How Organisations are Building Advantage and Turning a Decade of Disruption into a Decade of Action and Impact

2020 is a year none of us will forget. We want to say things will get easier. They will, but first there is a precarious period to navigate. We are only just at the start of a decade which will be distinctive for unprecedented disruption. There is still a long rocky adventurous road ahead of us. The leaders tuned towards exploration will seize opportunity.

The pandemic has fast tracked learning, unlearning and relearning and offered first-hand experience of the forces of disruption TomorrowToday Consulting works hard everyday to guide leaders through.

It has also demonstrated how with a fierce urgency of purpose and freed from the shackles of organisational orthodoxies, people can operate at unimaginable speed for the greater good. Opportunities abound for leaders who unhinge their teams with the permission to reimagine. Leaders must not lose this momentum.

Our studies show there are four areas where leading organisations are focusing their efforts:

  1. Nurturing a culture of exploration
  2. Embracing stakeholder capitalism
  3. Being inclusive everywhere
  4. Acquiring an ecosystem mindset

The organisations that build a culture of exploration will discover their people return from meaningful ventures with enriched knowledge and boon.

Nurture a culture of exploitation, rooted in a steadfast purpose for a better world

Even before coronavirus, people looked around and could see we are living in revolutionary times. Ubiquitous, mobile supercomputing. Intelligent robots. Artificial Intelligence. Nano-technologies. Self-driving cars. Genetic editing. All these new developments offer evidence of transformative change happening at exponential speed. 

It has happened before. Every hundred and fifty to two hundred years, forces of progress collide in monumental fashion. The Industrial Revolution, The Renaissance and The Age of Discovery all started with social and technological upheaval that disrupted the landscape transmuting a new age.

At the start of these transitions there are no roadmaps. We’ve never been here before and the road ahead is uncharted. Leaders have to develop the mindset of explorers. From coronavirus, to climate change, to AI and automation, to growing inequality and ageing populations, we will see the impact of disruptive forces on the world of work in ways never before imagined.  

The skill of thinking and acting like an explorer will be the most sought after leadership traits this decade. It is not surprising to us that Elon Musk became the world’s wealthiest individual during the pandemic. He is the epitome of the explorer leader. Through his inspirational quests — build an electric car to beat a Ferrari from a standing start, to automated driving, to making humanity multi-planetary — Elon Musk has created explorer organisations that are amongst the most admired value creating businesses. 

The organisations which build a culture of exploration will discover that their people return from meaningful ventures with enriched knowledge and boon. The 2020s will be an exceptional pocket of time, a rare instant when the leaders who are tuned towards exploration seize opportunity to create the future.

What is Stakeholder Capitalism?

A system in which corporate purpose is based on a fundamental commitment to all stakeholders — customers, employees, partners, communities, the planet, and society — rather than just shareholders

Embrace stakeholder capitalism and be a force for good

Studies show that almost 9 in 10 people agree that covid-19 represents an opportunity for companies to reimagine and hit “reset” to focus on doing right by their stakeholders. 

The vast majority of people believe the problem is systemic and requires a more evolved form of capitalism to tackle the shift. About a quarter believe the current model of capitalism delivers to the greater good of society, and only 29% believe it produces the kind of society they want for the next generation.  

So, let’s begin by reimagining a world in which companies put people, planet and prosperity ahead of profit. Reimagine a world where the leaders of these organisations are revered for their ability to inspire, foster beneficial ecosystems, and create experiences for employees and customers that are purposeful, simple and enjoyable.  

Sound like an impossible, dream? Nelson Mandela said: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Stakeholder capitalism has already moved beyond being a quaint idea. Titans of industry are responding: In August 2019, the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of America’s leading companies, catapulted into the mainstream the principles of doing well, by doing good.  Signed by 181 CEOs, the Business Roundtable announced a new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation committing them to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.

“This is tremendous news because it is more critical than ever that businesses in the 21st century are focused on generating long-term value for all stakeholders and addressing the challenges we face, which will result in shared prosperity and sustainability for both business and society,” said Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation.

Commitment to stakeholder capitalism is growing in investment circles too. Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, in his 2021 annual letter to CEOs called for them to commit publicly to achieving net zero emissions and to include a thorough DEI section in their sustainability reports. 

The World Benchmarking Alliance has published its list of the 2,000 companies most influential in working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Sixty-one companies are now committed to the World Economic Forum’s Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics – including companies like Accenture, Bank of America, HP, Mastercard, PayPal, and Salesforce. Seismic shifts are taking place and capitalism as we know it is dead. 

Today we are witnessing a paradigm shift in what makes companies attractive investments, competitive as well as contributors to society. “The time for a more fair, equal, and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone,” is now says Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce. Organisations who do not embrace stakeholder capitalism will discover consumers asking: “why not?” and voting for those that do with their wallet.

Let’s get concrete about stakeholder capitalism

Being a stakeholder-focused company means upping the influence of workers, customers, the community and others critical to long-term success. Here Is a list of approaches to take in embracing stakeholder capitalism:

  1. Understand who key stakeholders are and why they are important: For every company, employees, customers and long-term shareholders are obvious. But what about non-employee workers? The community in which a company operates? The environment more broadly? Our democracy? Arguably any of these could count. While different stakeholder groups may require different levels of engagement, key ones should have a role—or at least a meaningful voice—in governance.
  2. Give stakeholders a voice:  Your most critical stakeholders should also be shareholders. Provide equity to all employees, even contract workers. For example, both Lyft and Uber have programs to facilitate the purchase of shares by their drivers.
  3. Give stakeholders a seat at the table:  One of our clients Kleinwort Hambros (part of Societe Generale)  invites junior talent to be part of the NEXCO a shadow Executive Committee that drives and delivers strategic initiatives. This programme is described as championing a bottom-up approach to problem solving, leveraging diverse experience and insights to impact change.
  4. Hold annual meetings for stakeholders: Sitting down to hear what key stakeholders from suppliers to communities are thinking is a powerful way to connect with grassroots level issues and change.  

