Explained byBCG

Transform your talent to include climate skills and expertise across the organization

How to put talent at the top of your company’s sustainability agenda

While each company is unique and requires a tailored approach, a BCG study on the importance of talent development for sustainability found that the climate transformation of most companies follows three general phases: (I) Mobilize, (II) Embed, and (III) Accelerate (see Figure 11 below). Each phase requires specific capabilities and talent profiles to help make the climate transition successful, and each poses its own challenges to overcome. As such, the information in this step has relevance not only as you prepare, but throughout your climate journey. However, we discuss the subject here as it is never too early to have a longer-term view of the talent development journey. Additionally, this step includes a section on driving upskilling beyond your organization, including suppliers, partners, and customers.

Figure 11: Summary of three-phase approach (1) p10.

Phase I: Mobilize – create the catalytic talent

Note: Elements of this section are covered earlier in Prepare

How to take your first steps toward a Net Zero workforce

Mobilize involves taking your first steps toward sustainability with a central core of sustainability leaders and champions. The company’s main goals at this time will likely include responding to stakeholder needs, complying with regulations, seizing business opportunities, and shaping its climate ambition and strategy.

Talent needed: To accomplish the above goals, you should designate a small, central core of people within the organization to take the crucial first steps in defining and setting commitments, as well as winning and mobilizing stakeholders toward a clear and ambitious climate strategy. Most of these people can be thought of as general athletes, who are familiar with multiple facets of the company and are eager and capable of learning sustainability best practices. At this stage, sustainability talent is primarily homegrown, with 68% of sustainability leaders coming from within their corporations (Figure 10), according to a BCG survey.

Skills and capabilities needed: During this phase, nascency of skills, or the lack of existing sustainability skills within corporations, is often the greatest barrier to upskilling.

The core group should have multidisciplinary skillsets early in the process to launch the journey and catalyze action. They should have skills in sustainability, transformation, and data and digital sectors (see Figure 12 for a more detailed list). You should focus on individuals and teams with capability and capacity to move up the sustainability curve quickly. Much of this upskilling occurs via on-the-job learning but can and should be aided using supplemental resources, including published materials and conferences. Effort should primarily be focused on upskilling existing general athletes on sustainability, as this strategy has proven more effective than teaching incoming sustainability professionals about an organization’s business model.

However, you should also hire niche sustainability talent to complement your existing staff. This talent can help you manage the more technical issues of climate governance. For example, some companies may find it useful to hire external carbon accountants, as it may be difficult to develop that ability in-house quickly. Additionally, you should consider outsourcing selected climate functions as a stop-gap measure when needed, while keeping in mind your organization’s ultimate goal of having all necessary climate skills in-house.

Figure 12: Survey results of required skills in sustainability work (3) p13.

Phase II: Embed – scale, support, and upskill

How to transform strategy into implementation

The Embed phase involves incorporating sustainability skills across the organization within multidisciplinary business units, as well as selecting which roles and teams should integrate sustainability initiatives into their day-to-day processes and how to do so. This phase will enable you to optimize and even reimagine business models and processes to meet evolving corporate-wide sustainability goals.

Talent needed: To accomplish this, you should have functional experts leading the implementation of sustainability initiatives in each sector of your organization. During this phase, you should also aim to upskill all talent across the organization who will be adapting to new processes and ways of working due to the climate transformation, keeping in mind the appropriate degree of sustainability knowledge needed. These employees should develop the understanding and analytical skills necessary to both creatively produce value-creation opportunities from climate/sustainability and address climate risks.

Skills and capabilities needed: The primary challenge of this phase is transforming planned sustainability strategies generated in the first phase into applied sustainability. Thus, well-structured sustainability training will play a key role.

Accordingly, core sustainability skills (e.g., those of the core team from the first phase) should be adopted more broadly, so that business units and functions are able to independently carry out sustainability initiatives with limited guidance from others.

Furthermore, it will be especially important to train business development teams in climate topics and empower them to seek competitive advantages from climate and sustainability action.

There have been many proven approaches to graduate from Mobilize to Embed. Some examples include cascading learning through an internal Sustainability Academy or through trainings run by external providers. Another approach is to establish a multidisciplinary Center of Excellence in which new sustainability practices can be incubated before having business units or functions adopt them. Additionally, it is important to remain open to learning from industry peers, like those driven by industry associations, particularly when wider collaboration is useful.

Some examples of how different employees may need to upgrade their sustainability skills, based on a BCG/Microsoft-conducted survey of various corporations, can be found in Figure 13 below:

Figure 13: Skills for accountants, procurement, and legal and compliance.

Phase III: Accelerate – continuously empower, inspire, grow and evolve

How to maintain a thriving sustainable organization

The final phase, Accelerate, involves supporting and maintaining your transformed workforce. This will help you weave sustainability into the cultural fabric of your company’s processes and business proposition.

Talent needed: For this phase, all employees across the organization should be involved in sustainability efforts.

Skills and capabilities needed: Much of this phase involves addressing the challenge of maintaining momentum at scale, which begins with your sustainability workforce.

Your company should continue building operational and process-specific expertise as necessary for your organization and industry, refining abilities in response to particular and evolving industry and market trends.

A key challenge will lie in supporting and equipping your broader workforce to navigate the changes in the organization and their day-to-day jobs. Continuous learning for your employees to expand their knowledge and skillsets is helpful in this regard. One way to do so is by partnering with universities with robust climate education programs.

At the same time, retaining prime talent, even as market opportunities in this space grow, will become a central challenge. Some ways to retain your key talent include institutionalizing coveted sustainability roles, creating attractive development opportunities for sustainability employees, and defining new, clear career paths for your sustainability workforce to progress along, including potentially to high levels within the organization.

Arguably, the most important challenge that companies typically face during this phase is making and keeping sustainability a central part of their culture. A values-based discussion with employees at all levels and parts of the organization can be one approach to instilling sustainability. Publicly tracking corporate goals on sustainability can also help, as can empowering employees to both track and address individual contributions to environmental and climate impact (e.g., via an internal carbon price).