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The Internal Comms Review: How to embed ESG values into your internal comms

I had a conversation this week for my podcast Show Me The Way with Allyson Stewart Allen, the “muse of marketing” who’s a regular on Sky and the BBC.

We were discussing how the values of our current workforces have shifted from living to work, to working to live.

The conversation was not all doom and gloom, we meandered through the importance of localising marketing, even as you go global and how the context of leadership has seismically changed and leaders now need to bring their people with them, listen more and spread the culture they want to embed through the digital platforms of Zoom and Teams. You can subscribe to the podcast to hear more when it drops.

It got me thinking about the ubiquitous and somewhat confusing word, “purpose”. And how the need for bringing this feeling into one’s life is not only limited to home but is also expected from work now too.

In SEC Newgate’s latest ESG Monitor which explores how the tenets of corporate purpose as epitomised by Environmental Social Governance is communicated to stakeholders and how those messages impact the decisions those stakeholders make, we see that the UK public is taking a far keener interest in ESG issues and that shying away from taking a position is no longer an option.

And this is not just about investors and consumers, here we are talking about employees too.

The Monitor found that 50% of employees think their company is genuinely trying to do the right thing when it comes to ESG.

This global study spanning 12 countries and surveying more than 12,000 people looked at where ESG issues fit in an employee’s “hierarchy of concerns”.

It found that it was important for them to be doing work that matters and to be working for a company with a good overall reputation.

Meanwhile, they expected the company to enhance its commitment to various things including environmental sustainability and hybrid working arrangements.

Here are eight takeaways from the Monitor that are as applicable to internal communications as external when it comes to ESG and that you might useful when considering how to engage your teams internally.

  • The community expects action and wants the organisation to consider and act on all their impacts on people and the planet.
    1. 71% of people surveyed agree that companies should speak out on issues that are important to their employees and companies but only on issues that are related and authentic to them.
    2. When it came to staying in a job, millennials put a lot of focus on ESG credentials. And it’s one of the first things they look at when thinking about a job with a new employer.
  • Think carefully about which actions you highlight in communications.
    1. Choose what you are going to focus your communication on. Think about what the issues the internal community cares about. Where do you have permission to play and do you have a legitimate reason to play? Is it already factored in expected or is it going the extra mile? If it’s the latter, then talk about it.
  • Tell a story and include specific proof-points to build trust.
    Ask yourself:
    1. Is the action genuine?
    2. Are we showing long-term commitment or is it just a one-off action?
    3. Is the action meaningful? Is it going to lead to change?
    4. Can we give evidence that we’ve actually done it? What’s the proof?
  • Provide multiple proof points for overall impact.
    1. People are interested not just in one flagship programme but many.
    2. Work collaboratively with other organisations to have a bigger impact together.
    3. Encourage own employees and customers to act.
  • Don’t go it alone – join forces with others and empower them – use the power of word of mouth
    1. Consider the multiplier effect and look at how you can leverage the smarts of your staff to solve complex problems and empower them to play a role.
  • You don’t have to be perfect – just try.
    1. People anthropomorphise their organisations. They speak about them as if they’re people so it’s ok for companies to act human.
    2. Make it clear you are genuinely trying. If you get something wrong, apologise and course correct. Whatever you do, keep going.
  • Gen Z and Millennials show the way.
    1. This group are very interested, take notice and give organisations higher ratings for doing well in these areas.
    2. They are active socially and so a great way to test messaging is to engage them.
  • Bad news sticks – focus on addressing these issues before they become a problem.
    1. People find it easier to name organisations doing a bad job and word of mouth is loud.
    2. Protect your reputation through real action in areas that your community of employees cares about.

And finally, what about the elephant in the room, the very acronym ESG? Should corporates just have done and bin it?

Our research found that although awareness of the term ‘ESG’ has increased over the last year, there are multiple other ways it’s described and perhaps better understood.

Some companies we spoke to like Manpower Group have swapped out the acronym and instead use the three pillars of Planet, People & Prosperity. Other words that came up are unsurprising: sustainability, CSR, social value, triple bottom line.

But perhaps we just need to get to the nub of the issue and say all of this is simply “doing the right thing” and ultimately that’s what our employees care about and what we need to align with.

This PRmoment Internal Comms Review is written by Naomi​ Kerbel, Director, Communications, SEC Newgate.

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