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Hiring Corporate Sustainability Leaders – what you need to know and tips for success

  • Publish Date: Posted about 2 months ago

With a quantum leap in terms of focus on corporate sustainability and governance, with non-financial reporting and other mandatory requirements such as the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) coming into force, the competition for corporate sustainability talent is significant. 

Driven from multiple angles; regulations, investors, consumers, and employees, 2021 was the start of a dramatic shift in how business leadership saw, and responded to, the broad sustainability and governance agenda. What started as an awareness has now become a business-critical element and altered the way businesses see sustainability and how it integrates into their business model.  

No longer ‘a nice to have’, sustainability is viewed as an essential corporate function by many, intertwined with established departments like Finance, Procurement, Marketing and Operations. 

The effect of this has seen “Green Jobs” grow significantly year on year. Chief Sustainability Officers have grown in number and now take their place at the table alongside other C-suite executives.  

What do you need to know about recruiting for a sustainability role?

In what was already a nuanced and composite role, modern sustainability leadership roles have emerged with even greater complexity. This is in response to a myriad of new requirements; from reporting needs such as Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) to consumer, customer and employee demands for Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) related action, visibility, and accountability. All of this means that the role is often subtly different and bespoke to each organisation. 

Not immune to the normal rules of supply vs. demand, this talent pool has come under unprecedented pressure. Combined with the complexity of the role criteria, the recruitment process arc often requires informed, creative thinking to reach a successful conclusion. 

Here are our tips on how you can hire better, faster and get ahead of your competition throughout the recruitment process:

Define the brief - multiple stakeholders can make for muddled thinking

Sustainability strategies affect all parts of a business, bringing a host of potential “would like to haves” from different stakeholders to the profile. 

Whilst it’s important to gather all your stakeholders’ requirements and build a complete picture of what would be ideal in the incumbent, this can create a muddled and potentially unachievable profile leading to a clunky process. 

In what is a competitive and fast-moving market, clarity on what is absolutely required and what falls into a larger group of preferred characteristics will enable the process to flow, reduce time to hire and importantly present far better to the candidates themselves at interview. 

Quite commonly, not all boxes will be ticked by a single candidate, know your red lines on the most critical elements and be ready to flex beyond them. 

Know your audience – frame the opportunity

Mission and purpose driven, the sustainability leader wants to know what the role is but even more importantly why it exists - what the business wants to achieve, who amongst the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) is behind the role, what their operating parameters will be, and how the role fits into the overarching company culture and values. 

Typically, a sustainability leader’s career decisions are heavily influenced by these factors (more than might be expected), so framing the opportunity in this way is key. In a tight candidate market, options are being compared with human factors, like purpose, impact and especially the role’s positioning, which will likely outweigh the fiscal ones. 

Consider the right recruitment methodology – search, advertising, external, internal

Any methodology might and can work, but with experience of the market and an understanding of what has worked for others, a specialist recruiter will advise clients accordingly and help them navigate the challenges ahead. 

Furthermore, market penetration is key to gaining applicants in a candidate short and risk adverse market. A specialist partner should significantly add value to the process through quality engagement and market insights as well as the number and quality of candidate options presented. 

Iterate and innovate – prepare to adapt!

With no composite candidate (or role) profile in a complex and changing sustainability landscape, your role may evolve as the process progresses. New information will certainly come to light that changes the priorities or adds to the brief, it may also include the possibility that the ideal candidate - with all the required attributes listed at the outset - does not exist. 

We work with clients to help inform their decision making through an iterative process, offering a range of solutions including ones that may not have been anticipated. 

Iron out the wrinkles in the hiring process

Due diligence and standard processes are important to maintain. We recommend you plan for what may be a highly competitive landscape, having a smooth process that maintains energy and can be reactive to circumstances (if needed) is recommended. 

An initial video call with the candidate will give you a good starting point for potential future conversations, and in return is an ideal first opportunity to showcase your organisation and provide more information about the role. This is most definitely a two-way street, so this first meeting is a great opportunity to start to understand what drives the candidate, but also what they can expect from you. 

Beware - overly onerous first interviews will lose candidates before they have had a chance to become engaged. 

Delays in arranging interviews are a huge own goal in a fast-moving talent short market. Commonly, we see multiple stakeholders trying to co-ordinate their diaries with the effect that it takes far too long to confirm dates for interview. If employers are hoping to see multiple candidates on the same day this often leads to further delays and a loss of momentum. 

Engagement is key to securing that acceptance in the sustainability sector, nothing in the recruitment process says “this isn’t our priority” than a long delay between segments in the process. 

Make your offer difficult to refuse

If you know your audience and their motivators, have matched them to your agreed specification and have held a robust yet engaging recruitment process, your candidate is almost one foot in the door. Ensure you have discussed all the elements that are important to the individual in play and design your remuneration and benefits package around them. Once you have the ideal person engaged, closing the deal by knowing what you both need and expect should be the easiest part of the process! 

Allen & York can help – we take each assignment on its own merits and tailor our service according to our clients’ needs. We specialise in working with individuals, technical experts, talent acquisition specialists and recruitment teams to recruit individuals to look after the environment and the people working within it. We’ve built a vast network of talent, managed by dedicated professionals. So, whether you’re a big brand corporate, a consultancy, non-profit or NGO, we can help you hire and deliver value all through your recruitment process. Call us on 01202 888986 or email to see how we can help you find the right person for the right role.