Fit for the Future: An Urgent Imperative for Board Leadership

It is a truism that the only constant in business is change. But that statement does not remotely do justice to the scale and scope of the multiple changes confronting business in the first half of the twenty-first century:

  • Rapid and far-reaching advances in technology are reshaping competition and the process of value creation in every business sector.
  • The struggle to deal with climate change is beginning to transform the economics of extractive industries and others.
  • Global supply chains are challenged by geopolitical and mercantile conflicts.
  • Investor scrutiny is more demanding than ever.
  • Society’s expectations of business are increasing as governments struggle to address mounting challenges—income inequality, threats to data privacy, crumbling infrastructure, global warming, and so forth.

Each of these changes in itself is seismic. But what makes the current epoch uniquely unpredictable and hard to navigate is the fact that these changes are happening concurrently, interacting with and amplifying each other, as illustrated in the figure below. As a result, companies may find it extremely difficult to anticipate the full impact or the second- or third-order effects of these disruptions in the next few years. This is especially true for boards of directors and their leaders, whose job it is to secure the long-term success of their companies. It is a challenge that is not going away any time soon—indeed, all indications are that it will become more acute.

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AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT

As last year’s Blue Ribbon Commission report on board oversight of disruptive risks pointed out, these trends

  • “have the potential to change industry structure or operating conditions,
  • make existing business models obsolete,
  • derail growth,
  • or otherwise pose a fundamental threat [or transformative opportunity] to the long-term strategy of the organization.”

But while the threats are clearly existential, it is far from clear that all companies and their boards are adequately equipped to respond, because many of the big issues facing business are in new or uncharted territories. Technology is one obvious disruptor which is reshaping industries and forcing companies to consider new forms of collaboration that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. For example, the car industry is having to retool its entire production system to meet rising projected demand for electric vehicles while forming partnerships and joint ventures with leading software providers to exploit the emerging markets for autonomous cars. The competitive battleground and source of value creation has shifted rapidly and radically from the vehicles’ hardware to the systems driving it. Another challenge is the complex issue of climate change, where companies are feeling their way toward a response to fundamental market shifts involving international politics, governmental regulation, and investor expectations while considering the economic impact of climate risk. Boards need to bolster their capacity to navigate this labyrinth. A third and rapidly-moving set of challenges is emerging from tectonic shifts in geopolitics and in particular from the rise of great-power rivalry, trade protectionism, and mercantilism—notably in the domain of technology, where the United States and China are engaged in what some see as a new arms race for control over the systems of the future.

Overarching all of these trends is another relatively new pressure: the pressure for companies to articulate and justify their broader purpose, in terms of how they address society’s unmet needs in an era of great social change, activism, and political uncertainty. This is certainly the message from some of the largest institutional investors. As Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, put it in his 2019 CEO letter to portfolio companies, “Companies that fulfill their purpose and responsibilities to stakeholders reap rewards over the long-term. Companies that ignore them stumble and fail. This dynamic is becoming increasingly apparent as the public holds companies to more exacting standards. And it will continue to accelerate as millennials—who today represent 35 percent of the workforce—express new expectations of the companies they work for, buy from, and invest in.”

CREATIVE DESTRUCTION ACCELERATES

One important inference from these trends is that the formula for past success matters even less to companies considering their future. Research conducted in 2018 for the Fortune Future 500 initiative (the public companies with the best long-term growth outlook) shows that for large companies, there is now less correlation than there was before between past and future financial and competitive performance over multiple years. This means that companies can no longer hope to prosper merely by sticking to their historical growth strategies and competitive advantages. Relying on past success can engender complacency—itself an existential threat.

