REVIEW & EXCERPT: Andrew Savitz on Talent, Transformation, and the Triple Bottom Line

Organizations are facing a daunting talent challenge. Corporations, non-profits, and governments alike are seeking to attract, develop, engage, and retain the best talent while simultaneously executing a strategy that enables them to thrive in a world with increasing global competition, resource constraints, and greater demands by all stakeholders—including employees.

How organizations align their business, human resources, and sustainability strategies to better meet this challenge, is the focus of the latest book by Andrew Savitz (with Karl Weber): Talent, Transformation, and the Triple Bottom Line (Jossey-Bass, 2013).

The book is a follow-up to Savitz (and Weber’s) The Triple Bottom Line: How Today’s Best-Run Companies are Achieving Economic, Social and Environmental Success – and How You Can Too (Jossey-Bass, 2006) and focuses on a group not always top of mind in sustainability discussions: human resource professionals.

The book frames the global challenge and opportunity that sustainability represents, and discusses how human capital fits into the equation. Given HR’s expertise in change management, organizational culture, and organizational development, Savitz suggests that the function is well suited to play a leadership role. As someone who’s spent a career in Human Resources, I agree with Savitz’s assessment.

Through interviews, case studies, and related research, Savitz highlights organizations that are successfully integrating sustainable HR practices across the employee life cycle.

Particularly compelling, is how some organizations are integrating sustainability, leadership development, and career development, something employees continue to clamor for, and which most organizations struggle to effectively provide.

In a section called Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders, Savitz describes how IBM, Unilever, and Mahindra & Mahindra are implementing progressive policies and programs that engage all generations—especially Millennials—enhance their organizational reputations, and provide unique and differentiated leadership development experiences.

Global pro bono programs, which send teams of talented employees into emerging markets as pro bono consultants, are one way to do this. Part of the inherent beauty of these programs is their ability to simultaneously benefit employees, companies, communities, and shareholders. Savitz outlines compelling data that IBM has collected relative to value created through their Corporate Service Corps, and suggests that developing leaders through these types of programs has the potential to change how corporations view sustainable development, especially as more of the program’s graduates rise to leadership positions within the company.

While not all organizations are ready for pro bono programs, organizations of all sizes can strategically engage their future leaders in skills-based assignments that enhance their leadership skills. In a section called Strategic Volunteering as a Starting Point, Savitz describes how organizations that are just beginning to build sustainability strategies can benefit from implementing strategic volunteering programs.

Talent, Transformation, and the Triple Bottom Line is an important resource for HR professionals, business leaders and anyone interested in human capital and sustainability. Its guidance and insights can help human resource professionals collectively face the daunting talent challenges of today and tomorrow.

But we all need to be up to the challenge. Are you in?


“…sustainability is a new way of doing business that strongly suggests changes in most of the strategic, organizational, and day-to-day processes that companies employ in pursuit of their business objectives. So it should come as no surprise that sustainability offers a fresh perspective on talent and leadership development, including methods for identifying and developing high-potential employees.”

“One company that has devised a unique approach to this task is Mahindra & Mahindra, a leading Indian maker of cars, trucks, trac- tors, and other vehicles. The company has formed talent councils at several levels of the organization whose mandate is to ensure that young leaders are being groomed for advancement through varied managerial experiences, bolstered by a serious commitment on the part of the company’s top executives to the importance of talent development and sustainability.”

“Unilever, the Anglo Dutch manufacturer and marketer of global consumer brands, is another example.
Recognizing that markets in the developing world represent the major growth opportunities for Unilever in the decades to come, the corporation has created a global leadership development program designed to engage and energize the knowledge and talents of designated high-potential employees from around the world. The program includes residential study, discussion, and seminar modules at a leading business school, as well as two-month field visits to “next-practice” organizations. These include both government and nonprofit organizations that are pioneering creative ways to serve the needs of the poor in markets that were formerly too impoverished to support significant business activity but that today are growing in economic importance. Unilever employees in the program must create proposals for new businesses that are both socially responsible and potential sources of sustainable future growth for the company. In other words, they are looking for Sweet Spots.”

“IBM has also worked to identify young leaders within the organization and to make sustainability an essential part of their career development. Like Unilever, IBM is focused on the developing world and the need to offer training and experiences that will enable its most talented employees to make the most of the opportunities there: cross-cultural sensitivity, understanding of social and environmental trends, readiness to engage stakeholders of many kinds, and so on. IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, jointly developed by the corporate citizenship (that is, sustainability) and HR departments, is one such program.”

“When the Corporate Service Corps program was first announced in 2008, IBM intended to offer two hundred places to participants each year. Swamped by over five thousand applicants, the company decided to expand the program to five hundred individuals per year. By 2011, IBM was reporting that the Corporate Service Corps had deployed teams of workers to twenty countries, from Vietnam and Romania to Kenya and Brazil. The total value of their work to the NGOs, SMEs, and government agencies served was estimated at $25 million. Moreover, the program had become so popular and successful that IBM had created at least two additional programs to provide different kinds of opportunities for sustainability-related service, learning, and career development. One is the Executive Service Corps, launched in 2010, which sends senior IBM executives to work with city officials on economic development projects, in particular those that can use technology to create world-class “smarter cities” featuring enhanced public services. The other is the Smarter Cities Challenges, which will send executives to one hundred cities around the world, half in developed nations and half in emerging markets.1″

“One simple, common, yet highly effective way to begin building the link between sustainability and employee engagement is through volunteer programs that directly relate to your company’s sustainability agenda and are shaped and driven, at least in part, by the interests and passions of your employees. Many employees feel more loyal and connected to the organization when they join company-organized volunteer efforts. Volunteerism can also be an effective way to turn bystander employees into participants and move them in the direction of work-focused participation.”

“Research supports the notion that strategic volunteerism can be an effective way to increase the number of employee participants in sustainability programs. It also suggests that employees who volunteer are much more engaged and reflect that engagement in a number of specific positive behaviors. They’re more likely to recommend their company and its products to others and to express loyalty and trust toward the company. One survey shows that employees who volunteer are more likely to recommend their company to job seekers.2″

Citation 1: IBM, “IBM Deploys 1000th Corporate Service Corps Volunteer,” press release, February 24, 2011,

Citation 2: Deloitte Development LLC, Executive Survey: 2011 Deloitte Volunteer
IMPACT Survey, 2011, 

Susan Camberis

Susan Camberis

Susan Camberis is the Vice President of Learning & Organizational Development for Executive Coaching Connections, and is a thought-leader and educator in the emerging Talent Sustainability area. She believes that every role in an organization can meaningfully contribute to the triple bottom line, and is particularly interested in helping leaders attract, engage, develop, and retain the talent needed to achieve sustainable success. 

 From 1999 to 2013, Susan held various HR roles with Baxter Healthcare Corporation, one of the most sustainable companies in the world. She is an active member of Net Impact and tweets @susancamberis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>