Holding out for a hero: Choosing superheroes to lead your green teams

DoNation team hero

Following the wise words of Bonnie Tyler, sometimes we just need a hero. And environmental initiatives in the workplace are no exception.

Through Do Nation programs we’ve run with clients, we’ve found that one important success factor is having great leaders, championing the programme within their teams and leading them to success.

But persuading others and winning their hearts and minds is no easy task, not everyone is cut out for it.  So here I will share some insights into how to choose your superheroes, including the superpowers they will need.

What makes a hero?

Superheroes aren’t always the obvious candidates. Who would have suspected a multimillion dollar playboy (Batman), a weedy journalist (Superman) or a guy who changes colour when he gets angry (The Hulk) of being hero material? The same goes for sustainability heroes (although The Hulk is green) – it is tempting just to choose the keenest, most dedicated environmentalists, but unless they are also highly admired by their peers and have the correct skills, they aren’t necessarily the right choice. Below are some skills your heroes will need:

Leadership: It’s important to choose good, well-respected team leaders who can set trends that others will follow. It’s also a good opportunity for those that show promise of these skills but haven’t yet had a chance to demonstrate them.

Communication skills: Your heroes are going to be the “eyes and ears” of the programme so they need to be able to communicate well with all levels of the business.

Knowledge: Research into maven’s shows that influential people need a good knowledge of the thing they are trying to convince people of. This knowledge could come from training (see below), unlike the next characteristic which is much harder to teach.

Belief: The same research also showed the people that make great influencers were overwhelmingly motivated by altruism (again not dissimilar to superheroes). This doesn’t have to be on a global perspective but could just be wanting to help people in their immediate circle to have a better life in some way. It is therefore important to highlight how your initiative can improve people’s lives.

DoNation team and hero

How to find your hero

What is the best way to find your sustainability heroes? It’s not like they are going to get bitten by a radioactive spider and then make themselves known. Although some will (make themselves known that is, not get bitten by a radioactive spider). But how do you reach beyond the volunteers and usual suspects?

  • Ask your HR team, line manager and existing champions if they know of anyone that has the superhero qualities talked about above.
  • Run an online environmental survey and approach those that respond positively or ask people to nominate their peers.
  • You could also use previous initiatives to discover potential heroes. Using Do Nation you can discover who is most engaged by who makes the most pledges – a lot of the time there are some undiscovered heroes out there.

Ideally your network of green champions will mirror the structure of your organisation, with champions in every office or department and at every level of the business.

How to get them on board

Once you have people in mind that have the attributes to make a great sustainability hero you can attract them using the following methods:

  • Approach them during their one to ones or reviews and make it part of their personal development KPIs.
  • Promise support – sometimes just a manager asking someone to be a sustainability champ implicitly suggests they will get this support but you must make sure this happens (see below).

Supporting your hero

No good hero works alone: Batman would get nowhere without his armoury of tools, and sustainability heroes are no exception. There is no point in choosing the perfect heroes but not giving them the time, resources, and support to do their job.

The Corporate Responsibility Champions Network Guide gives some great examples of how organisations keep their sustainability heroes engaged but below are some musts:

Support: Either from external experts, line managers, or peers. Alliance Boots uses a buddy system where inexperienced champions are matched up with experienced champions from different parts of the business. Setting up a network for champions to communicate with each other can also help – this could well be online, but nothing beats face to face interaction – why not arrange regular get togethers over lunch (or over the phone if this isn’t realistic)?

Training: Aside from support, formalised training is a great way to keep people engaged and knowledgeable. This could be training in CSR and sustainability so people know the latest research and policies, or as a way to develop transferable skills that they can use in their day job – be it leadership, strategy planning, communication, or presentation.

Reward and recognition: Then when they hit / succeed their goals it is important your heroes get the recognition they deserve. It is also important that this recognition comes from the top, especially if people are going above and beyond their job description. A great way to do this is through regular or annual awards, where people are rewarded for the great jobs they have done. This doesn’t even need to be lavish, just knowing you are appreciated is usually enough.

So there you have it; identify your heroes by recognising their extraordinary powers and abilities, unmask them and get them to join your team, then train and support them to reach their full potential. Together you can make any sustainability initiative a super success.

To find out more about the heroes we have worked with drop me a line at Richard@WeAreDoNation.com

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