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Performance & Growth

Sustainability Equals Good Business

Embedding sustainability is critical to every enterprise.

Nick Rockey

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The custodians of corporate image are highly resourceful when it comes to building a reputation as a good citizen or a responsible company. Business has honed its ability to ‘talk the good talk’. But can business ‘walk the talk’?

Failing to deal with the more complex and less enticing notion of embedding sustainability within a business amounts to nothing more than a charade. Yet embedding sustainability is more than just a process of backing up a good image. It’s about:

  • Building systems and responses that support business interests in the long term;
  • Making the business more robust to shifts in the external environment and more resilient to unanticipated and sometimes unreasonable demands of diverse stakeholder interests; and
  • Developing a consistent response to issues of importance across the operations of the business.

The sustainability function forces the business to consider a range of issues that may affect its interface with societal stakeholders and, by extension, its own wellbeing. The perspective that this offers enhances the ability to anticipate change and to prepare accordingly.

Repeating good business benefits

This is no more than good business practice. But to reap the benefits of this foresight and proactive planning, the responsibility for action needs to be devolved to managers who are designated to make the decisions and implement the necessary actions and processes. Embedding sustainability requires driving a high-level sustainability strategy down into and across the business.

Sustainability relates to the whole business, pervading all business functions, from HR to production, and all levels of employment, from the CEO to the office assistant.

In the same way that every person employed has a role to play in supporting the profit motive of the business, so too should each employee support the business in its endeavour to act responsibly and sustainably.

The role of employees

Executive and senior management figures engage with strategy and policy matters surrounding sustainability and set the standard for appropriate (ethical and responsible) behaviour in their organisation.

Less senior employees are responsible for monitoring, regulating and improving their behaviour according to the organisational standards that have been set.

But no matter how significant or minor the role is, every individual is affected some way or other.

Anticompetitive behaviour, breaches of corporate governance or excessive risk taking is often perpetrated by just a few individuals within companies that employ thousands.

The cost of bad business

Yet the cost of bad and invariably unethical decisions can amount to billions. In certain cases, large and established businesses have not survived the ensuing scandal and financial fall-out.

These exceptional examples alone justify the need for a value system or way of doing business that is morally acceptable and widely adopted.

At a more mundane level, businesses are confronted with the way the business interfaces with staff, customers, suppliers and the like. So once the appropriate course of action is decided upon, all individuals affected by that decision should respond accordingly.

Getting started

Start by determining what sustainability means to the business. To achieve this, define the ‘material issues’ that are to be managed and reported on. ‘Material’ implies that the way the issue is managed has a significant impact on the business, now or in the future.

Issues that don’t or are unlikely to have any real impact on sustainability should be de-emphasised. All too often the readers of sustainability reports are confronted by a plethora of data that has not been structured or prioritised properly.

The good news is that businesses already address many sustainability issues, which more often than not are of material importance to the business. Training programmes, employment equity and HIV/Aids initiatives are frequently well established, particularly within large companies.

By undertaking an analysis of what is being done and where gaps exist, a better sense is obtained of where and how the sustainability journey should start.

The sensible approach is to focus the sustainability effort, at least initially, on divisions and business partners where influence and risk are greatest.

Companies with high-profile brands are vulnerable to being exposed by the poor practices of their partners, particularly when these partners are linked to the company brand.

It’s therefore in the interest of the business to ensure that partner practices conform to accepted standards.

From the top down

To address a range of issues affecting the entire organisation, direction from the company leadership is needed.

The ultimate responsibility for sustainability must therefore lie with executives who understand the costs versus benefits associated with committing the business to a programme of action.

The role of senior executives is to provide a clear vision and to prioritise what sustainability initiatives or issues are to be dealt with, at what level and over what period of time.

Effectively, senior executives must provide a mandate for each aspect of sustainability that is to be adopted by the company.

Every company should choose those issues that are most relevant to the business and well-entrenched communication methods to get the message across.

Ultimately, if the business shows itself to be aligned with the fast-growing interest in societal good, employees will feel better about working for a company where their personal values do not have to be left at the door as they enter the building for work each day.

