5 Ways Social Enterprise Thinking Will Shape the Future of Work Across Sectors

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

In response to the crises that came to a head in 2020, one type of organization has risen to the fore: the social enterprise. The World Economic Forum recently released a report about why social entrepreneurs are needed now more than ever, recognizing their ability to learn, react, and pivot more quickly in a crisis than other actors can.

Now a year into this crisis, social enterprises continue to lead the shift from surviving to thriving in a new normal.

According to Deloitte’s 2021 Human Capital Trends report, “the shift from ‘survive’ to ‘thrive’ depends on an organization becoming—and remaining—distinctly human at its core. This is not just a different way of thinking and acting. It’s a different way of being, one that approaches every question, every issue, and every decision from a human angle first.” Being distinctly human-centered at the core is the essence of what it means to be a social enterprise. In 2021, Deloitte predicts that organizations of all types will incorporate principles of social enterprise thinking to make thriving possible in the new normal. 

Here are 5 human capital trends informed by social enterprise thinking to look out for in 2021 as organizations move from surviving to thriving:

1. Designing work for well-being

At the onset of the pandemic, organizations took quick action to redirect resources towards making work safe and keeping workers healthy. But as the pandemic wore on, it became clear that a one-size-fits-all approach was insufficient, and organizations turned to social enterprises as a model for integrating well-being into work itself. As we shared in our guide to self-care for social impact professionals, “prioritising individual wellbeing has a positive ripple effect across organisations, improving innovation, collaboration and social impact capacity—that is, wellbeing inspires welldoing.” 

According to Deloitte’s report, “Leaders of organizations large and small said that they were tailoring their well-being efforts to various worker segments’ needs instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach” and “integrating workers’ physical, mental, financial, and social health into the design of work itself rather than addressing wellbeing with adjacent programs.” 

The report recommends that organizations looking to build well-being into work should consider actions, policies, and mandates at three levels — individual, team, and organizational. In taking this more holistic approach, “organizations can harness well-being to drive improved outcomes in areas such as customer satisfaction, organizational brand and reputation, innovation, and adaptability.”

The bottom line: To move from surviving to thriving, organizations need to shift away from supporting well-being through programs adjacent to work and toward integrating well-being into work design.

2. Unleashing workforce potential through agency and choice 

During COVID-19, leaders called upon workers to expand their roles to whatever needed to be done. And workers rose to the challenge, identifying critical needs and deploying their capabilities against them from the bottom up. According to the report, “the growing prevalence of worker agency and choice during the pandemic showed that, when given the chance to align their interests and passions with organizational needs, workers can fulfill their potential in ways that leaders may have never known they could.”

Social enterprises have long understood the importance of purpose, autonomy, and mastery over strengths when it comes to bringing out the best in your workforce, and that empowering workers with agency and choice creates more value than overly prescriptive approaches. It’s part of why social enterprises have been able to adapt and pivot so effectively in the face of disruption, and now organizations of all types are following suit. 

According to the report, “Workforce potential is not about what workers were recruited to do, or what they are certified to do, or even what organizations or leaders want them to do next. It’s about giving workers more freedom to choose how they can best help tackle critical business problems as organizations and ecosystems evolve.” 

The report goes on to recommend that organizations that want to unlock human potential should consider actions in the following areas: building talent marketplaces that actively address both sides of the workforce supply and demand equation, shifting workforce planning approaches away from top-down mandates, and driving toward real-time, dynamic action.

The bottom line: To move from surviving to thriving, organizations need to shift away from a top-down training approach and toward a bottom-up approach that gives employees choice, agency, and actual experience.

3. “Superteams” that pair people with technology in new ways

To rapidly reorient their goals and operations at the onset of COVID-19, we saw organizations turn to teams and teaming as the go-to unit for organizational performance. Even within large bureaucratic organizations, teams became a life raft for strategy because they are built for adaptability rather than predictability and stability, bringing multiple perspectives together to come up with better, more creative ideas.

