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What is the role of HRM in strategic sustainability?

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Role of HRM in Strategic Sustainability

Sustainable companies are those that are defined as socially responsible since social corporate responsibility is involved with the duties of the organization in aspects of social, economic and environmental performance (Jabbour & Santos, 2008). An organization’s design features can be used to analyze its sustainability since high-performance companies have strategies that guide their activities. Sustainability activities and objectives of such companies are coordinated and integrated into design and management processes. The human resource management (HRM) function of the organization is integral in the strategic sustainability efforts of a company (Soliman, 2015). In order for organizations to integrate HRM in their strategic sustainability, they need to formulate HRM strategies that will stimulate social, economic, and environmental strategies of the organization. HRM plays different roles in the strategic sustainability of an organization and can be used to push for sustainability agenda in an organization.

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The HRM department is responsible for hiring and training employees and creating awareness-raising material on strategies necessary for sustainability. Schroeder (2012) states that the hiring process should be used to promote the sustainability strategy of the company. Jabbour & Santos (2008) adds that the talent management activities of the organization such as candidate selection, training, employee development, and performance appraisals should be sustainability oriented. The media used to raise awareness about environmental, social, and economic sustainability is provided by the HRM department and should be tailored to the specific organization (Schroeder, 2012). These media include seminars and workshops, newsletters, and electronic learning devices. Therefore, the HRM contributes to strategic sustainability by practicing roles that contribute to the sustainability of the organization as well as providing tools for the employees that contribute to the strategic sustainability goals of the company.

Many organizations have a measurement and reporting of triple bottom line performance as a key feature of their sustainability. According to (Lawler & Mohrman, 2014) the triple bottom line performance focuses on people, planet, and profit. The people part of this performance measurement focuses more on the impact that the organization has on the community, and not the employees and their experience in the organization. HRM plays a strategic sustainability role in this by separating the employees and the community in this approach. This is because there are different strategies used to manage the people working in the organization and those in the community where the organization is based (Lawler & Mohrman, 2014). HRM ensures that the experiences of the employees are positive and that employees are motivated and treated well by the organization since this results to a better organization. When the employees are treated well by the organization, it will attract potential employees and investors, who will work towards achieving the strategic sustainability goals of the company.

HRM is categorized by Schroeder (2012), as a sustainability champion and change management specialist. The type of skills and art that this department holds make it suited to handle many tasks in the development and implementation of sustainability strategies on a day-to-day basis. Companies that have dedicated HRM teams are in a better position to achieve stronger sustainability performance as well as gain better business benefits from their strategies (Lussier & Hendon, 2017).

The department ensures that sustainability strategies are held firmly by collaborating and communicating with the internal and external stakeholders at all times. Individuals in this department have high skills in communication, negotiation, people acumen, and an understanding of business needs that help them to deal with all situations and drive organization agenda by providing the best resources (Jabbour & Santos, 2008). In addition, human resource managers are experts in risk management, planning, and budgeting, which are core skills necessary for driving progress toward strategies for sustainability.

One of the indicators of sustainability is environmental sustainability. An organization that demonstrates environmental sustainability is also able to achieve social and economic sustainability. HRM has a role in this process of environmental sustainability by ensuring that the company and its suppliers comply with the set standards while providing favorable terms and conditions of employment to their employees and contractors (Jamali et al., 2015). HRM acts as a source of information, guidance, and support to organizations and stakeholders on ways to be responsible employers.

In cases where the organization and supply chain participants lack in these skills, the HRM organizes training to ensure sustainability. Additionally, this department is responsible for including sustainability strategies in marketing and recruitment strategies, which helps spread a good image of the organization to the public. The high-quality policies in HRM together with business sustainability goals are used to empower employees, increase their morale, increase engagement and retention, which improves the brand image of the organization, increasing their sales, return on investment, and attractiveness to potential employees (Schroeder, 2012).

The HRM department also plays a crucial role in measuring the performance of sustainability strategies so that they can highlight and capitalize on achievements, identify areas needing improvement, and show areas where return and investment have been affected positively (Buller & McEvoy, 2016). HRM develops metrics that can be used by the organization to achieve its sustainability goals and collecting data that can be used in the future. For example, I worked in marketing whereby we were required to create strategies to attract more customers and increase our sales. My supervisor called a meeting where we decided on strategies towards the achievement of this goal. At the end of six months, a meeting between the department heads and HRM department was called to review the performance of the marketing department against the set strategies.

The results showed that there had been an increase in sales and more customers visited our website after the strategies had been implemented. However, we had still not met the goal set by the organization on the increase in the percentage of sales. HRM, therefore, asked department heads to organize surveys to be distributed to the target market to identify needs and changes in the market that we had not been able to capture. They also provided all the tools and material we might need in the exercise. They scheduled a meeting to take place immediately after the survey results to help us develop new strategies to help meet the goals of the company and serve the customers better.

In many organizations, HRM has not been utilized to achieve a lot of sustainability strategies. However, the role of this department is very crucial, as members have skills that are used to better manage the resources of the organization as well as educate stakeholders on best practices to achieve sustainability. The department is responsible for hiring and training employees, who are crucial players in the sustainability process. With the right employees, the organization is able to perform highly and attract customers. HRM is also responsible for separating the players of the triple bottom line performance sector of the organization to ensure that employees and the community are treated with respect and held highly by the organization. The department also facilitates and manages change by collaborating and coordinating with stakeholders to ensure the right sustainability strategies are implemented.

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Buller, P. F., & McEvoy, G. M. (2016). A model for implementing a sustainability strategy through HRM practices. Business and Society Review, 121(4), 465-495.

Jabbour, C.J. & Santos, F.A. (2008). The Central Role of Human Resource Management in the Search for Sustainable Organizations. The International Journal of Human Resource Management. Vol 19, 2133-2154.

Jamali, D. R., El Dirani, A. M., & Harwood, I. A. (2015). Exploring human resource management roles in corporate social responsibility: the CSR‐HRM co‐creation model. Business Ethics: A European Review, 24(2), 125-143.

Lawler E. E., & Mohrman, S.A., (2014). The Crucial — and Underappreciated — Role of HR in Sustainability. MITSloan Management Review. Retrieved from:

Lussier, R. N., & Hendon, J. R. (2017). Human resource management: Functions, applications, and skill development. Sage publications.

Schroeder, H. (2012) "The Importance of Human Resource Management in Strategic Sustainability: An Art and Science Perspective. Journal of Environmental Sustainability Vol. 2: Iss. 2, Article 4

Soliman, F. (2015). Role of HRM in Sustainable Organizational Development.Extract from Business Transformation and Sustainability through Cloud System Implementation

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