How businesses can best achieve long-term sustainability
Richard Seel, Managing Director, Supply Chain & Logistics (UK & US), delaware, explains how c-level executives can build a sustainable business model designed for the long-haul.
In today’s highly-competitive business environment, even the largest, most profitable organisations struggle to maintain business longevity. To increase their chances of long-term success, companies must transform themselves into sustainable enterprises, capable of adapting to changing priorities, markets and customer demand.
European organisations often lead the way. KPMG’s latest Change Readiness Index ranks business action on rapid change based on an ‘Enterprise Sustainability’ metric, which takes into account factors such as carbon emissions per unit of GDP and the energy mix used by the business community. The ranking places Switzerland first overall, and in terms of Enterprise Sustainability, for the second consecutive year. European countries fill five other places in the Enterprise Sustainability top ten.
There are three areas around which discussions and debates about the sustainable enterprise tend to be focused: the environmental impact or footprint of the business, the need to create a sustainable business model and why a sustainable workforce is critical. The focus on reducing environmental impact by reducing energy usage, emissions and introducing ‘smarter’ practices in the workforce is important. However, businesses also need to make certain that their specific business model is sustainable. They need an approach that sustains resources within the business over time.
Creating a Sustainable Business Model
From the outset, planning for the long-term is key, which is becoming increasingly difficult when factors such as market demand and competition are constantly shifting. To achieve longevity, organisations need to apply sustainability principles in everything they do.
Resources – both people and other assets – are crucial. Sustainable businesses focus on making those resources sustainable over time - and that means being willing and able to adapt the business model to match changed priorities.
In line with this, true sustainability is often about understanding the market landscape and ensuring the business proposition is aligned to shifting customer demand. To be sustainable, smart organisations must reflect on addressing customer and societal needs, often without even knowing in advance what the optimal solution might be. In today’s age of automation, building a sustainable business model will almost certainly involve digital transformation.
That could mean the introduction of machine learning and AI-powered systems that diagnose problems in advance, enabling quick intervention and problem resolution. It could involve the combination of historical data, data analytics and key algorithms to quickly detect anomalies and notify the relevant people quickly, enabling businesses to reduce costs by addressing and resolving any inefficiencies in the process, as well as stay compliant by quickly identifying where the business may be in breach of the rules and rapidly rectifying this.
These examples highlight the sustainability benefits that digitally-driven innovations can bring to businesses. However, when organisations move to digital technologies, they need to have a ‘Plan B’ in place to be able to keep the business up and running in the event that systems and networks are brought down or experience a security breach. A recent cyber- attack on Norsk Hydro, a global aluminium producer, forced the company into desperate measures. The entire workforce - 35,000 people - had to switch to pen and paper as a result. Production lines shaping molten metal were switched over to manual functions, and in some cases, long-retired workers came back in to help colleagues run things "the old-fashioned way".
A Sustainable Workforce
Every business can look to reduce their environmental impact and make changes to their business model to drive long-term sustainability. However, if they do not put practices in place to cultivate sustainable employees, they risk undoing that good work.
To drive a more sustainable workforce, leaders must cultivate an environment that helps its people to be empowered, productive and resilient. Technology can play a key role here in indicating just how positive and sustainable workplace culture is. Businesses need insights into their workforces that span levels, departments and entities – and it’s important to link talent data with enterprise information. The answer is a global system of records able to harmonise data generated by different sources, providing key insight into problems or issues. It is this type of reporting which drives sustainability.
Companies must apply the digital mindset to HR and workplace processes to support productivity and growth – or risk becoming obsolete. SAP SuccessFactors, a leading cloud-based HR solution, is an integrated environment encompassing all HR processes that is driven by data and analytics – and the ideal path to sustainable smart HR.
By helping to ensure employees are happy and have greater wellbeing at work, organisations can increase long-term business viability. Employees that are happy are less likely to leave, and the resultant lower attrition rates make organisations more sustainable.
This approach to building a sustainable workforce will only truly work, however, if everyone in the business is committed and open to change. There must be business-wide sponsorship to creating and maintaining a sustainable work culture – and this may involve cultural and operational change.
As we look to the future, it is likely that predictive analytics will become ever more important in maintaining a happy, sustainable workforce. As an example, an employee applies for maternity leave through the organisation’s HR system. This employee ‘life event’ triggers the HR department to start offering communications specific to that employee, so for example, asking: have you thought about childcare vouchers? Have you thought about the return-to-work programme or our part-time working options?
In rolling out concepts such as this one, employee well-being is prioritised. Ultimately, the strength of a company lies in the health of its people, especially in the professional services industry where human capital is the company’s added value. When employee well-being isn’t up to par, the business suffers across the entire value chain, making burnout a business critical challenge, and driving down overall levels of sustainability into the bargain. But businesses that focus on a sustainable workforce and ally that with a sustainable business model and environmentally-friendly business practices are likely to be here for the long-haul.
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Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.