Melbourne Business School News Social issues key to business survival and relevance

Social issues key to business survival and relevance

Social challenges represent as much, if not more, disruption to business as economic or other major shifts in the external environment, according to Melbourne Business School Professor Ian Williamson.


Speaking at the recent World Business Forum in Sydney, Professor Williamson said organisations must develop competitive actions to address social challenges, just like they do with economic challenges.

“We’re talking about survival and relevance. We will only go as far as our community allows us,” he said.

In Professor Williamson’s eyes, organisational survival boils down to three leadership factors: awareness, motivation and capability around social issues.

Awareness requires understanding the social issues facing the communities your organisation serves – accepting them and considering the opportunities they create.

Citing the underutilisation of Australia’s workforce, Professor Williamson spoke of the opportunity to fill skills gaps with older workers, migrants, indigenous people, women and people with a disability.

“Anytime you can do more things for more people, you create value. Social challenges to business are opportunities, not threats,” he said.

Professor Williamson’s own experience and research has shown that a diverse workforce is linked to innovation and high performance. Not only does it open an organisation to a broader pool of talent, it enhances understanding of market segments and unlocks creativity, allowing innovative ideas to flow.

Professor Williamson says leaders should consider how social issues impact their business processes and how they can address social issues to create value for their firm and the communities they serve – an approach he defines as assessing motivation.

From there, assessing organisational capability is critical for leaders. To address social issues,
Professor Williamson suggests looking at the skillsets and expertise required to initiate action, determining the individuals and organisations that possess them, and forming partnerships to access the human and capital resources required.

“Innovation stems from the combination of complementary expertise, unwavering obligation to community and connection to community,” Professor Williamson said.

Leading an organisation through the complexities of social issues is challenging, but Professor Williamson makes us believe it’s possible to “adapt, survive and thrive”.

Melbourne Business School wishes Ian Williamson all the very best as he takes up a position as Pro-Vice Chancellor and Dean of Commerce, Victoria Business School at Victoria University, Wellington. We look forward to his continued involvement as an esteemed Adjunct Professor at MBS.