To Have Influence, a Company Must be Resilient

 Resiliency is an emerging trend in corporate management – effective leaders are striving to put the systems and processes in place to ensure their companies can thrive in an increasingly complex world buffeted by natural disasters, nation-state conflict, and an unsettling political environment.
However, resiliency is about more than just being able to withstand a crisis or remain profitable in an unpredictable world. As Gary Hamel and Liisa Välikangas write in Harvard Business Review, “It’s about continuously anticipating and adjusting to deep, secular trends that can permanently impair the earning power of a core business. It’s about having the capacity to change before the case for change becomes desperately obvious.”

The Importance of Long-Term Thinking
A company with a mindset that is more focused on short-term profit maximization than long-term value creation will never be resilient. If a company is operating without keeping the future in mind, it will never build a reputation strong enough to withstand a crisis, develop customers into loyal advocates for the brand, or have leaders that think strategically enough to adapt before the case for change becomes obvious.
Instead, resilience is about a company built and managed for the long-term, with a culture that demands accountability, strategic thinking, good governance, and meaningful engagements with key audiences such as investors, employees, customers, policymakers and community leaders.

The Ultimate Objective
While a business model defined by resilience is a critical goal for any corporation (after all, who wants to be part of a company destined to flame out in a few years?), resilience is only the means to the end.
The ultimate objective is influence – the ability of a corporation to use its business model to achieve lasting, transformational change to achieve a better society. Building influence takes time, and creating positive outcomes takes even longer. A company that is not resilient will never achieve influence. It will never have the opportunity to transcend its industry and its business model for something bigger, bolder and more impactful.
Companies like Apple, Nike, Microsoft and Walmart are becoming resilient and with business models better able to adapt to a rapidly changing world. They are taking innovative approaches to supply chain management, reimagining their operations to maximize resources and eliminate waste, investing in employees and engaging the public in a constructive manner. All of this is being done with an eye toward the future. These companies want ensure they are more successful tomorrow than they are today – despite the considerable risks and pitfalls that tomorrow promises to bring.
It is no coincidence that these are the companies leading their industries – along the way, they (and others like them) have created substantial influence for themselves. Their work goes beyond the walls of the company and transcends geographies, cultures and governments. They have the expertise and authority to collaborate with the private sector, the public sector, and the cause sector to drive meaningful change to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Moreover, those companies are committed to being transparent in their efforts so that others can learn, make improvements, and further scale the opportunities for positive change.

What the Public Thinks
The public wants companies to use their influence for good, but is skeptical about companies’ motives. Research conducted by for Handshake in early January 2017 found that:

  • Only 38 percent of Americans think that it “a good thing” when a corporation uses its influence generally.
  • 50 percent of Americans think it is “a good thing” when a corporation uses its influence to advance its business interests. 

However, when corporations can tie the use of their influence directly to outcomes that benefit society, the American public is much more willing to give them credit for their work. For example:

  • 85 percent of Americans think it is “good thing” (with 34 percent saying it is “definitely a good thing”) when a corporation uses its influence to solve a problem that benefits society as a whole and its business interests.
  • In contrast, only 8 percent of Americans see influence used to solve societal problems as a bad thing.

Shaping the Conversation 
Taken together, our initial research shows that the American public is just as willing to go negative as positive in its perceptions of corporate influence. Unless corporations proactively shape the definition of influence and are quite clear in describing the positive impact of their influence, the public will not grant them much credit for their work. 
Companies must present a complex case to the public – and that is something not done in a single conversation. In order to give a company credit for its influence in a way that benefits its reputation and bottom line, the public must see that the work of the company directly translates into positive outcomes. The public will likely be suspicious at first. Thus, the outcomes must be real, identifiable, and not just a “flash in the pan.” It is a long and arduous process, one that is only achieved through acting on a long-term vision. 
Thus, resiliency and influence are inextricably linked. The ability of a corporation to achieve the influence necessary to be a transformative force for good with a strong public reputation is dependent on its ability to be resilient in a challenging global environment. If a company is not resilient, it will never be around long enough to gain the knowledge, credibility, and financial capital necessary to create influence and use it to benefit society.