It is certainly true that the process Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction” is accelerating, and in consequence corporate lifespans are shrinking. A 2018 Innosight study showed that, based on recent trends, nearly half of the corporate constituents of the S&P 500 could be expected to be replaced over the next 10 years. While companies in the S&P 500 had an average tenure of 33 years in 1964, tenures had narrowed to 24 years by 2016 and are forecasted to shrink to just 12 years by 2027. This accelerating churn is to be seen also among very young firms—for example, five-year survival rates for newly-listed firms have declined by nearly 30 percentile points (dropping from 92 percent to 63 percent) since the 1960s. In a parallel trend, the median CEO tenure for large-cap companies has been shrinking steadily over time—indeed, it dropped by one full year between 2013 and 2017. Median tenure is now five years.

Structural change and industry consolidation are also impacting the nature of competition, creating a “winnertakes-most” dynamic in an increasing number of business sectors. Recent research based on analysis of 5,750 of the world’s largest companies shows just how unevenly the fruits of success are now distributed in terms of economic profit (a measure of a company’s invested capital times its return above its weighted cost of capital). The top 10 percent of these companies captured fully 80 percent of positive economic profit between 1994 and 2016.

All of these implications are brought into sharper focus by the increasing shareholder scrutiny which companies are now under, not only from activist investors but also increasingly from institutional investors who wield their significant influence to demand change. Stephen Murray, the president and CEO of private equity firm CCMP Capital, goes so far as to say, “The whole activist industry exists because public boards are often seen as inadequately equipped to meet shareholder interests.” So the challenges for boards and management teams are stark—probably more so now than at any time since the birth of the modern corporation a little more than a century ago. They mean that some, though by no means all, of these individuals’ accumulated experience in strategy development and execution may be less relevant in the future than in the past. And they suggest that board leaders in particular need to adopt a new mind-set and consider a different modus operandi attuned to the demands of this rapidly-changing environment.

IMPLICATIONS FOR BOARDS

Three years ago, in its Report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Building the Strategic-Asset Board, NACD first pointed out that a new leadership mandate for boards was emerging, driven by “an operating environment . . . that is characterized by increased complexity and uncertainty and includes new sources of risk and opportunity.” It highlighted the role of the board leader in driving a continuous improvement ethos to ensure that the board remains fit for its purpose. Yet performance expectations for boards continue to rise. In a 2019 NACD survey, 73 percent of directors reported that board leadership is more challenging now than it was three years ago, and 84 percent reported that performance expectations had gone up for all board members. Directors admit that they find it really challenging to keep up with change. In the same NACD survey, 36 percent of directors cited the struggle to stay abreast of the changing speed of business as one of the key impediments to the effectiveness of board leaders. Commissioners for this report echoed that concern and highlighted it as a challenge for the entire board. “Many directors don’t feel comfortable talking about emerging technologies, cybersecurity, and other complex topics,” said one Commissioner. “As a result, they tend to defer to others, which can become an abdication of their responsibility to be active board members.”

In the view of the Commission, this shifting business paradigm has profound and immediate implications for boards, and these implications will intensify dramatically over the next 5 to 10 years. They cover

  • board engagement with management,
  • board renewal,
  • operations,
  • transparency,
  • and accountability.

Some of these implications are not new—indeed, boards have been grappling with all of them with greater or lesser success for some time. But there is no doubt that all of them have recently become more acute, and now pose an urgent challenge to board leaders.

  1. IMPLICATION 1: Boards must engage more proactively, deeply, and frequently on entirely new and fast-changing drivers of strategy and risk.
  2. IMPLICATION 2: Boards must approach their own renewal through the lens of shifting strategic needs to ensure longterm competitive advantage.
  3. IMPLICATION 3: Boards must adopt a more dynamic operating model and structure.
  4. IMPLICATION 4: Boards must be much more transparent about how they govern.
  5. IMPLICATION 5: Boards must hold themselves more accountable for individual director and collective performance.

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SETTING EXPECTATIONS FOR THE NEW BOARD LEADER

The fundamental role of board leadership stays the same: building and maintaining high-performing boards that build long-term value. Here is how NACD has described board leaders and their role in its past Blue Ribbon Commission reports:

Board leaders are the linchpins on many key issues, including the board-CEO relationship, board dynamics and culture, setting the board agenda, information flows between the board and management, and stakeholder relations (especially board-shareholder engagement).

