Strategy harnesses our efforts to be more focused, mobilizing and measureable.

Strategy harnesses our efforts to be more focused, mobilizing and measurable.

Strategy harnesses our efforts to be more focused, mobilizing and measurable.  Start strong and set your program up for success…and let’s be honest, strategic planning just makes everything else easier.  Don’t we all want our efforts to be more focused, mobilizing and measurable?  Sure, we do.

Whether your organization is looking to start a new sustainability employee engagement program or to revitalize an existing one, an effective strategy is essential. The formulation of an engagement strategy provides a framework to shape what sustainability means to your organization, assess needs, set priorities, determine content, outline methods for engagement as well as set parameters for communications, evaluation and reporting processes.

Some benefits to creating a strategy for your sustainability employee engagement program:

  1. Clarity, focus and direction – Where would we be with out this trio? With many employees involved in program planning, delivery, participation and support, a clear and relevant strategy ensures everyone is working together toward the same goals.
  2. Guesswork eliminator – Need to plan an earth day event, corporate challenge or local initiative? Having a focused strategy creates the space for us to always go back to our clear objectives and priorities; use them as guidelines and inspiration for event planning.
  3. Overall alignment – Closely aligning your program strategy with overarching company goals makes it more relevant to everyone in your organization. Relevance is key for getting support from every level within the organization, including leadership as well as regional and local management.  It also helps to catch employee attention and shows them how participating in activities directly impacts organizational performance.
  4. Increased leadership support – Use this as an opportunity to engage leadership in the planning process to increase their understanding of and encourage their support for the program.  Familiarizing leaders with the engagement framework and proposed outcomes also provides a concrete illustration of how the program directly relates to organizational goals and priorities, while demonstrating how you intend to monitor and report on progress.
  5. Addresses obstacles and challenges – All programs face their share of obstacles and challenges. Strategic planning provides the opportunity to identify actual and potential obstacles, while building in approaches to tackle them.  The engagement framework serves as an avenue to monitor challenges, track successes and discover new approaches to address them.

Before we get started….

The following sections explore some considerations for creating a strategy depending on your organizational needs and context.  I encourage you to…

Draw on what is relevant for you. Take the opportunity to think through how these concepts could work for you, whether you are working on a comprehensive program or a single initiative, event or project.

Think of strategy development as a creative process.

Think of strategy development as a creative process.

Be open to strategic planning as a creative process too.  Don’t get bogged down in keeping this a rigid exercise.  Whenever you can think outside the box and concentrate on how the program could create more connectivity and community within your organization. Think of

strategy development as a creative process.

Draw on existing initiatives, systems and operations.  Creating a sustainability engagement program is not about creating something totally new.  Always look for ways to draw on the momentum of existing programs, events or initiatives.


Laying the appropriate groundwork for your engagement strategy is a critical step. Key understandings of organizational goals, culture, and structure, in addition to employee needs form an excellent foundation for creating an effective framework.

What are some ways we can explore and assess our organization to create relevant programming?   Here are some basic examples, but don’t limit yourself.  Be creative and focus on what is relevant for your organization.

Organizational Context:  The more integrated and embedded the engagement program is within your organization, the more successful it is likely to be.  When performing an internal scan to better understand your organization it is helpful to identify:

      • Insights into your organization’s corporate culture
      • Program related organizational strengths, challenges and resources
      • Overarching organizational goals and priorities
      • Internal key liaisons and potential partnerships for better program coordination
      • Your organizations official sustainability definition, policies, statements, strategies, etc.
      • Available communication avenues and policies, corporately and/or locally
      • Existing sustainability related initiatives, program or events
      • Potential sustainability champions within leadership, corporately and locally

Visioning: Since determining your organizations sustainability journey is dependent on your specific context, visioning can be an effective tool.  Visioning encourages discussion towards a common understanding of organizational values and a collective, preferred future vision. Where are we now? What do we value? Where do we want to be? How will we know when we get there?  This process not only provides direction, but also an avenue to encourage internal ownership, motivation and enthusiasm.

Needs Assessments:  Assessing employee needs will go along way in increasing the effectiveness of any engagement program.   Information may be collected from any avenue that makes the most sense for your organization.  Some examples include surveys (paper or online), focus groups, suggestion boxes, email feedback, individual interviews, etc.  Employee surveys are an effective way to collect information especially for larger organizations.  There are online tools available to facilitate data collection and analysis; Survey Monkey is an online survey platform that I’ve used for years and is free or reasonably priced depending on your needs.

