Planning and procedures play a crucial role in embedding sustainability into the day to day operations of your business. Achieving the goals and strategies set by senior management will rely, in part, on setting up the right work systems and clear procedures. Providing information, training or mentoring will ensure that all employees understand what is expected of them. Another crucial factor is making sure that the procedures are applied consistently. This requires commitment from employees to apply the procedures and from management to allocate the time and equipment needed.
Gaining the input of staff is essential. They are likely to have good ideas about how to reduce waste and increase efficiency. They are also more likely to follow procedures consistently when they have had a hand in designing them and really understand them.
A full set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that capture your sustainable practices will help sustainability become the ‘norm’ with everyone knowing what is expected of them.
Workforce planning can help to ensure you have the right people with the right skills who are available where and when you need them. In the sustainability context it is about making sure you have the right skills to carry out your sustainability activities and achieve your goals.
This means analysing your current job roles and available skills and your future needs for specific sustainability skills. You can use this comparison to design new job roles and amend existing jobs to meet your sustainability needs. You can also use it to plan and budget for recruitment, training and development.
Ideally this is not a one-off or stand alone process. To be effective your workforce planning should:
- Be integrated with your business goals
- Incorporate analysis of current and future operations, major projects, culture change
- Be reviewed to align to changes in direction
- Allow time and opportunities for skills development
- Inform the design of your job roles and your recruitment activities.
Staff retention is another workforce issue that connects with sustainability. High staff turnover can damage your reputation and can make it harder to recruit the right people. Recruiting staff is also costly when you consider advertising costs, time spent culling and interviewing and the time and money invested in training new staff.
Retention strategies are often aligned to social sustainability issues. You may need to address workplace bullying and discrimination. Or you might be able to improve retention rates by establishing a culture of collaboration and providing structured staff development and progression opportunities.
You might identify other benefits of value to your staff, for example, improvements to lunch rooms and recreational areas or improved transport and parking options.
Recognising and rewarding the contribution of staff can be a powerful retention strategy. You might want to establish training programs and award nationally recognised qualifications as a way of rewarding staff as well as building their skills and knowledge. You might also build on your continuous improvement systems and ensure that useful staff suggestions are recognised and put into practice.
Managing your workplace culture can encourage your team to work together to achieve your sustainability and business goals. Defining the organisation’s values so that they are aligned to your sustainability goals is the first step. Making sure these values are reflected in decision making, management practices and operating procedures will help to establish a workplace culture of shared values and clear expectations of attitudes and behaviours.
Clear expectations for acceptable practice will encourage individuals to apply procedures such as turning off lights and can encourage suggestions for further improvements.
A culture that respects and values the different views, experiences and cultures of employees and that actively encourages their participation in the organisation will support your commitment to social sustainability and can encourage staff commitment and loyalty.
You may be in a position to make minor changes that will support a sustainable workplace culture. You might use performance reviews and goal setting to encourage consistent behaviours and procedures. You could set up a reward system for employee suggestions that are implemented or teams that achieve sustainability targets. Reinforcing your values and expectations in team meetings, toolbox talks and newsletters will also help to embed your desired culture.
Some culture improvements may be more challenging and you may need to use a structured change management approach. Over time this can be effective in shifting attitudes and transitioning individuals, teams or organisations to a desired state. You may even want to consider employing a specialist in this area.
Note that the term ‘change management’ is also used in project management where it refers to a formal process for approving changes to the scope of a project.
Leading a sustainability improvement culture
Managers and business owners have the most influence as role models, but everyone in the business can play a part in demonstrating the organisation’s values and acceptable behaviours.
If you want your workplace to be based on respect and collaboration there are practical things you can do. You can make sure you give constructive feedback that is based on the work rather than the person and give people the opportunity and support to get it right. Listen to suggestions from all employees and show how you have used their input. You can also learn how to respond to conflict using negotiation and listening skills.
Improving your sustainability does not mean you have to create a whole set of new procedures. It’s often about identifying the areas that need updating and planning how to incorporate your sustainability focus into existing procedures.
You might decide to update your standard operations procedures to specify energy efficient practices and equipment optimisations. Or it might mean spelling out new requirements for purchasing materials or contracting suppliers.
You might be aware of areas where you are falling short – this might be in terms of compliance requirements, community expectations or customer value. You may want to focus on occupational health and safety (OHS) so that you reduce the risk of incidents and the associated costs. In this instance you may need to document and communicate new procedures; but you might also need to plan for appropriate OHS training and examine whether your management practices or workplace culture contribute to unsafe practices.
You might want to minimise waiting time and reduce the movement of work or workers to be more cost effective and reduce energy consumption. You will need to plan your stakeholder consultations to include the right input (shop floor workers, equipment manufacturers). You will also need to plan how to allocate the personnel and time to develop, trial and refine the new systems.
You may not be in a position to make decisions that impact on the whole business however you may already be aware of small changes that can be made in your area. You may know that by simply moving a piece of equipment or the storage location of frequently accessed items the amount of time it takes to collect those items will be reduced – instantly increasing efficiency. Perhaps you and your team can be the champions who show the rest of the organisation how small changes to procedures can have an impact across the whole organisation.
Improving sustainability in your organisation does not have to mean making big, expensive changes to your SOPs it can simply mean ‘working smarter’.
Managing your performance
There are many areas you could focus your efforts in terms of planning and creating SOPs for a sustainable business. Things to think about include:
- Existing tools and techniques to reduce waste and increase efficiency – such as Lean principles and the Competitive Systems and Practices and Sustainable Operations qualifications
- Senior management commitments and priorities for sustainability – what areas do they target?
- Planning how procedures can help put these commitments into practice
- Defining your organisational values and how they will be modeled by managers and supervisors
- Mechanisms that encourage the desired workplace culture
- Opportunities for training, development and progression in the organisation
- Planning for current and future skills to support sustainability goals.