Nick Rockey is managing director of Trialogue. This column is extracted and edited from Green II … why corporate leaders need to embrace sustainability to ensure future profitability, published by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) and Juta.

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Performance & Growth

Why You Should Do Things That Won’t Scale In Your Early Start-Up Days

Unless you want to be a small-business owner with a lifestyle business, you’re probably looking for an idea that scales – something that allows you to 10x your customers and profits in record time – but how do you accomplish this? Here’s some counterintuitive advice.

GG van Rooyen

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In the early days of Airbnb, when the site had just a handful of hosts in its website, the founders of the company did something surprising: They offered to have the accommodation hosts were offering professionally photographed for free. As they didn’t have the money to actually pay professional photographers, they did this themselves. They showed up, introduced themselves and took some pictures.

In the world of Silicon Valley, this seemed absurd. Silicon Valley is all about scaling. You want an idea that’s easy to expand exponentially. For instance, the marginal cost of adding a single user to Facebook or Dropbox is small, which makes these companies extremely scalable.

Service businesses, meanwhile, are typically not very scalable, since they are limited by the time and energy you can physically put in. Every new client brings more complexity and demands more time and resources.

Related: Has Your Business Stopped Growing? Here’s How To Turn Things Around

With their free photography, the Airbnb founders had turned an Internet start-up into a service business. There was no way you could scale this kind of behaviour, so, according to the dominant Silicon Valley philosophy, this was not worth doing. If this was what was required to sign up people on Airbnb, it could never be a success.

The manual approach

So, why did the founders do it? Because Paul Graham at the famous Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator suggested that they do it.

Y Combinator has funded many, many successful start-ups (including Airbnb and Dropbox), and one of its most common pieces of advice to new start-ups is to do things that don’t scale. Recruiting users manually is not a failure or proof that your concept won’t scale. Most of the time, it’s simply a necessity.

“The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all start-ups have to. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them,” says Graham.

“This can’t be how the big, famous start-ups got started, they think. The mistake they make is to underestimate the power of compound growth. We encourage every start-up to measure their progress by a weekly growth rate. If you have 100 users, you need to get ten more next week to grow 10% a week. And while 110 may not seem much better than 100, if you keep growing at 10% a week you’ll be surprised how big the numbers get. After a year, you’ll have 14 000 users, and after two years you’ll have two million.”

Surprise and delight

Another reason, according to Graham, why the manual approach is important, is because it allows you to really know and understand your customers. By visiting all those Airbnb hosts, the founders quickly learnt what they loved and hated about the service.

Related: SME Leaders: How You Can Manage Growth

By doing things that don’t scale, you get a much greater understanding of your customer, which comes in handy once you’re ready to flip the switch and grow quickly.

“You should take extraordinary measures not just to acquire users, but also to make them happy. Your first users should feel that signing up with you was one of the best choices they ever made. And you in turn should be racking your brains to think of new ways to delight them,” says Graham.

Lighting the fire

The only opportunity you’ll ever have to thoroughly engage with all your customers on a personal level is when your business is still small. That’s why it’s important to do things that don’t scale early on. It creates the foundation for successful scaling.

“Sometimes the right unscalable trick is to focus on a deliberately narrow market. It’s like keeping a fire contained at first to get it really hot before adding more logs. It’s always worth asking if there’s a subset of the market in which you can get a critical mass of users quickly,” says Graham.

“Most start-ups that use the contained fire strategy do it unconsciously. They build something for themselves and their friends, who happen to be the early adopters, and only realise later that they could offer it to a broader market.”

You can read Graham’s entire blog post, Do Things That Don’t Scale, on his blog www.paulgraham.com.

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Performance & Growth

3 Ways To Promote Business Growth In A Troubled Economy

If you’re running a small business, here are three things you can do to survive and thrive in this tough economic climate.

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It’s a complicated time for South African business owners. According to Xero’s State of SA Small Business 2017 report, 62% have seen a reduction in consumer demand over the past year, and 68% describe economic instability as their most significant challenge. Of course, these problems that entrepreneurs face are not of their making, but they must face them nonetheless.

