When you think of sustainability, protecting the environment and giving back to the local community often come to mind. But when you look simply at the word in question, it means longevity. When sustainability is considered in this light, business leaders should think about what sustainability means to their business. How does a business last in the long run?
This question is particularly pertinent in these uncertain times, when many changes have occurred within companies and every channel has been explored to ensure financial solvency. Yet, we know that financial solvency, important as it is, is not the only determinant of a company’s longevity. The internal structure, the company culture and the people who make up a company matter too. Their health and ability to function smoothly can determine the resilience and endurance of a company. The following are a few takeaways for creating sustainable businesses that I gleaned from pulling through 2020.
1. Internal structure: Build clear, thorough processes and structures into your company’s foundation.
In my experience, a proper reporting structure is vital for businesses to ensure a healthy flow of information throughout the organization. And information, as we know, lies in the crux of rational and sound decision-making. Having a formal reporting structure made a marked difference as my company weathered the Covid-19 storm. With the leadership team unable to travel to our global facilities to drive projects in person, a schedule of regular calls and reports was very necessary.
These internal processes are also important for delineating accountability — one’s responsibility — and outlining the direction or focus of each employee’s work. With a clear structure, employees from all ranks can have greater clarity on the impact of and reasons for their work. This structural foundation helps set priorities and streamline decision making at all levels of the company, promoting steady and purposeful growth in a business.
2. Company culture: Transparency and communication are key to stability and success.
In conjunction with the internal reporting structure, a culture of transparency and honest communication is equally important to the resilience of a business, especially a large or global business. Most of us have witnessed the importance of communication through the pandemic — from maintaining constant communication with the team to keep everyone updated with the latest developments to communicating with customers and suppliers to ensure the smooth delivery of services. This high level of transparency was invaluable in times of distress and constant disruption.
Communication remains key to a business, even in times of stability, if one is aiming for sustainable growth. In this regard, communication is crucial for identifying areas for improvement — which, in other words, means the flagging of issues, problems and failures. It is only when such matters are communicated that they can be resolved and progress can be made. When swept under the rug, problems can accumulate and become disastrous in due course.
So, scrap that tendency to try to make your report look fantastic because it is when we accept failure and are open about it that we can advance. A business with an open-minded and honest culture can go much further than another that chooses to ignore issues.
3. People: Prioritize work-life balance and be flexible with working arrangements.
Finally, we come to the people who form the structure and shape the living culture of the organization. The people make up the business, and ultimately, their well-being becomes a factor of the overall health and functionality of a company. In my opinion, it is only with a healthy workforce that a positive company culture and healthy reporting structure can exist. A large factor of employee well-being is acknowledging the importance of an employee’s personal life in addition to their work life. This acknowledgment translates into providing employees with work-life balance and flexible work arrangements. Both can motivate the workforce, enhance organizational productivity, reduce absenteeism and help you retain talented employees.
From my personal experience, the importance of work-life balance was apparent from my company’s mainland China facility. Back in the day, our workers were working very long hours, but it was obvious that everyone was working listlessly. Seeing this, we decided to change our approach and firmly implement the 9-to-5work day. The change in performance and morale at the facility was apparent. We were working fewer hours, workers reported enjoying (yes, enjoying) their work, and we were even outperforming our previous business records. If that’s not representative of the importance of work-life balance, not only to employees but to the general health of the company, I don’t know what is.
The advantages of flexible work were also evident when Covid-19 prevented employees from commuting to work or working in regular conditions. Flexible work arrangements provided employees with greater control over when, where and how long they worked without affecting business operations. If such a benefit can be provided to employees, I see no reason not to give the option. I foresee flexible work conditions remaining beyond the pandemic.
The above three points illustrate the need for business leaders to look within their companies at their structures, culture and people when they think about sustainability. It has become increasingly apparent that businesses need a solid foundation and a healthy organization to be resilient against crises and endure in the long run.
By Carl Hung,
President & CEO of Season Group.
Originally published on Forbes on 17 May 2021