Over the past few years, we’ve talked about the rise of the social enterprise—an organization that combines a focus on revenue growth and profit-making with the need to respect and support its environment and stakeholders. This is no longer a matter of choosing one or the other, but rather of balancing both. Progressively sophisticated and vocal stakeholder groups (e.g., customers, employees, communities, investors) continue to drive this change, rewarding organizations that choose to move beyond mission statements and generic community involvement efforts, learning to lead as a social enterprise, and reinventing themselves around a human focus—both internally and externally. Some subsets of these groups are even organizing coalitions to address major social and environmental issues like wealth inequality, climate change, affordable housing, discrimination, and privacy breaches.
Assessing the Social Enterprise
With this increasing focus on organizations’ social behavior, there is a growing need for effective measures to monitor these efforts—separating truly successful companies from those “greenwashing” for appearances. We expect that assessment frameworks such as the triple bottom line, ISO 14031, and the Conscious Business Institute will become more common and more sophisticated. Further, we may see a convergence toward certain certifications or other stamps of approval bestowed upon social enterprises by third parties, as has been the case with other standardized measures of corporate performance, such LEED certification for “green” buildings.
A prominent example of such a designation is a B Corp certification. B Corps balance profit and purpose by meeting standards of “social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.” Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria represent another way to evaluate a broad range of organizational behaviors consistent with the notion of the social enterprise. These standards are often deployed in the investment community to help prospective investors identify organizations they might like to support.
Such measures and certifications will continue to reflect and shape how workers, investors, customers, and communities view and evaluate an organization—determining who they choose to buy from and work for. As workers increasingly seek employers they can be proud to work for, as investors look to put their money where their values lie, and as customers seek to do business with like-minded brands, companies will be compelled to take action and evolve—or face extinction.
What Does This Mean for HR Leaders?
An organization’s evolution to a social enterprise relies on change from within. Workers and leaders at every level can drive—or prevent—this change. With so many entrenched talent practices, organizational policies, and time-worn traditions, mobilizing an organization around anything other than financial results can feel close to impossible. However, the opportunities for organizations to take action, to “nudge” an organization via incremental change, and to show real progress all exist right now. Ask yourself and your organization the following questions:
- What does your organization stand for? Do its core values reflect a socially responsible organization? How can you encourage your C-suite and board to have tough conversations about your organization’s role as a social enterprise? Does its “inside” talent brand match its external market brand?
- Why do you think it is important for your organization to incorporate socially responsible practices into its business model? What are the implications and opportunities for attracting and retaining talent? Attracting and retaining customers?
- Do your leadership behaviors reflect your core values? Are empathy and inclusion present in how you hire, develop, assess, and reward workers?
- Are you treating workers with dignity by providing a living wage? Does your culture encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work? Do you advocate for these issues in your community and business ecosystem?
- Does your employment brand speak to the organization’s role as a social enterprise and reinforce your values and culture?
The time is now! Set your intention to lead your organization as a social enterprise. Focus your efforts on the communities, ecosystems, and industry sectors in which you operate. Act with clarity to align your organization’s practices and policies with its values. Doing so now can help maximize your organization’s social impact—both internally and externally—and position you for success as the measurement of such impact becomes commonplace.
Peter DeBellis is a vice president and the total rewards research leader at BersinTM, Deloitte Consulting LLP.
Christina Rasieleski is a manager & lead advisor, Workforce Experience & Rewards, at BersinTM, Deloitte Consulting LLP.
Geetika Dang is a senior research analyst at BersinTM, Deloitte Consulting LLP.
1 2019 Global Human Capital Trends: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte Insights, 2019.
2 “25 Years Ago I Coined the Phrase ‘Triple Bottom Line.’ Here’s Why It’s Time to Rethink It.” Harvard Business Review / John Elkington, June 25, 2018, https://hbr.org/2018/06/25-years-ago-i-coined-the-phrase-triple-bottom-line-heres-why-im-giving-up-on-it.
3 ISO 14031:2013 Environmental management—Environmental performance evaluation—Guidelines, International Organization for Standardization, https://www.iso.org/standard/52297.html.
4 “Our Solutions,” Conscious Business Institute, 2019, https://consciousbusinessinstitute.com/our-solutions/.
5 “About B Corps,” 2019, https://bcorporation.net/about-b-corps.
6 “Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Criteria,” Investopedia.com / James Chen, May 10, 2019, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/environmental-social-and-governance-esg-criteria.asp.