Analysis and Summarizing…  making sense of it all

When collecting information and feedback from different avenues, it helps to map it out (physically or digitally) in whatever ways appeals to you.  Start posting key information, trends and insights.  Use analysis tools like coding, survey tools, mind mapping, etc.  Look for trends, areas of passion, support corporate culture, draw on past success and enthusiasm.

Formulating a Strategy

One question to keep in mind when creating any guiding document is, “Will this be something that people will read?”  Ideally we want to keep the strategy clear, concise and relevant.

When creating strategy, it’s helpful to bring the entire process into perspective by looking at the “bigger picture”.  Ideally, an effective engagement strategy should have a strong, logical framework that would, for example, support an employee’s ability to see a clear link between their daily actions and outcomes presented in a company sustainability report.

The structure of your strategy will depend on your specific program.  Below is an example of a basic strategy template.

 Strategy Objectives

Identify from the beginning the objectives of the document.  With so much background information and program possibilities, it will help to stay on point during the strategy development.

Wordle gives your feedback an interesting visual representation.

Wordle gives your feedback an interesting visual representation.

Employee Feedback Summary

After participating in needs assessments, people are often very curious about the results. This is a great space to share the highlights of employee surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc.
Including response statistics is useful, but there are lots of interesting ways to present feedback like creating word clouds, Wordle is a fun online resource for creating them.

Priorities and Time Frame

Although many areas to address may have arisen while analyzing the background data, to keep the strategy and program manageable, try choosing two or three program priorities.  Keeping these priorities in the forefront of your mind will help keep the strategy development focused and on track. It is also important to consider how much time should be allocated to achieve these priorities; is one year enough? Two years?  Also keep in mind program implementation usually takes more time than you think, so be conservative with timing estimates.

Focus Areas – How will you label the program’s focus areas, for example, community, employee wellness, environment and/or social?  Do these correspond to other relevant initiatives, for example, what focus area labels are used in organizational sustainability reporting?

Content – Based on background research, what will be the main topic areas for content?  Where were there gaps in understanding?  What topics did participants frequently identify as a knowledge building area?

Methods of Engagement – How will the program function? Is the focus on teams or on the individual?  What are the major program activities?  Who will implement local or corporate events, initiatives?  How will success be celebrated?  How will knowledge be shared?  How will both corporate and local contexts be addressed?

Marketing and Communication

Marketing and communication are key aspects to an engagement program.  It is worth reaching out to a marketing and communications department/person within your organization to work with you on this to make sure your plans are as effective as possible.  Based on the results of your needs assessment, are there particular groups of employees that you will focus on?  Is there a particular topic/message or type of marketing media/communications avenue you will dedicate a percentage of your marketing towards? Some considerations:

      • What media and communication avenues available to you?
      • Will you create a unique marketing campaign for the program?
      • Does it make sense to create address employee communication for both corporate and local contexts?
      • Include communication guidelines for various types or levels of employees. For example, would it be beneficial to create different target audiences, such as leadership, local management, as well as other relevant internal contacts in addition to general communications?

Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting

Creating processes for continual reflection, learning and improvement is key to the ongoing success of the engagement program. This section could outline how it will determine specific indicators and measure outputs and outcomes.

Quantitative data is useful for reporting and building the business case for the program, but qualitative information to accompany the metrics is also important.  For example, maybe 100% of your offices have recycling bins, which is great, but maybe only 10% of them are actually being used due to an issue that is going unaddressed.  Create a way to track quantitative details to identify issues, celebrate success and collect general feedback.

To build program effectiveness, consider providing a support network to teams and individuals through ongoing feedback and follow up is helpful.  This can help identify in a timely way when teams or individuals are struggling or need support.  It also can help identify best practice and local examples.  Some considerations:

      • Determine appropriate parameters for milestones, metrics, outputs and outcomes.
      • Create support frameworks including avenues for ongoing feedback, regular meetings, local champion support, follow-up, etc.
      • Provide avenues for ongoing feedback and support from all levels of the organization
      • Determine timelines for formal evaluation and reporting on program performance­­­­­

Let’s start a discussion!

If you would like to share your strategy development experiences, we would love to hear them.  What has worked?  What lessons have you learned?  What about this blog post was most useful for you?  If you have any questions or comments use the comments section below.  If you would like to get in touch with me, please feel free to email at Wendy Firlotte .

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