aren’t isolated in a box or function, and can find the best ways and moments to add value to the setting we are in.

So, when TBS asked me to comment on how to integrate sustainability into businesses of any size, I thought about the 270-odd culture reviews we’ve done, spanning start-up businesses and not for profits with a small handful of employees, to rapidly growing (both organically, and through heavy acquisition focuses) organisations doing their industry and work differently, to the biggest pockets of federal government – that are significant machines.

What is deeply apparent to me, is that ESG is not going away, and that’s good. What’s also apparent, is that these 3 letters are not created or thought of equally. E – Environment, is getting the heaviest consideration and reporting – right now yes, and arguably after being forgotten for too long as we let a resources-rich country reap its natural riches (talk another time on taxes, benefits and credits, wages, employability and the tapestry behind it all).

Most have a moderate handle on ‘G’ for Governance – doing the right amount, in line with or above the legal guidelines, guided by collective moral compasses of Boards and Executives.

And the S is critical, and underdone. S is all about Social impacts. Your workforce, customers, suppliers, communities and society. ‘S’ doesn’t sync perfectly to just the People and Culture the function, yet it speaks to the essence of our jobs done well. It’s about making sure the impact of what you do is good for people. It’s not a choice, it’s a right, obligation, and privilege. And it needs to be used well

In this increasing web of E and G complexity, are Board Directors and Executives trying to navigate the ‘S’ – probably a small ‘s’ because we are falling short of supporting Boards and Executives as HR people. Our People & Culture reporting is either inconsistent, confusing, or inconsistently confusing. We have no agreed standards as an industry, which means you could have 3 Chief People Officers who showed you 3 widely different sets of data and insights.

No one queries the intent or necessity of financial reporting – ‘of course we need it, how else would we know how we’re doing’. And we don’t oversimplify it ‘is $10m revenue good?’. We couldn’t say – what were your costs, last period, goals, what did the market expect you to take in….the list goes on.

Then we inconsistently, or confusingly, or perhaps inconsistently and confusingly provide numbers to Boards and Executives. ‘Your team are 82% engaged’. ‘Well, that’s good’.

Is it our collective confidence level in HR of knowing ‘the numbers’? I think not – there’s a growing breed of HR professionals that are psych-trained – which is effectively an applied science and statistic degree. You can read data, explore insights, hypothesis, intervene and re-measure and test.

For too long, HR has been rejected, except for the odd unicorn who gets data and has a good read on people – and if you’ve got a good read, that’s optimistically strengths based not critical, defensive or policing, then let’s talk about S. Because, I’m going to tell you ‘people are our greatest asset’. And, you’re going to believe it because I do too.

And if you read the Financial papers and threads and forums – you’ll see that sustainability is actually a big topic. Of performance, of what an organisation promises vs. what it can and will deliver, of whether what a company is doing is good for people, communities, societies or harmful. Is technology all evil, all good, or is it more nuanced? Is a high-growth IPO sustainable, possible, or always doomed?

This isn’t a soapbox, this is a call to lift the bar higher to understand the drivers and levers of the ‘S’ as HR professionals. And it’s calling for two key strategies to integrate this into what we do. Not rocket science, but discipline to do our bit, the same way every time.

To effectively integrate sustainability, there are two key strategies.

  1. Consistency in measurement and reporting – not a different set of data every period. In the people and culture space, with more traditional measurement patterns like engagement surveys, we see organisations change questions often, so reliability is reduced and no longitudinal measurement of people, culture or engagement is done. This reduces usefulness for boards, executives and other leaders in creating sustainability.
  2. Decision making that is built for sustainability, not rewarded for short termism – a delicate balance between performance today, and tomorrow. Future economic performance comes from yesterday’s strategies – often years down the track. So having that reflected in decision-making, and performance and reward systems, is critical.

Sustainability breeds sustainability.

Be sustainable, by being consistent and clear.