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Ain't what you do, but the way that you do it: the social enterprise

10 minute read
“Organizations today are increasingly judged on the basis of their relationships with their workers, their customers, and their communities, as well as their impact on society at large—transforming them from business enterprises into social enterprises.”  Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2018

Hold on to your hats, ladies and gents, because things are about to get crazy. In the past, a company’s success has been largely down to the balance between its products and services, and its operational costs. But we’re living through a time of fundamental change when it’s not what you do that matters as much as the how and the why you do it.

Each year, the global consultancy and professional services firm Deloitte publishes its Global Human Capital Trends report - a look at the key issues facing business leaders when it comes to managing employees and the working environment.

2018’s report - based on a survey of more than 11,000 business and HR leaders - is entitled ‘The rise of the social enterprise’, and it predicts a profound shift in the way that organisations operate and are perceived.

What in Covey’s name is a social enterprise?

A valid question indeed; especially as the use of the word ‘social’ conjures up images of Facebook, Snapchat and Whatsapp - which is part of the bigger picture, but just a very small part. Deloitte has helpfully defined a social enterprise as:

“An organization whose mission combines revenue growth and profit- making with the need to respect and support its environment and stakeholder network. This includes listening to, investing in, and actively managing the trends that are shaping today’s world. It is an organization that shoulders its responsibility to be a good citizen (both inside and outside the organization), serving as a role model for its peers and promoting a high degree of collaboration at every level of the organization.”

 So, basically it’s the Clark Kent of businesses. Part good guy; part superhero. Gulp!

 Why is this suddenly so important?

Again, our compliments on the highly cogent question. Much like an episode of Scooby-Doo, it seems we would have all got away with business as normal if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids

Millennials and Gen Zers in developed countries are entering the workforce with the belief - for the first time - that their lives will be worse than those of their parents. This has led them to question fundamentals like corporate behaviour, economic principles and the trust they place in political and social leaders.

The vast majority (86%) of millennials believe that a company’s success should be judged in broader terms than merely financial results, with many millennials and Gen Zers expecting business leaders to fill the social and moral void that, let's face it, most our politicians have vacated.

“Employees are looking at what an employer does above profits, even in financial institutions like banks where the whole goal is to make money,” explains Shea-Harty, Engagement & Company Culture Project Manager at The ArchiTECHts.

“Employees - from millennials to Generation Z - don’t want to just be talked at. They want to have their voice heard. Employees genuinely want to help their companies do well. They want to have input, they hope to be recognised, and they want their companies to take their opinions seriously.”  Shea Harty, The ArchiTECHts Consultancy

All aboard the Internal Comms Express

“I think we’re experiencing a trend for companies to deliver meaning and transparency. In fact, businesses who don’t deliver these simply won’t succeed in future,” states MD Rituals UKI, Penny Grivea. If that's not impetus enough to get started on becoming a purpose-driven organisation, then nothing will be.

So, if now’s the time for your company to start the journey towards social enterprise status, then a focus on internal communications is a fast-track way to get there for multiple reasons:

Listen to your heart

Listening to the heartbeat of your company - your employees - provides the bedrock on which a social enterprise is built. Great internal communications technologies should be two-way (bulletin boards, static intranets and email newsletters don’t cut the mustard in a Whatsapp-world), giving employers access to a huge amount of information and behavioural data on what is important to employees.

“More and more companies understand the need to be values-driven but the struggle is in how to really embed these values in the business. They miss the mark in how to communicate these values,” explains Harty.

“Values still always come from top down - which of course can feel artificial. When they came from the bottom up, they feel much more genuine and authentic.”

Buy stock in your own workforce

Standard businesses invest heavily in business development and product development; social enterprises also invest in people development. That can mean quality onboarding, continuous training opportunities and attempts to mitigate physical and mental stresses, but can also be fair, transparent communication and giving employees a voice within the organisation. And social enterprises apply the term “employees” to all the stakeholders in their workforce - those on the shop floor for 4 hours a week as well as the executives in HQ.

