From sustainability targets to an action plan for all employees

Do you want to involve the employees of your fashion company more in the implementation and rollout of a CSR policy, in order to increase the chance of success? Then use the Rollout toolbox and coaching methods below, in order to:

  1. Establish priorities per department.
  2. Identify the behavior that is required to achieve your targets.
  3. Determine what kind of support will be needed to encourage the desired behavior.
  4. Set up an action plan for employee engagement.

This Rollout method has been scientifically substantiated, building on the research that has been done in recent years on change management or, in other words, on how to take a structured approach to implementing change within an organization. Literature research and pilot projects at fashion companies have led to a specific methodology with a practical step-by-step plan, tailored to the needs of the industry.

Towards an action plan for employee engagement in 4 steps
1. Getting started > 2. 'As Is' versus 'To be' > 3. Behavior, company culture and level of support for the change > 4. Action plan

In this module, we address project leaders, who can either be internally or externally appointed. If your company has a sustainability coordinator, she or he would make an ideal project leader. Looking for an external supervisor with sector knowledge? Contact Flanders DC for some suggestions.

Before you, as a project leader, get started with this roadmap, it’s important that the company’s management is on board. Talk to the manager(s) beforehand and explain what you want to achieve. Make sure the executive or the CEO is present at the kick-off. This shows that the organization is committed to the project, and it will encourage employees get involved as well. This Rollout module devotes attention to creating a safe space for employees to speak honestly and transparently about the challenges and obstacles they encounter, but it will also help you to get them motivated and eager to participate in the sustainable transition story.

About this Rollout module on employee engagement

Many companies today are keen to switch to more sustainable models of operation. The chances of success depend on a number of factors. Motivated leaders, for one, are key when it comes to implementing a sustainable policy. After all, this requires freeing up time, space and money. But that in itself is not enough. Employees, too, have to be enthusiastic, committed and interested in knowledge-building.

Implementing a sustainable (or circular) business policy requires a lot of operational changes. To ensure that employees have the knowledge and skills they need, reskilling or additional training are often a must. In addition, it’s crucial that employees see the importance of this shift. When they feel that the move is widely supported, they’ll more likely be motivated, committed and cooperative.

Employees are increasingly looking for meaningful work (they want to be a part of the so-called purpose economy), and a sustainable policy can accommodate this. Focusing on social responsibility can make your company an attractive employer. This helps keep your current employees on board, but it will certainly also convince new talent to apply for a job at your organization.

In addition, employee engagement indirectly leads to an increase in customer satisfaction. Employees who are committed typically provide a better service, which has a positive impact on customers’ opinions of your company. Imagine a sales assistant who has no clue about the sustainability actions you’re taking as a brand. Clearly, that person won’t be able to answer customer questions about the topic either. A missed opportunity …

This Rollout module offers a roadmap for the transition to a more sustainable way of working.

1. Getting started


The aim of this session is to clarify the objective of the project to everyone involved. You will explain the method that you’ll use, as well as gaining a better understanding of the organization’s current business model and of where you’re at in terms of sustainability. Involve the company’s C-level at this stage. They can help set priorities and decide on the best participants for each session.

Organize a kick-off meeting where you explain the objective of the project.

1. You briefly walk everyone through the phases of the exercise and its expected outcome.

2. You can substantiate your story with numbers and scientific insights about employee engagement and its challenges.


Did you know that ... focusing on employee engagement pays off?

The level of employee engagement influences the success of your sustainability policy and leads to a more positive attitude among employees: it increases job satisfaction (resulting in a lower turnover and greater influx of candidates) and encourages decisiveness.

Allowing everyone to contribute reduces the turnover rate of the organization and translates in a heightened resolve. Research also indicates that employees prefer to work for organizations who are committed to CSR. More and more employees want to do meaningful work – they want their job to have a purpose, so implementing a sustainability policy can have a positive effect on employee engagement. Organizations whose strategy incorporates a higher goal, and who thus provide guidance to employees, have more growth potential and will be more likely to successfully implement innovations and transformations. In addition, their employees will be more likely to develop the skills that they need; recruitment and retention costs will go down; community development and relation-building will receive a boost, with employees who are committed and stakeholders who are positive and more active. Research shows that providing a higher purpose is a powerful but often ignored strategic tool. According to Harvard Business Review, a 5% increase in employee engagement could lead to a 3% increase in revenue. Accenture Strategy, in turn, states that companies with high employee engagement are on average 21% more profitable than those with lower levels of engagement.

Did you know that … despite their self-evident importance, sustainability projects can be hard to launch?

Let’s discuss the most common mistakes. First of all, a lack of visibility, or employees knowing little to nothing about the programs that their company has in place. Programs that only focus on key roles leave behind many employees who would otherwise take an interest, and a sustainability strategy is likely to be more successful when the entire workforce is involved. Therefore, it’s important to not only set targets for change actors, but to invest in internal communication and in company-wide initiatives that raise awareness.