Many NACD principles and positions about what constitutes good board practice are contingent upon having a strong and effective leader in this role. Strong, qualified individuals in this role “[have] the ability to give the board a competitive advantage.”

As seen in the infographic that follows, based on 2019 NACD analysis of S&P 500 chairs and lead directors, board leaders today have extensive tenure on the boards they serve, bringing with them strong institutional memory, and they almost always have past experience in business leadership roles and a proven track record in strategy and execution.

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PRIORITY RESPONSIBILITIES FOR BOARD LEADERS OF TODAY
Lead the setting and monitoring of board performance goals that are regularly synchronized with the (shifting) business strategy.

  • Drive alignment and connectivity. This includes staying connected on material new initiatives and strengthening alignment in how committees and the full board engage on crucial, but now fast-changing, issues such as strategy, risk, disruption, talent, corporate culture, incentives, and technology.
  • Lead the setting of shared values and expectations for a well-functioning board, including the use of a fully candid board, committee, and individual-director performance evaluation.
  • Pay continuous attention to (a) what’s working and why, (b) what’s not working and why, and (c) how the board can use this knowledge to improve its effectiveness.
  • Spend considerable time in one-on-one discussions on key topics with other board members, the CEO, and the management team, with a focus on ensuring openness of discussion and constructive group dynamics.

DESIRED ATTRIBUTES FOR BOARD LEADERS OF TODAY
Fortitude and vigilance to ensure that changes in board processes and practices change behaviors over time

  • Adaptability—a willingness to recognize a board’s new needs and responsibilities and adjust board practices, processes, agenda setting, and structures accordingly
  • Superb communication skills, especially with regard to difficult communications, including sensitive messages to the CEO and to fellow directors
  • Aptitude for relationship building, not just with the board, the CEO, and the senior team, but also with key shareholders, stakeholders, and regulators
  • Inclusiveness—ensuring that the growing diversity of the boardroom is optimized, and enhancing collaboration that is inclusive of different, unconventional thinking
  • Humility—placing a high premium on listening and seeking to understand the (contrasting) views of others. The successful board leader presents himself/herself as “last among equals”

STRENGTHENING BOARD ENGAGEMENT

Board leaders will need to orchestrate more meaningful board engagement to help inform strategic choices and to understand the risks being taken in a much more uncertain and fast-changing environment. Earlier, we described the pressures for boards to become more actively engaged with their companies, without falling into the trap of micromanagement or losing the objectivity required to oversee the business. We suggest that this requires collaboration and candid dialogue between boards and management teams about respective roles and responsibilities.

  • Clarifying where the board would like to seek deeper involvement and why this creates better governance. Examples might be earlier and more in-depth understanding/verification of strategy development and underlying assumptions, preparations for responding to disruption, and plans for major corporate transformations.
  • Creating a shared picture of the present, and of the future, and of where the industry and the competition are headed, and of what that means for strategy.
  • Enhancing board focus on innovation and change. Here is another shift made imperative by the speed of business change. Where in the past a board’s typical posture may have been to act as a brake on management’s ambitions, an equally important goal should now be to work with management to ensure that they embrace innovation and can successfully drive change in the organization.
  • Assessing how well management is maintaining critical alignments among key determinants of performance (e.g., strategy, risk management, innovation, controls, incentives, culture, and talent). This becomes increasingly important as strategies are more frequently being recalibrated.
  • Establishing a framework for more frequent, focused management communication with the board between formal meetings. This can help streamline the meetings themselves, freeing up time to focus on the most critical strategic matters.