Just as today’s employees judge the success of companies by results that go beyond the financial, Harty argues that employers too would do well to also judge its employees on achievements beyond sales figures.

“Companies need to change the conversation away from profits. I’ve worked with smaller internal teams whose focus is on improving efficiencies or creating more effective processes and these have highly engaged employees because they’re not focused on profits. If you have employees operate in service of a different goal or value, you tend to see engagement and profits increase as a by-product.”

Connect and conquer

This year’s Deloitte report highlights ‘The hyper-connected workplace’ as one of the major trends shaping current business thinking.


Companies are increasingly applying flatter organisational structures (88% of respondents in 2017’s Deloitte report said this was a main priority for their company), with 91% of companies now encouraging employees to spend time on projects that go beyond their core functional area, including corporate social responsibility projects or participating in activities that tie regional stores and branches closer to their local community, such as street markets, community fairs and charity drives.

This has fueled the need for more and better communication tools to serve the workplace:

  • 67% of respondents expect to see an increase in “work based social media”
  • 62% of respondents expect to see an increase in instant messaging

But does it work - and do they work?

Productivity in the UK has fallen every year since 2008. This isn’t so much as an elephant in the room as a giant pink dinosaur taking up residence in the boardroom and demanding to be fed a diet of bank notes washed down by bottles of Richebourg Grand Cru.

Of course, increasing employee engagement is one way to throw the dinosaur out the window - authentic and engaged employees are more likely to stay longer and be more productive, reducing costs.

But organisations must also be selective about the technology and tooling they introduce. Is it genuinely beneficial or does it just sound cool?

“Managers must determine which tools are best for their organization, teams, and tasks based on a variety of factors, including culture, pace of communication, and level of formality,” states the Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2018 report.

In short, what’s the business case and benefit? For example, 44% of businesses expect to see a reduction in face-to-face meetings, and 30% think phone and text usage will decrease, which explains the increased adoption of enterprise social media and instant messaging platforms.

However, the Deloitte report states that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to perfect internal communications:

“No single mode of communication will be dominant; instead, the work environment will feature many different ways to communicate.”

Guide: Choosing an internal comms tool

Make employees your first, second and third priority

So, how do you know the best communication methods to use to engage employees, to create a business they care about and to communicate your values as an organisation? Go back to the first point… and listen!

"The concept of a world without social is totally alien to Generation Z,” explains Sally Winston, global head of employee research at business intelligence firm ORC.

“The new generation is expecting businesses to act and behave like people do outside the workplace, and to work like modern technologies work,” adds chief people strategy office for McDonald’s UK, Paula Coughlan.

If employees use, understand, enjoy and are productive in using social and chat apps in their private lives, why try to force an artificial behavioural habit into their working life?

“It’s powerful to see teams connecting through apps and technology. You can send a quick message to tell colleagues you’re running late, or to celebrate a result. These are very powerful drivers of team spirit,” says Harty.

“I tell clients to over communicate. It’s not as simple as sending out an email - teams that do this well use every communication channel possible. This can include digital platforms but one great example I see is managers who hold regular (weekly, biweekly) informal sit-downs with their team without big announcements or agendas, and simply answer all the questions their team has as honestly and openly as possible. That can sometimes include answering ‘I don’t know’. This type of communication requires no cost and little time, but is so engaging.”

In summary

Ok, the CliffsNotes version for anyone too lazy to read the whole article... that’s right, we’re talking to you, Dave!

  1. Organisations need to think about leadership, culture, incentivisation and clear communication to drive a transformation towards becoming a social enterprise
  2. Listen to all your employees when it comes to what and how to communicate
  3. HR, Internal Comms and IT should work together to tie new tools to organisational goals
Engaging non-desk employees

Matt is an experienced journalist-turned-content marketer who writes about all things tech, SAAS and B2B.

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