There is a degree of optimism amongst entrepreneurs which is encouraging: 45% anticipate that business will stay the same over the next year, and 40% expect growth. While this positivity is a good thing, it must be tempered with pragmatism and proactivity.

Related: 3 Strategies To Implement A Culture Of Innovation In Your Business (Without Blowing Billions)

If you’re running a small business, here are three things you can do to survive and thrive in this tough economic climate. 

1Look for cost savings

This is very obvious, but it’s worth repeating. When your business is contending with an ailing economy, it will be forced to make certain choices. Those choices can become more or less difficult depending on how you manage your incomings and outgoings.

Developing the firmest possible handle on your finances is the best defence against external turmoil.

Look for cost savings wherever you might find them. What subscriptions are you still paying for that you no longer need? Which supplier relationships need to be terminated? Are you spending too much on stationery? Aim to eliminate all unnecessary costs: Even if they’re small, they’ll often add up to a larger cumulative saving.

Technology can often help with this process. For instance, cloud accounting software like Xero can take care of financial administration and cash flow related tasks – identifying any areas of discrepancy or waste and ensuring that your resources are being used efficiently. Taking advantage of it is likely prudent. 

2Automate everything

automation

And we mean everything.

Businesses that waste time, waste money. The more energy expended on manual processes and tasks, the less time you have available for vital business or operationally critical processes and tasks. It’s very hard to grow if you’re spending inordinate amounts of your day on repetitive, time-consuming work.

Related: How You Can Profit From Constrained Consumption

When it comes to things like report preparation, data entry, and accounts payable and receivable, it’s worth investigating your automation options. Things like pursuing invoices can now be done with a click of a button and a few strokes of the keyboard. What’s more, they can be handled safely, legally, and efficiently.

Don’t stop there. See what other tasks can also be automated. When you have more time, you have more headspace for the things that really matter to you and your company. 

3Spend wisely

Although it shouldn’t be a rule during trying economic times, it becomes substantially more important during times of unrest. It’s easy to spend money on hires and gadgets in a blind panic, but it’s also dangerous – and can deepen any financial troubles you may have.

Any investment you have, no matter how trivial, should be thoroughly audited for potential profitability. If it won’t help you make money or become more efficient, it shouldn’t be pursued. If there’s a greater than acceptable chance of making losses, save the risk for a time when your business is more profitable.

Related: Has Your Business Stopped Growing? Here’s How To Turn Things Around

Knowing what is and isn’t a sensible investment isn’t always easy. Cloud technology can again be of use here. if you’re considering investing in service desk software, it can generally let you know if the number of resolved queries will result in meaningful cost savings. If you invest in a marketing automation tool, it will let you know if your campaign ROI is likely to exceed the expense.

Navigating the choppy waters of the modern South African economy won’t be easy, but by implementing the above, it will be more than manageable. With financial prudence, process automation, and strategic investment, you can come out the other side even stronger than before.

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Performance & Growth

How You Can Profit From Constrained Consumption

There’s an art to giving new markets access to products that were previously unavailable to them – and growing your business as a result.

Matt Brown

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The ambition to disrupt markets with new innovative products and services is on the rise. This is especially prevalent in Silicon Valley, where entrepreneurs love to talk about disruption  —  though few understand the term.

There is an important distinction between efficient, sustainable and disruptive innovations  —  namely that instead of making products better or more affordable, disruptive innovations give a market access to a product that was previously unavailable to them. Enter constrained consumption.

Constrained Consumption

African consumers are aspirational by nature. The challenge, however, is that the man in the street has to overcome barriers and constraints to achieve their aspirations. If these constraints can be accurately identified by entrepreneurs and brands, they have a huge opportunity to capitalise on them.

Related: Common Mistakes SMEs Make When Looking At Growth Opportunities

The Disruptive Opportunity

When it comes to making a true dent in the world ,  perhaps the biggest opportunity for disruptive innovations lies in emerging markets, where examples of constrained consumption can be found everywhere you look . This represents fertile ground for entrepreneurs and brands to disrupt markets and create monopolies around new innovative products and services.