DRIVING STRATEGIC BOARD RENEWAL

In order to deliver more meaningful and deeper engagement on entirely new issues, the board leader and the chair of the nominating and governance committee should thoroughly assess whether the board has the right human capital to fulfill its mandate and deliver ongoing value. One of the key questions will be whether the board’s existing composition is aligned with the challenges likely to face the business in the future sketched out together with the management team, and if not, how it should best be renewed. One useful way of thinking about this task could be a “clean-sheet” approach to board diversity and composition, which NACD first recommended in its Blue Ribbon Commission report on building the strategic-asset board. In particular, nominating and governance committees should consider asking the following questions:

  • If we were to create a board from scratch today, what would it look like holistically, from the standpoint of skills, leadership styles, and backgrounds? What will we need in three, five, or more years?
  • Have we sufficiently mapped out our strategy and risks into the future to understand what profiles we need?
  • How should our board composition represent the characteristics of the company’s current and future customer base as well as its workforce?
  • If we are anticipating adding one or more new directors in the next couple of years, have we vetted our recruitment profile to ensure criteria are relevant and that they are not unnecessarily restricting access to appropriate candidates (e.g., requiring CEO or prior board experience)?

BUILDING AN INCLUSIVE BOARD CULTURE

Boards already know how to be purposeful in seeking out individuals who bring a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and skills. Now they need to be just as purposeful in creating an environment that enables those diverse voices to be heard. The board leader has a critical role to play in activating diversity in the boardroom by recognizing that the aim is not “hiring for diversity and then managing for assimilation.” The goal of the board leader after bringing in new board members is not assimilation but rather enhancing collaboration that is inclusive of different, unconventional thinking. With higher levels of diversity in the boardroom—whether this is diversity in experience, skills, gender, race, ethnicity, or age—it’s critical for board leaders to create a culture that facilitates constructive and candid interactions between board members and that ensures that each director is heard from on important issues.

FOSTERING CONTINUOUS LEARNING

“Continuous lifelong learning’’ is such an oft-heard phrase that it’s close to becoming a cliché. But it’s nonetheless a worthwhile approach for boards and management teams to adopt—because when the pace of change is accelerating, “the fastest-growing companies and most resilient workers will be those who learn faster than their competition.”

This, too, will function most effectively as a collaborative effort between the board and the management team. It’s the role of management to help educate the board about the future and its impact on strategy. The board leader should help the C-suite understand the board’s expectations for the learning process, the time line, and the board’s information needs. At the same time, the board leader should set the expectation that directors not rely solely on management for all of the information they receive, but rather seek out other external sources proactively to deepen their understanding of the business. The agenda for potential learning is vast and constantly growing. “Some learning opportunities may be specific to individual directors; others may be common to all members of a committee or to the entire board (e.g., raising the board’s collective knowledge about cyber threats). Individual, committee, or board-level learning agendas might include

  • industry-specific topics;
  • emerging economic and technology trends;
  • governance matters;
  • regulatory developments;
  • shareholder/stakeholder issues;
  • and/or team dynamics and decision making.”

Commissioners offered a number of observations about the pursuit of structured board learning:

  • First, that it is not just a matter for board leaders and committee chairs—it is a collective task for the whole board to stay “constantly curious.” This can be assisted through experiential learning, where the board visits company sites or meets local managers.
  • Second, there is a constant need to focus collective learning on new technologies—not just the features of emerging technologies but also the reasons why they are so disruptive and how competitors have succeeded in commercializing them.
  • Third, longer-serving directors will benefit from periodically refreshing their knowledge of the basics—for example, by joining new director orientation in order to understand how management’s presentation of the issues may have changed.
  • Finally, the learning imperative applies equally to management. To this end, selected executives should be encouraged to take board positions with companies that are not competitors.

BUILDING AGILITY INTO BOARD OPERATIONS AND STRUCTURE

As stated earlier, the dynamic external environment requires boards to be more careful than before about how they allocate their time, but also more flexible in responding to events. The starting point is effective agenda setting for board meetings.

