superheroes-534104_1280There’s a strategic opportunity just waiting to be grabbed by learning & development professionals across the world. The question is, will they take it?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that to create a sustainable world in which both people and the natural world thrive that business has to take a lead role. The ensuing political confusion from Brexit and the potential prospect of Trump as President together with the continuing short-term nature of many of the world’s election cycles highlights this need for business to step up.

The vision of business as a ‘force for good’ seems to, at last, be getting some traction. It is central to the creation of B Corps, a global movement that currently has 1,836 B Corporations in 50 countries across 130 industries. They include Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s and the Brazilian cosmetics company, Natura. The B Team is making great progress in creating a movement of business leaders across the globe with the collective vision for “a world in which the purpose of business is to become a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit”. In a recent CEO survey by Accenture and the UN Global Compact it was found that 87% of CEOs surveyed believe the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an opportunity to rethink approaches to sustainable value creation.

So, whilst there is a noticeable ‘call for action’ for business to take a lead and a recognition that this needs to happen, why are we still not seeing great strides forward in the creation of sustainability focused business strategies? I think that this is where Learning & Development can step in and change the game in helping business to be a ‘force for good’.

Opportunity 1 – Leadership Development

On a leadership development programme you typically have a room full of talented people who are focused on developing their own capability to increase business performance. Why not use their combined insight, creativity and business knowledge to contribute to the organization’s sustainability strategy whilst also developing their leadership capacity? Instead of using ‘made up’ experiential activities as vehicles for their leadership learning, challenge them to generate ideas for sustainable business, create proposals and present business plans. This way they can make a significant contribution to their organization whilst simultaneously learning about emotional intelligence, leading teams, authentic leadership etc. For an example of how a real business challenge might work, have a look at the SDG Leadership Challenge .

If this ‘real world’ approach doesn’t quite fit,  the least that can be done is ensuring that the experiential activities raise awareness of sustainability issues material to the business through simulations, community projects or discovery journeys.

Opportunity 2 – Sustainability Workshops

Many organizations have a sustainability strategy, however, a common failing is that sustainability is not embedded in all parts of the organization. Cross-functional and/or multi-level sustainability workshops are a great way to bring people together to develop creative ideas for how sustainability can become part of the way in which the organization does business. By focusing on a strategic challenge, these workshops can create real value for the organization whilst also fostering collaboration, understanding and teamwork across the organization.

Opportunity 3 – Integrating sustainability into all Learning & Development

I believe that it’s possible to integrate sustainability related exercises into all learning & development. I really do mean all. For example:

  • On an Introduction to Excel course why not get people to use your organization’s energy consumption data to learn how they can create graphs?
  • On Presentation Skills workshops use slides that present information from your organization’s Sustainability Report as examples of good/bad practice.
  • On a Leading Teams programme, ask participants to rank the SDGs in priority order for your organization as an exercise to practise decision making, listening skills, team leadership etc.

This is an opportunity for Learning & Development professionals to be creative and design dual-purpose exercises that meet the specific learning objectives whilst also raising awareness of sustainability issues.

There are a host of other opportunities that I haven’t mentioned including employee induction, graduate development and creativity & innovation workshops. For me the big question is not how but will the Learning & Development profession seize the opportunity to become a strategic partner in developing business that is a ‘force for good’?