This opportunity is compounded by the impact of ‘the rising billion’; the estimated three to five billion people who will connect to the Internet for the first time by 2020.

7 Consumer constraints that require innovative solutions that will allow you to access new markets, carve a niche for yourself and grow your business.

Unpacking Constrained Consumption

business-constraints

Below are just a few examples of constrained consumption, and how entrepreneurs and brands can take advantage of them.

1Wealth Constraints

Arguably one of the most common addressable constraints in emerging markets is the wealth constraint. Smartphone adoption in emerging markets is largely constrained by the affordability of smartphone devices. The world’s cheapest Android smartphone (the Freedom 251) by Indian company, Ringing Bells, is a disruptive product that removes this constraint even in remote areas where some consumers earn below $10 a month.

2Access Constraints

There are more people in Africa with access to mobile phones than clean drinking water. The same can be said when it comes to electricity access. In many instances, the ability to charge a mobile phone is restricted, and sometimes non-existent.

The $5 wind-powered phone charger for bicycles, developed by a sixteen year old Danish student, is a disruptive innovation that addresses the access constraint in a simple and DIY fashion.

3Complexity Constraints

If a technology product is complex by nature the technology adoption curve by users is often extended. There are some who argue that the launch of the smartphone has extended the technology adoption curve,  not shortened it.

The reality is that if a complex feature of a smartphone can be transformed into something simpler, and then provided to the constrained users, the technology adoption curve can be shortened or removed. MTN has done this by enabling feature phone users in Africa to access tweets from Twitter via SMS.

4Educational Constraints

South Africa’s population is currently around 55 million people, but, according to 2015 statistics, only 550 127 full-time learners took the National Senior Certificate (NSC). What if this status quo could be disrupted through peer-to-peer video streaming technology, such as Meerkat/Periscope?

By enabling lessons to be streamed to a broader set of remote students, educational barriers could be substantially removed. It could also disrupt the underlying business model, with educational institutions creating an additional revenue stream by charging 25% of the normal tuitional fees to remote students (subscribers).

Related: [PODCAST] Brent Tollman – How To Sell More Using Story Telling And Video

5Health Constraints

The simple act of getting to a medical healthcare professional or doctor is often out of reach for many Africans. The connection of doctors to patients in a remote and digital context can remove this barrier. While the commercial model won’t work in Africa, given its price points, iCouch.me is a Web app that pairs users with healthcare professionals who typically charge between $65 and $90 for 50 minutes of video chat time.

A solution like this would disrupt the entire value chain through partnerships with companies, hospitals, and insurance companies.

6Banking Constraints

The lack of banking infrastructure has seen disruptive mobile banking solutions launch across Africa. Most notable is mPesa in Kenya and EVP Plus in Somalia, but more start-ups are entering financial services with disruptive innovations. Why does this matter?

Access to affordable financial services is linked to increasing economic growth, reducing income disparities, and alleviating poverty. But in most emerging markets, access is limited by high fees, product constraints, and lack of trust. The Barclays Accelerator start-up, GetWala, is on a mission to bring digital banking solutions to emerging markets.

7Funding Constraints

For many start-ups and small businesses in emerging markets, the lack of funding is often a primary barrier to growth. The rise of crowdfunding and social funding has solved the funding dilemma of many start-ups. But the emerging opportunity lies with the traditional institutions and today’s modern disruptive companies. Barclay’s Africa has recently launched its own accelerator and is in the process of opening up its business model to disruptive innovators. Even WeChat Africa has announced its own seed fund for promising mobile start-ups.

Future-proof your business

Disruptive companies that put innovation at the heart of their culture are future-proofing their businesses, and the importance of culture generally increases in proportion to the competition in the market.

Success and profit are largely dependent on the right culture mix. Spotting constrained consumption is just the first step towards realising a disruptive ambition and a pre-cursor to creating a dent in the world as we know it.

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