Agendas

The Commissioners offered a number of specific ideas for enhancing board meeting effectiveness:

  1. First, think holistically about the entire cycle of meetings throughout the year and not just about the agenda for individual meetings. The objective is to ensure the highest return on the time that the board spends together and with management—including what happens outside, around, and in between the actual board meetings.
  2. Second, make a deliberate effort to ensure that board meetings are not predominantly focused on the past and on compliance—on the rear-view mirror, so to speak. Create “white space” time for open conversation and time to delve into identified issues of importance. Foster dialogue and minimize time spent on formal presentations.
  3. Third, take a strategic and almost mathematical approach to time allocation. One Commissioner described how the board tracks how it is spending its time in meetings, then asks board members their opinions about how the board should be spending time, and periodically optimizes the mix.
  4. Fourth, try to maximize one-on-one time with the CEO and the board. It is important to spend time with the CEO without other managers present. An hour and sometimes more at the start of every meeting, and then again at the end, coupled with a CEO/director-only dinner, is an effective way “to get everything that needs airing out on the table.”

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Optimize for both Social and Business Value – Building Resilient Businesses, Industries, and Societies

Why Is Corporate Capitalism at a Tipping Point?

Stakeholders are beginning to pressure companies and investors to go beyond financial returns and take a more holistic view of their impact on society. This should not surprise us. After all, we have lived through two decades of hyper-transformation, during which rapidly evolving digital technologies, globalization, and massive investment flows have stressed and reshaped every aspect of business and society.

As in previous transformations, the winners created new dimensions of competition and built innovative business models that increased returns for shareholders. Many others found their businesses at risk of being disrupted, with familiar formulas no longer working. To meet the unwavering demands of Wall Street, many companies relentlessly optimized operating models, streamlined and concentrated supply chains, and specialized their assets and teams — leaving them less resilient and less adaptable to shifting markets and trade flows. The resulting waves of corporate restructuring, consolidation, and repositioning have fractured companies’ cultures and undermined their social contracts.

Furthermore, this hyper-transformation cascaded beyond individual companies and created socio-economic dynamics that left many people and communities economically disadvantaged and politically polarized. Combined with the increasing shared anxiety that the earth’s climate is changing faster than the planet can adapt, a global zeitgeist of risk and insecurity has emerged. We will enter the 2020s with more citizens, investors, and leaders convinced that the way business, capital, and government work must change — and change quickly.

We now must rethink the sustainability of the whole system in the face of extreme externalities — or risk losing social and political permission for further progress. The 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identify the moral and existential threats that we must meet head-on. While some question the SDGs’ breadth and timeline, most agree that, if achieved, they would create a more just, inclusive, and sustainable world.

Goal 17 calls for new engagement by companies and capital in partnership for collective action across the public, social, and private sectors. Five years into the SDG agenda, there is ample evidence that governments, investors, and companies are beginning to exercise their capacity to create much-needed change.

Change Is Underway but Is Hardly Sufficient

Many institutional investors are racing to integrate ESG (environmental, social, and governance) assessments into their decision making, and they are expecting companies to report on how they deliver on those metrics. New efforts promote radical disclosure, like the Bloomberg/Carney TCFD (Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures), which encourages signatories to report on the climate risks of their financial holdings.

New standards initiatives are creating a foundation for nonfinancial performance accounting, and the prospect of widespread “integrated reporting” seems realistic. Companies are investing in “purpose” and defining their contributions to society against material ESG factors and SDG goals. Corporate sustainability and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) functions, historically on the sidelines, are now being integrated into line business activity, with progressive companies expanding the scope of competition to include differentiation on environmental and societal dimensions. And through industry consortia, many companies are taking collective action on issues that both threaten their right to operate and open up new opportunities for their industries.

Such examples are important early signals that the context for business is changing. However, for all the progress on commitments, agreements, metrics, and policies, there has been little aggregate progress against top-level goals, like

  • reducing CO2 emissions,
  • cutting plastics waste,
  • or narrowing social and economic inequality within nations.

Without demonstrable impact and collective progress, social and political pressure will only build, further threatening the legitimacy of corporate capitalism.

