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Four years ago I left the comfort of a secure, global agency to pursue a path unknown and, to a degree, untrodden. It was June 2013, and while the social media industry was certainly not new at that time, ignoring social media channels as the first priority to instead focus on building social capabilities and unlock whole-of-business benefits was. Of course, I had very little idea at the time whether there was merit in that approach, but the past four years have proven there is a better way to do business, and it involves the pursuit of social capabilities, not social media channels.
Earlier this year I was honoured and humbled when Propel was selected as one of 200 Businesses of Tomorrow by Westpac from a pool of 2,000+ applicants (page 62/32). In April, we were invited to participate in the subsequent Business Summit, where I was blown away by the quality of Australian thinking, innovation and leadership. Just one of the many stories that stood out at the time (and still does) is Plastic Forests, a business working with the likes of Unilever, Fuji Xerox, Nestle, Inghams, and Tip Top to solve their respective plastic waste problems and achieve ‘zero waste to landfill’ goals for the first time globally. Incredible, world-changing business solutions.
The experience forced me to pause and reflect on Propel and what we represent. Without understating our business, we are not Plastic Forests. Nor are we any of the many greatly innovative or profitable organisations also acknowledged in the group of 200. Yet we are still considered a ‘business of tomorrow’ – why?
We’re a business of tomorrow because we help create businesses of tomorrow.
It is only now, looking back on the past four years and our origins, that I felt it was necessary to put ‘pen to paper’ and try to answer that question. It’s not that Propel is a product of the ‘Imposter Syndrome’, as Mike Cannon-Brookes shared recently on the TEDxSydney stage – it’s simply that we are not creating anything new, futuristic or…‘tomorrow-y’.
But we are a business that helps other organisations do just that.
From Westpac’s own Businesses of Tomorrow microsite: ‘We can’t see the future, but we’re celebrating 200 businesses shaping it.’ I love this statement. In my eyes, that perfectly captures the role Propel plays with our clients. We do not have all the answers, and we certainly aren’t the most intelligent people in the room. We do not know our clients’ industries better than they do, or know which products will fly off the shelves. And we do not know what the future of business will look like in Australia, New Zealand or around the globe.
We can’t see the future. But we do know – and have absolute confidence – that our approach to building social capabilities across all organisations will answer these questions and lead to better business and consumer outcomes.
Social capabilities provide the foundations for business success and innovation.
Building social capabilities means preparing and equipping your organisation for what lies ahead. It means changing existing mindsets and preconceptions of ‘social’ from channels through which things are done, towards a new way of doing business altogether – decisions informed by real-time consumer data; authentic, collaborative partnerships; and an empowered workforce that understands not just the now-commonplace tools and technologies, but ‘why’ they exist and how best to implement them based on the problems they are trying to solve.
Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Show him how to catch fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
We’ll continue to equip our clients for tomorrow, but we, too, must evolve our thinking. As rugby legend John Eales reminded us during his session at the Businesses of Tomorrow Summit, it is not a privilege that clients or customers use our products or services – it is a privilege to have them as customers. If you’re a client or partner of ours, you’ll very likely hear from me in the coming weeks as we seek your guidance and input to improve our service. I welcome your feedback and believe it is vital to our own future. In partnership, we look forward to improving and tackling tomorrow with you and your team.