Three Ways to Engage Middle Managers in Sustainability

SSC President, Jennifer Woofter, recently wrote for 2degrees.  Here is what Jennifer had to say:

Without the support of middle management there's little hope of implementing a successful corporate sustainability strategy. So what can you do to get them engaged?

A lack of knowledge around sustainability initiatives and goals amongst your staff can usually be traced back to middle management.

Your executive team recently developed a beautiful sustainability strategy. It’s ambitious, relevant, timely, and aligned with the company's overarching business goals. It is responsive to stakeholder concerns, and is built on a strong business case that will deliver financial and social returns in the short- and long-term. You are feeling great about the work that's been done, and you eagerly anticipate seeing the sustainability plan put into action.

But there's a problem. When you walk around and talk to employees - in the warehouse, behind the front desk, in the assembly line, and near the water cooler - they don't seem to be aware of the amazing sustainability work that's been accomplished to date. They can't identify the company's top-line sustainability goals, or explain how sustainability fits into their everyday job responsibilities.

What's gone wrong? The problem can usually be traced back to middle management. Without a swath of mid-level managers ready to take the lead on sustainability goals and empower their employees to do the same, there is little hope of implementing a successful corporate sustainability strategy.

There's lots of research that shows the critical importance of an engaged middle management. In fact, one study indicated that that approximately 43% of an organization's success resides with mid-managers whose positions are generally two to three levels below the CEO. Think about that: 43% of your company's sustainability success rests with your middle management.

Mid-level managers are responsible for translating corporate mandates (like business goals, financial objectives, and sustainability strategies) into clear and practical directives that can be applied throughout the organization. They are also responsible for coaching and developing employee talent, as well as resolving conflict - both between employees and among competing business initiatives.

When managers can't (or won't) take sustainability seriously, or are unable to effectively translate sustainability into something that is useful and compelling to their staff, momentum is lost and corporate sustainability initiatives flounder.

So how can companies best support their middle managers throughout the sustainability journey? Read about it here.