8 Sustainability Skills for Jobseekers from Mike Barry – M&S Plan A

by Shannon Houde

One of the most distinctive traits of great leadership is the desire to empower the leaders of the future.

At a recent Net Impact sustainability careers event in London, I was thrilled to host a panel with one of the most inspirational sustainability leaders in the business: Mike Barry, Head of Sustainable Business at Marks and Spencer PLC, who played a central role in setting up M&S’s game-changing agenda, Plan A.

In his speech, Mike walked the walk by setting out his own hiring agenda and outlining the key eight skills he looks for in a prospective sustainability professional’s CV.


Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign up

As he put it on the night, “We need people to lead us from an unsustainable model to something completely different for the future, and I want you to be part of that”.

So if you’re a jobseeker looking to break into the industry or a professional wondering how the best in the business affect change, listen up!

1 – People skills

“This is the number one skill. You’ve got to be able to get alongside people who are under tremendous pressure in a very difficult working environment and say, ‘we’ve gotta change, guys’. Negotiation, influence, the ability to put an arm around somebody’s shoulder and say ‘Come on a journey with me’ – these things are critical.”

2 – Ability to lead change

“Sustainability is ambiguous and it’s uncertain. What is it? Where are we going with it? What does government want from us? Are consumers up for it? You’ve got to be able to turn these grey areas into a clear and compelling message about why we need to change: to spell out how we’re going to do it, where we’re going with it, and why that’ll be a better place.”

3 – Personal integrity

“Many people will frown the moment I walk into a room, but none of them will doubt my integrity. I believe in what I stand for. You need that too.”

4 – Business knowledge

“Get to know the business. Learn how it does its marketing, how it runs IT systems, how it buys, sells, builds up margin. Then come and see me for a job in sustainability to try to change it all. Before you can do that, you have to know the business side of things.”

5 – Build partnerships

“The ability to connect is so powerful. The future of a truly sustainable business model is a series of overlapping alliances – some with NGOs, civil society, governments, competitors, and peers – to the extent that a business will literally be managed with a series of integrated partnerships that create genuine mutual value. This is enormously important.”

6 – An innovative mind

“Sustainability leaders need to be able to take an unsustainable business model and create a series of overlapping 5-year programmes that will take it to a sustainable future in a manageable way so that a business can continue selling products and gradually shift to where it needs to go.”

7 – Sustainability itself

“I look for translators of science, not science experts. Your job is to translate the outside world into something meaningful for Marks and Spencer PLC. That broad vision is more important to me than specific expertise.”

8 – Courage

“If you believe that you can change an organisation, you will get through the bad days. It’s tough. Sometimes, it’s like pushing water up a hill. But stick with it and keep driving, keep the passion and you’ll get there. It takes courage.”

This week, I’m heading to Maryland, USA for another Net Impact sustainability event, so if you want more career advice from the cream of the sustainability world, bookmark, add or follow me through the social media links above.


You may also like...

Book Launch! Good Work: How to Build a Career that makes a Difference in the World

Joel Makower interviews Good Work author, Shannon Houde, about the evolving impact economy and how to shape a career that makes a difference. DON’T MISS OUTON MORE FREE TIPS Sign Up For Our Newsletter Sign up

By Shannon Houde
How to find your place in the purpose economy

We’re all looking for a little more purpose in our lives Even more so with the uncertainty that currently swirls around us on a daily basis. In fact, a strong desire to make a difference within their professional lives is one of the key reasons that two thirds of women say they want to substantially shake up their career in 2021. The great news is that there’s rarely been a better time to find your place within the burgeoning ‘purpose economy.’ A

By Shannon Houde
10 biggest sustainability & social impact trends going into 2021

In so many ways 2020 was a seismic year for sustainability and social impact. From a global pandemic, to raging wildfires, and the changing face of both work and wellbeing, the last 12 months will have a legacy that lasts far beyond Covid-19. Here are 10 trends that came out of 2020 that all sustainability / CSR professionals need to know about.   DON’T MISS OUTON MORE FREE TIPS Sign Up For Our Newsletter Sign up The threat of climate change

By Shannon Houde
Webinar: Reset Your Compass and Navigate Through Uncertainty with Clarity and Confidence

OnPurpose 2020 Shannon was delighted to speak at OnPurpose 2020. You can view her Reset Your Compass and Navigate Through Uncertainty with Clarify and Confidence session by clicking the video below. If you’d like some help gaining clarity, you can book a 30 minute trial session here to discuss your challenges and objectives in more detail. DON’T MISS OUTON MORE FREE TIPS Sign Up For Our Newsletter Sign up

By Shannon Houde


Book a 30-minute trial session with Shannon