Insight article

Road ahead

Accelerating ESG strategy – what future story will your organisation create?

There’s no escaping it – environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategy is now a critical part of the boardroom agenda. Among the business leaders working with The Storytellers, we’ve noticed a clear shift in mindset and response too. 

Underlined by the growing climate crisis, and further highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, ESG has gained greater prominence because of how it’s seen by stakeholders and investors as a way to safeguard organisations against future risks to the global economy. It focuses on the areas of business that matter most to employees and, as highlighted in the latest EY Future Consumer Index, provides opportunities for businesses to create value and grow revenues by responding to the trend for sustainable consumption. 

Today, as business leaders around the world also come to terms with the practical implications of the outcomes of the COP26 summit – and the monumental task of decarbonising the global economy – there is a clear need for organisations to quickly turn their ESG strategy into meaningful action. Investors want clarity about the initiatives companies are undertaking, the reporting they are doing, and the returns they will generate. Brands around the world will increasingly be looked at and recognised for their leadership towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and employees are pursuing purpose at work. In short, taking no or limited action will simply become untenable. 

Ahead of us lies one of the biggest changes in mindset and strategy that the world has ever seen – but for businesses to deliver on this at the necessary pace and scale, they will also need to leverage the power of their people to make change happen. Leaders need a powerful narrative to begin to activate a movement within their organisations and around their brands. A narrative that connects people to the reasons for change and helps them to understand their role in achieving these bigger, better ESG outcomes for the benefit of everyone.

Talent and purpose

What ultimately brings us meaning and purpose is contributing to something larger than ourselves. Just like the climate change movement, the workplace is made up of thousands of stories of endeavour and achievement, but also disengagement and failures. Crucially, these stories shape our belief about the organisations we work for and the leaders who guide us. A strong narrative that articulates the collective purpose, the journey an organisation needs to take, and what success looks like, provides a vehicle through which we can play out our own personal ambition. Ultimately, top talent will want to be part of meaningful journeys that they truly connect with.

Turning strategy into action

To move their people from passively understanding the strategy to being compelled to act in service of it – leaders must identify ways to build ownership. People are more likely to take positive action if they feel they’ve helped to create it. Empowering teams and employees to identify ways in which they can contribute to a strategy unleashes great rewards.

Employee engagement and accelerated change

Whatever your views on a “disengagement crisis” one thing is clear –  employees that are inspired by their work are happier, more productive and are more likely to achieve remarkable things. With the scale of change ahead, this is the moment for leaders to challenge themselves – is engagement enough? Our experience shows that if leaders can find a mechanism to unite their people, inspire them and provide a clear plan, they can accelerate change and transform performance.

Brand perception and leadership legacy

Ultimately, leaders and organisations will be judged on this moment. Aside from taking action to benefit or mitigate the reputational risks to their brand, what was their wider response? What was the story of their organisation? How did they approach change and how successful were they in contributing to one of humankind’s greatest challenges?

If ever there was an opportunity to write a story for the ages – this is it.

Robert Tennant

Robert Tennant

Head of Consultancy