A New Societal Context for Business

Companies will face escalating social activism by investors, stakeholders, social mission organizations, and policymakers on issues of

  • climate risk,
  • economic inequality,
  • and societal well-being.

Governments and local communities will set a higher bar for a company’s right to operate, and in a connected world a company’s local performance will quickly affect its global reputation and trigger social and regulatory consequences. Stakeholders will expect radical transparency on ESG performance.

This will shift investors’ perceptions of a company’s risk and opportunity, skewing capital toward those that deliver both financial returns and positive societal impact. To satisfy a growing demographic of socially minded consumers and businesses, companies will need to demonstrate “good products doing good” and anchor their brands and identity around a credible purpose.

Talent will gravitate toward companies that give employees a line-of-sight to making the world better while also providing a fulfilling career. To win, companies will need to define competition more broadly, adding new dimensions of value through

  • environmental sustainability,
  • holistic well-being,
  • economic inclusion,
  • and ethical content.

This will require radical business model innovation

  • to enable circular economies for precious resources;
  • to provide assets that are shared rather than owned;
  • to broaden access and inclusion;
  • and to multiply positive societal impact.

At this critical moment for corporate capitalism, business is more trusted than government, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. Farsighted corporate leaders will see the opportunity for their industries to

  • mitigate environmental and societal threats,
  • catalyze collective action to discover new solutions,
  • shape wider ecosystems,
  • and expand trust with stakeholders.

Such actions will be indispensable to strengthen social permission for corporate capitalism before it is further undermined.

CEOs Need an Agenda for Value and the Common Good

We frame the journey to new corporate value and the common good around six imperatives.

It begins with reimagining corporate strategy, then

  • involves transforming the business model,
  • reframing performance and scorekeeping,
  • leading a purpose-filled organization,
  • practicing corporate statesmanship,
  • and elevating governance.

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While challenging to execute, we argue that this agenda will be essential to create a great company, a great stock, a great impact, and a great legacy.

Reimagine Corporate Strategy

We believe few companies have strategies for this new era of business. The following exhibit illustrates the ambition of such a strategy, which establishes competitive advantage at the intersection of

  • shareholder value,
  • corporate longevity,
  • and societal impact.

The “quality” of the strategy is thus judged by how it delivers both total shareholder returns and total societal impact.

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Consequently, it widens the scope of competition to encompass creating rich differentiation and relative advantage in multiple areas of societal value. It embeds “social value” into new business constructs, shared value chains, and reconstructed ecosystems.

It also opens, broadens, and deepens markets to enable access and inclusion. And it expands the scope of business by calling for coalitions for collective action that address existential risks to environmental and societal ecosystems.

This new type of strategy flips leadership’s perspective from “company-out” to “societal needs-in,” by asking how a specific SDG target could be met by extending the company’s capabilities, assets, products, services, and ecosystem—and those of its industry. The following exhibit lists ten questions that strategists should incorporate into their strategy processes to ensure that they embrace the opportunity to create both shareholder returns and societal impact.

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However, these new strategies cannot simply be grafted onto existing business models. Business models themselves will need to be transformed. Sustainable business model innovation (S-BMI) takes a much wider perspective than traditional business model innovation by considering

  • a broader set of stakeholders;
  • the system dynamics of the socio-environmental context;
  • longer time horizons for sustaining adaptable advantage;
  • the limits of business model scale, viability, and resilience;
  • the cradle-to-grave production and consumption cycle;
  • and the points of leverage for profitable and sustainable transformation.

Transform Business Models

We can already observe seven topologies for sustainable business model innovation, sometimes in combination, all with the potential to increase both financial returns and societal benefits.

  • Own the origins. Compete on capturing and differentiating the “social value” of inputs to production processes, products, or services. For example,
    • pursue cleaner energy,
    • sustainable practices,
    • preserved biodiversity,
    • recycled content,
    • inclusive and empowering work practices,
    • minimized waste,
    • digitized traceability,
    • fair trade, and so on.