Of course, innovative ways to engage stakeholders in company governance and decision-making go far beyond this list. For a visionary company to protect its mission and values over the long term, its governance must institutionalise a commitment to those who make its success possible. These innovations can create meaningful obligations to do right by their most important stakeholders. It doesn’t get much more concrete than that.

Be inclusive everywhere, across your entire value chain

Inclusion necessitates re-imagining on a large-scale. This is why Unilever’s quest to equip 10 million people with essential skills to prepare them for job opportunities by 2030 is so wonderfully exciting. The goal is to generate employability across the whole value chain by kickstarting a new social contract of work – one in which people use the power of purpose and lifelong learning to take control of their working lives. So, at the start of 2021 Unilever announced a wide-ranging set of commitments to create opportunities through inclusivity and prepare people for the future of work.​

One example is how Unilever has reimagined job-sharing. Not in the traditional sense of splitting one full-time role between two part-time people, but sharing employees with other businesses, and vice versa. For example, in Argentina, when demand for cleaning products increased sharply during lockdown Unilever was able to job share with GM employees where production at a nearby car factory had dipped. This had the positive benefit of keeping people employed and resolved the immediate need Unilever had for experienced workers.

Buoyed by success, Unilever is aiming higher to proactively create ten million job opportunities across its value chain. Leena Nair Unilever’s youngest ever CHRO, explains: “10 million people is an awfully big number. But then so are the challenges facing young people — massive disruptions to their education on top of a fast-changing job market — We recognised the need to double-down on reskilling and upskilling initiatives.” 

The plan is to work with partners to provide young jobseekers with a free online platform that will support them in finding their individual purpose and then matching it with opportunities for accredited training, volunteering and work experiences. The platform is currently being piloted in South Africa with the aim of rolling it out around the world.

Ecosystem that benefits people, the planet and builds prosperity for all

One example comes from leading clothing and footwear materials producer, Sympatex who has created a circular ecosystem with Royal DSM, a global science-based company active in sustainable living. 

Together their collaborative partnership converts more than 25 per cent of the raw materials, required for high quality sports performance apparel material, from organic waste. Sympatex ensures the garment retains its high performance and remains fully recyclable at the end of its life cycle. DSM will also help the Sympatex to convert its production facilities to renewable electricity sources.  

The ecosystem also extends to brands like Mammut who use Sympatex’s sustainable membranes in their clothing lines helping to multiply a major climate charter commitment of reducing CO2 emissions by 30 per cent compared to 2015 – much sooner than expected. Today’s challenges are far too complex for one organisation to solve alone. More than ever, it’s clear that tangible sustainable progress can only be delivered through cooperation, collaboration and partnership.

The most successful organisations build ecosystems where the partnerships become an extension of themselves.

Acquire an Ecosystem Mindset

All organisations rely on an extensive network of support from external parties. However, the most successful organisations build ecosystems where the partnerships become an extension of themselves. This enables the partners to collectively take larger risks and deliver greater shared value. 

Building ecosystems is also massively beneficial for growth and resilience. Nature has long recognised this. Take coral reefs, these majestic formations are the result of a symbiotic relationship between the coral polyp and an algae which lives inside the coral. Being a plant the algae produces oxygen and sugars which directly feed the coral. The algae gains value from living protectively behind the limestone skeleton of the coral. No one knows exactly how this magical alliance occurs but coral is able to grow at a rate of 3-5 times faster as a result.

But it’s not just the coral which benefits from alliances. Entire communities spring up around coral platforms ecosystem.  Contrary to the theory of “survival of the fittest” reef lifestyles involve great tolerance, peaceful coexistence and even active collaboration. Collaboration instead of confrontation form the basis for an ongoing quest for survival. We will increasingly see active collaboration replacing outright competition in the 2020’s as companies seek mutually beneficial partnerships and stakeholder driven solutions. 

During disruption companies that have robust ecosystem relationships are able to rely on the community for access to talent, capital and know-how which helps them be more agile and resilient to shocks. Companies outside of shared-value ecosystems are experiencing a rude awakening as their strategic partners become distant and transactional just when their help is needed most.

We are all explorers in this new world

The Pandemic has provided such a stark reminder of our fragility

COVID-19 offers a rare and opportune moment to build back a better future for all. The pandemic is accelerating disruptive forces that were already in play and triggering new ones. Thus necessitating that people confront important issues like climate change, inequality, ageing, shifting geopolitics and job disruption to consider how, like the pandemic, they will alter our lives.  

By tuning towards exploration and reimagining how things are done, organisations are discovering that they can do things better.

Reimagining allows them to rise ambitiously and be a force for good helping their employees, customers, and communities. The businesses profiled here are taking bold steps to reimagine their future ways of working. They’re unleashing the inherent power of their people and are finding new ways to create, partner, experiment, and innovate.

The companies that are going to thrive through disruption and turn this decade into one of action and impact are developing ecosystems that have fast and flexible operating models underpinned by cultures of exploration rooted in an unshakeable sense of purpose. As explorers in a new world they are striving to be curious, demonstrate empathy for their stakeholders and have a strong belief in their role as a force for good.

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