How to Recruit your ESG / Purpose / Sustainability / Impact / etc. Team
/contractors or not
First, it is important to acknowledge the field of ESG is not new per se. If you’d like a history lesson you may find a short one in the ESG Conference Prep episode of my podcast. The challenge we all have with ESG is that it’s changing and evolving daily. There are numerous debates about where ESG ends and where sustainability begins while ESG is technically merely the data representation of sustainability. Unless of course we're discussing ESG Strategy, which is or isn't different from Corporate or Business Strategy. The debate is long, ongoing, and valuable because many would have sustainability be much more than data, indeed. Ancient civilizations and cultures can show us that at the very roots of sustainability as a word lies a deep understanding and connection between the human, the humane, and the environmental. Even if ethics that is elevated from merely the G category of ESG - not because it’s just a financial risk, but because it’s the most important thing to get right i.e. parenting, ESG really doesn't capture the full essence of sustainability... unless it too is understood differently.
Taxonomy is not really the only issue here. The intent behind a motion or activity matters. It matters a lot. So while some use ESG merely for risk mitigation, which is their prerogative really and right, while others have even the suggestion of this 3-letter acronym, others zoom in on the opportunity side which begins to have purpose and impact. These nuances are subtle at first, but more apparent as the different fields are understood not merely as “sustainability” but rather the convergence on common denominators of disciplines such as law, history, art, physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, finance, accounting, etc. Without getting strongly quantum here, sustainability is not just about carbon accounting and climate risk scenario planning. But because the rest is very hard to understand, that’s where we focus - and that's OK, it is simply a matter of leaving some value and values on the table.
All this to say, if you’re going to build an ESG to Impact team, or something like that - to hire the right humans, well-parented AIs, contractors, and other members of your organization, what is most important to get right?
Here are some recommendations. If they don't make sense to you then by all means don't implement them.
Make sure they and you have a dialogue about what sustainability means and that you’re on the same page about what you’re a trying to do. Ask them to document this position before you sign anyone on. This often looks like a proposal or letter of intent submission - however the proposal question 1 is “what do you think our vision or strategy should be when it comes to sustainability and ESG”?
Once that test is passed, ask: “where have you done this before”. This is a little funny, because if you want your people to use sustainability as a competitive advantage rather than purely for compliance and risk/ reputation management ideally the person wouldn’t have sold the exact same strategy and done it elsewhere. It’s a trick question, you’re looking for something along the lines - well, what you’re about to do sir or madam, for your business, has never been done. But I have plenty of experience with such projects, such as… bla bla bla. However, most important is how they tribute the others who made them successful in their past roles, and it must be authentic.
So now you have an innovator / creative problem solver. Now you need to check for hard skills. Can they write a coherent sentence? Do they make frequent grammar mistakes even with all the tech available to them? Are you obsessive about perfection or can you tolerate some risk? Can they sell you? Can they do math and understand accounting? Can they argue both sides of a debate? Can they project manage a $250K initiative? Whatever you deem you lack most in skill or really could use a boost with operationally. That sort of thing.
Finally - you want a guarantee. Can you guarantee I will achieve the results you say I will if I hire you? To which the answer if they provided numbers in their vision is “no, of course not” - however if their promise was qualitative and relative to your peers in nature, then you are looking for assurance that they have been able to achieve similar results they describe in the past, both independently and as a team. So they should say yes to that question if they are able to substantiate.
Taking the time to conduct proper dude / due diligence on your future team and partners is what we believe to be the best way to avoid risks of greenwashing, social washing, etc. Still, the case for finding mission-aligned talent ultimately rests in greater collective creativity, consciousness, level of aggregate knowledge, and collaboration.
In terms of credentials; a variety of fields are acceptable as long as the person is educated enough in the field and has demonstrated a path in sustainability for the last X years (the greater the X the more you’ll have to pay them).
Note - if searching for more than an employee or contractor, and more of a partner to scale, you’ll need more than the above. You’ll need to align on a shared purpose, mission, guiding principles, and code of respectful and ethical conduct. That’s a trade in Ethos - if both are synchronized, they can unlock great synergy as long as there is also a complementary skill set. Otherwise, it will be pain and agony all the way down to zero, and you may need to reset. Small companies do not have many chances to reset before going bust, so choose your partners wisely, with proper DD, especially where Ethics is concerned.
Book Recommendation to Support the Above:
Available on Audible and most book sites. Try to buy it used, save the trees, if you can.
The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved By Mario Livio Narrated by Tom Parks
*NOTE: This blog is written based on my 13 years of working both frontline and back-office functions in a large management consulting firm but also on my lived experience with starting up my own advisory and working to select the best clients and contractors / employees while balancing work-life priorities and life changes. Take it thus with a grain of salt, as all things. *
Irina Scarlete, CEO / Era Psodis (Creative IA)