Performance here will require differentially advancing the societal performance of the supplier base and its stewardship of resources, communities, and trade flows. Achieving this may require backward integration to ensure fast and complete upstream transformation and then holding and using these new capabilities for competitive advantage and differentiation.

  • Own the whole cycle. Compete by creating societal impact through the whole product usage cycle, from creation through end of life. This competitive typology puts a wide aperture on the business and requires systems analysis to uncover business models that offer the richest competitive and financial options. For example,
    • designing for circularity, recyclability, and waste to value;
    • creating offerings that enable sharing rather than owning to ensure high utilization of resources and end-of-life value;
    • constructing infrastructure to facilitate circularity and repurposing;
    • integrating into other value chains to capture societal value;
    • educating and enabling consumers to choose whole-cycle propositions on the basis of value to people and planet.

To achieve these ends, expect to reposition operations, reinvent supply chains and distribution networks, pursue new backward or forward integration, acquire business adjacencies, or undertake unconventional strategic partnering.

  • Expand “social value.” Compete by expanding the value of products or services on six dimensions:
    • economic gains,
    • environmental sustainability,
    • customer well-being,
    • ethical content,
    • societal enablement,
    • and access and inclusion.

Then advocate new standards, increase transparency and traceability, tune marketing and segmentation, engage customers on the product’s wider value and their involvement in bigger change, and seek premium pricing. In business-to-business offerings, help customers integrate the full social value of your products, services, and business model into their own differentiation and ESG ambitions.

  • Expand the chains. Compete by extending the company’s value chain, layering onto other industries’ value chains to extend the reach of your products and services and the societal impact for both parties, while changing the economics and risks of doing so. For example,
    • use the reach of a consumer products distribution system to extend payments and financial services to small merchants;
    • layer one company’s health services onto another company’s physical supply chain to benefit its workers and their families while expanding markets for health services;
    • or use the byproducts of one company’s operations as feedstock in other companies’ value chains.
  • Energize the brand. Compete by digitally encoding, promoting, and monetizing the full accumulated social value that is embedded in products and services, along the whole value chain— from origins to customer, from cradle to grave. Use such data to rethink differentiation, the brand experience, customer engagement, pricing for value, ESG reporting, investor engagement, and even potential new businesses. For example,
    • strengthen the brand with promotions that showcase the business’s performance on the open, clean, green, renewable, and inclusive attributes of its operations;
    • and increase customer engagement and loyalty by using data on the product’s environmental and societal footprint to empower customers in choosing how their lifestyle affects the planet and its people.
  • Relocalize and regionalize. Compete by contracting and reconnecting global value chains to bring societal benefits closer to home markets in ways stakeholders value. For example,
    • build local and regional brands that better express local tastes and values;
    • source from smaller local producers to minimize logistics emissions and strengthen local economies;
    • reimagine production networks against total environmental and societal costs;
    • capture local waste streams as feedstocks for other activities;
    • or reconstitute jobs for microwork to use local talent.
  • Build across sectors. Compete by creating models that include the public and social sectors to improve the company’s business and societal proposition, particularly in emerging and rapidly developing economies. For example,
    • work alongside governmental bilateral aid institutions and NGO development organizations to improve the agricultural capacity of small farmers so they become reliable sources of agricultural inputs to the agro-processing value chain;
    • partner with global environmental organizations and governments to promote the reuse of ocean plastics as feedstocks to production systems;
    • partner with governments to strengthen social safety nets and prevent corruption through digitization and electronic payments;
    • or partner across sectors to restructure recycling systems to enable higher penetration of waste-to-value business models.

Extend this into industry coalitions for collective action that reshape broader rights to operate and generate new opportunities.

All seven types of S-BMI create new sources of differentiation, operating advantage, network dynamics, and societal value — enabling more durable and resilient businesses that benefit shareholders and society. But to assess and improve the performance of these business models and communicate their value, we need to expand today’s scorecards.

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