It’s impossible to be a social enterprise—a company that serves both a social and a business purpose—without respecting the newfound power of the individual. Individuals are one of the three key macro forces driving the rise of the social enterprise, alongside expectations that businesses will step in to lead on society’s biggest issues and the impact of rapid technological change.

From social media likes to in-person protests and everything in between, the individuals who make up today’s workforce wield more power and influence than ever before. Stopping this movement is not an option, so organizations should consider joining it.

The loyal career employee is being replaced by a new breed of worker intent on reshaping the workplace to be more in line with individually held values. How did individuals gain the power to fundamentally impact business? A few factors are at work:

  • Demographics—Millennials and Gen Z have the numbers, the platform, and the convictions to influence businesses as both employees and consumers. They make up the majority of the workforce in many countries, are digital natives with near-constant social media presence, and feel strongly about the role business should play in society. The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey—which included Gen Z respondents for the first time—indicates a sharp contrast between what respondents believe businesses should do and what they perceive businesses are actually doing. And this mismatch appears to affect their loyalty and longevity with an employer.
  • The transparency of a hyper-connected world—Having the world at our fingertips means we can instantly research and receive information about the companies we buy from, work for, and invest in. And the social media revolution has provided the platform for us to express our opinions about what we’ve seen, read, or experienced and to join with others in taking a stand for or against a cause or company action.
  • War for talent—Historically low unemployment rates and the demand for skilled workers give individuals more power to choose their employers and “vote with their feet” when workplaces fall short of their needs or expectations.

From workforce to driving force
With so many new factors in play, traditional approaches no longer apply. The persistent surge in the individual’s power requires a more intense and defined focus on all segments of the workforce—full- and part-time workers, contractors, gig workers, talent networks, and service providers. That means actively listening to what they want and need, and revamping approaches in four essential areas:

  • Career models:Time to recognize the death of the corporate ladder and help your workers pursue the 21st-century career experiences they crave. Leading organizations are replacing linear pathways with dynamic models that empower individuals to acquire an array of valuable experiences, explore new roles, and continually reinvent themselves.
  • Workforce ecosystems:The workforce has broken through old boundaries to become a diverse ecosystem of workers and service providers. Driving real value from and through the ecosystem requires organizations to understand the new rules of engagement with workers of all kinds and embrace nontraditional views of the employer-worker relationship.
  • Worker longevity:Life is getting longer and retirement is getting shorter. More and more people are staying in the workforce far beyond their sixties, creating a five-generation workplace that is likely here to stay. Attracting and retaining top talent of every age and empowering them to do valuable and rewarding work will require redesigning of workplaces to accommodate their diverse, age-related needs and interests.
  • Rewards:In a competitive labor market of diverse and vocal individuals, listening closely and responding thoughtfully are a must. This is particularly true for rewards programs, which can play a critical role in the building of effective and authentic relationships with every segment of the workforce ecosystem. The trick is knowing how to address and calibrate the needs of employees, on the balance sheet and off—including how, and whether, to set benchmarks.

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