The Deloitte report went on to predict that the next evolution of teaming will be “superteams,” defined as “combinations of people and technology leveraging their complementary capabilities to pursue outcomes at a speed and scale not otherwise possible.” The key difference between typical teams and so-called superteams is the way they use technology: rather than viewing technology as a substitute for manual labor, they view it as a way to augment or collaborate with human capabilities. As the report goes on to explain, “The big payoff from superteams is not just that they can get work done faster and cheaper. Rather, their greatest value lies in their potential to re-architect work, using technology to change the nature of work so that it makes the most of people’s distinctly human capabilities.”

More technology isn’t necessarily better; it’s about incorporating the right technology in the right way. Social enterprises are leading examples of this approach – with lean teams and limited resources, these organizations are forced to be strategic about when and how to incorporate new technology. For example, we previously shared some of the virtual learning best practices we’ve developed in the MovingWorlds Institute to enable more meaningful connections, along with tips for virtualizing corporate volunteering programs without sacrificing impact. 

The bottom line: To move from surviving to thriving, organizations need to shift away from using technology as a tool to increase efficiency and toward leveraging technology to re-architect work in more human ways.

4. Shifting from retrospective to forward-looking workforce metrics

The disruption of COVID-19 exacerbated the employer-workforce information gap, revealing the limitations of relying solely on retrospective metrics and measurements about the workforce to inform strategy. Particularly in the face of such rapid change, backwards-looking, stale data doesn’t provide an accurate picture of what needs to be addressed now, or issues just on the horizon.

To get around this problem, Deloitte encourages organizations “to ask different questions questions and measure and report the answers in real time in order to shed light on important workforce issues, have discussions about them, and move to action. These forward-looking insights, not backward-looking, stale data, can help organizations understand how to achieve new outcomes by harnessing workforce potential and transforming work.” 

As an example, in our work with Microsoft’s MySkills program which connects employees to virtual and in-person skills-based pro bono projects, all participants are surveyed after they return home on competencies that will help them perform better and innovate in the future. Beyond the direct participants, we also survey their managers, and then survey again 12-months later to ensure a real impact is being made. 

The report echoes what we’ve found through our own experience – “To effectively deal with multiple possible futures and unlikely events, organizations need to be able to quickly pivot and set new directions—which depends, in large part, on the ability to access and act on real-time workforce insights. The new element here is the use of workforce strategies to plan for uncertainty. A more dynamic, action oriented approach to understanding the workforce can help leaders make better, faster decisions based on up-to-the-minute information on what their workforce is capable of.”

The bottom line: To move from surviving to thriving, organizations need to shift away from retrospective metrics and measurements and toward real-time workforce insights that support better, faster decisions. 

5. A strengths-based approach to human resource management

HR was thrust into a leading role as companies were forced to adapt to remote work, social distancing, and other challenges associated with COVID-19. Similarly, CSR was thrust to the fore in navigating corporate citizenship and community response to the crisis. As a result, both HR and CSR have earned greater credibility with executives and the right to expand their influence in achieving the four shifts above. 

According to the report, “As organizations emerge from the pandemic, HR has the opportunity to build on its newly enhanced position to shift its role from managing workers to re-architecting work, driving better outcomes that position organizations to thrive.” In the context of the report, re-architecting is the how that turns the re-imagined new vision into a day-to-day reality, and when thoughtfully done, “re-architecting work can drive new outcomes that create positive changes, from higher productivity to increased agility to greater innovation.”

A recent study and report by MovingWorlds echoes this point, finding that “while some companies continue to look at HR and CSR as general overhead, [forward-thinking] companies look at HR and CSR as competitive advantages and strategic counterparts to the business that help fuel performance and innovation.” 

The bottom line: To move from surviving to thriving, HR needs to shift away from a functional mindset focusing on optimization and workforce management and toward a social enterprise mindset that prioritize re-architecting work to capitalize on human strengths.

At MovingWorlds, we’ve seen time and time again that when companies put humans – as opposed to technology or financial returns – at the center of their decision making processes, they are able to unlock innovative solutions beyond what was previously thought possible. Keep the five trends above in mind to help your company embed social enterprise thinking and move from surviving to thriving.