Secondly, the sustainability team doesn’t get the support and ownership it needs. There has to be a strong link between CSR and HR (or employee satisfaction and well-being at work). To bring about a change in behavior, you need to make changes in workload, too, and free up time, space, communication lines, budgets, and so on.

Thirdly, (positive) results are not sufficiently measured and talked about. To ensure long-term commitment from employees, they need to know about the impact they’re making. Otherwise, they may start to wonder what’s the point.

Did you know … To keep employees motivated, it’s important to measure progress and make it visible.

Measuring results and talking about them is a form of positive endorsement, and it makes employees feel that sustainability is part and parcel of the company culture. Examples of tangible indicators you can measure are energy usage, the number of employees who participate in a training session, the increase in sales of sustainable items, …

Intangible indicators, in turn, can be measured using awareness polls, by tracking the number of employees who come to talk to the sustainability manager about the topic, or by getting a sense of how often the topic is discussed in general. These indicators can be influenced by setting up introductory sessions for new employees, for instance.

Make sure to include these indicators in your internal reports.

Did you know ... it’s actually all about behavioral change?

A change boils down to taking certain actions to achieve new and different behavior. This is difficult to achieve if the environment remains unchanged or when it’s not clear why the change is necessary to begin with.

Education is crucial to give employees an idea about potential tasks and actions, or to give direction to their choices, but goals that only focus on education do not guarantee engagement.

A personalized approach is always the way to go. Different messages will strike a chord with different groups, depending on their motivations and interests. Avoid campaigns that try to motivate people by focusing on ‘doing the right thing’, as ‘the right thing’ will be different for everyone.

Take your time to think about the different values and attitudes among your employees. Focus on the group whose behavior needs to change and develop a personalized message that resonates with its members.
How to prompt new behavior?


3. After this intro, you’ll start working with the participants themselves. Schedule sessions and put together the team that will participate in them. Throughout the project, you will work with personas. These are typical profiles that you find in a fashion company, such as ‘the designer’, ‘the buyer’ and ‘the marketing manager’. Introduce this methodology and select the most relevant profiles (give them names that are recognizable). It’s a good idea to get representatives of these roles involved in the sessions.

4. If you are an external project leader, make sure to gain a thorough understanding of the organization’s business model and its current sustainability efforts.

5. Give your team some homework, namely: ask them to bring a high-level organizational chart to next session or to send it to you in advance.

2. ‘As is’ versus ‘to be’ (value chain, personas, change goals)


This second session is all about gaining a good understanding of the organization’s existing value chain and of which roles have decision-making power at which point in the value chain. At the end of the session, you should also have an insight into obstacles that could delay the achievement of your (hypothetical) objective.

  1. As an initial exercise, you discuss the company’s value chain with the participants. What are the steps that create value and who takes which decisions at which point?

    To create the value chain, you can use the set of department names that you find in the toolbox. Supplement these with the set of roles, so you end up mapping the entire organization. Discuss the result, pausing at each step to ask who has the decision-making power to move to the next step in the value chain. Mark this info on the chain.
  2. In a second exercise, you work with the participants on a real or hypothetical circular objective (e.g., ‘design a circular collection’). For each persona or department, you identify its current relation to the objective, as well as its ideal future status.

    For this exercise, you can work with a set of hypothetical sustainability objectives from the toolbox or with an objective that the organization has already defined. Complete the ‘As is/to be’ template per persona or department with this objective in mind.

3. Behaviour (change targets)


In this third session, you’ll continue working on the sustainability objective that you’ve established per department or persona, but now you’ll focus on the emotions it evokes. The idea is to have a complete picture of the sustainability objective at the end of this session, including the emotions associated with it, and the behaviors and actions needed to achieve it. The result will serve as a blueprint for the employee engagement action plan.

  1. Use the set of emoji to engage employees in a dialogue on how they feel about the sustainability objective in question. Hold an in-depth discussion, so you can select the most relevant emotions (no more than 3).
  2. Next, talk about the attitude needed to achieve the goal. For this, you can use a set of attitude cards that you present to the group.
  3. Now that you have a good understanding of the emotions that the future situation will most likely evoke, you can determine the actions that every persona needs to take to achieve the desired behavior. Feel free to consult the toolbox with action suggestions. 

This session should lead to an overview of the behavioral changes the organization wants to instigate. The next step is translating these into the action plan template that you’ll use in session 4.

Tip: to tackle this exercise in a large organization, it may be useful to devote several sessions to it (completing exercise 1-2-3 in one session per department).

4. Action plan


In session 4, you’ll reach the end point of this project, namely: you’ll end up with an action plan for achieving the level of employee engagement that is required to meet the sustainability goals. This is of course not the end of the action plan itself – you’re just getting started!

In this session, you present the action plan into which you’ve incorporated the results of the previous session. The idea of the fourth session is to validate the plan, set KPIs, identify who is responsible for which actions, and to draw up a schedule.


Co-financed by the European Union - Partners: Thomas More, Flanders DC & Studio D

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