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The Four Strategic Imperatives for a Sustainable Business Model

AdobeStock_July 8 2024

With the marketplace imposing an increasing number of challenges on organizations, the latter must focus on workforce needs, innovation and education to gain sustainability. 

The four strategic imperatives for businesses and nonprofit organizations interested in creating a sustainable business model are activating human capital, cultivating a caring culture, innovating products and services, and educating customers and stakeholders. Today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) marketplace constantly presents new challenges to an organization’s ability to sustain itself financially. In its 2024 Global Human Capital Trends report, Deloitte observed, “A focus on the human factor is emerging as the bridge between knowing what shifts are shaping the future of work and doing things to make real progress toward putting them into action to create positive outcomes.” With such “a focus on the human factor,” the first strategic imperative for organizations looking to create a sustainable business model concerns activating human capital.   

Activating Human Capital 

The first strategic imperative required for organizations that want to create a sustainable business model is recognizing the critical role employees play. Human capital is the backbone of any organization, and its effective utilization is critical for driving sustainability. As Deloitte noted, “For true sustainability, organizations need to create value for all people connected to them; it’s not just a nice idea-it’s central to better outcomes for organizations and humanity.” Activating human capital involves harnessing employees’ potential through engagement, empowerment and continuous development. In today’s VUCA world, organizations have seen a surge in demand for technological and social and emotional skills among their employees.  

As the World Economic Forum noted in a December 2023 report, continuous learning is essential for preparing the workforce for the future of work. Additionally, a May 2024 survey by McKinsey found that “executives in Europe and the United States expressed a need not only for advanced IT and data analytics but also for critical thinking, creativity, and teaching and training—skills they report as currently being in short supply.” To meet their growing need for a workforce that requires constant learning, upskilling and reskilling, companies plan to focus on retraining workers, more than hiring or subcontracting. Activating an organization’s human capital through engagement, empowerment and continuous learning and development helps an organization implement the second strategic imperative—cultivating a caring culture.  

Cultivating a Caring Culture 

Once human capital is activated, an organization can begin working on the second strategic imperative of cultivating a caring culture. Creating a caring culture within organizations is essential for fostering an environment where employees feel valued and supported, which in turn can lead to enhanced performance, loyalty and overall success. As Tehsin Bhayani wrote in a November 2023 blog post, “Investing in a culture of care demonstrates to employees that the company is committed to creating a supportive environment, where they can thrive and grow in their roles. Providing professional development training and opportunities for growth is the first step in building a culture of care and support.”  

Additionally, noting the significance of cultivating a caring culture in an article published in the January 2024 edition of the Harvard Business Review, researchers concluded, “Creating a caring culture in the workplace helps in retaining talent, boosting morale, and enhancing overall productivity. Leaders need to prioritize empathy and support to build a thriving organizational environment.” Moreover, as Melanie McCluskey wrote in an August 2023 EY blog report, “To bridge the gap between perceived and demonstrated care, leaders can take dedicated steps to support their employees throughout transformations while fostering a culture of empathy and support.” By focusing on empathy, professional development and support, leaders can create an environment that not only enhances employee satisfaction but also drives organizational success. With a caring culture in place, an organization can move on to pursuing the third strategic imperative—innovating products and services. 

Innovating Products and Services 

Cultivating a caring culture, when coupled with activating human capital, can help ignite the third strategic imperative of innovating products and services for an organization to remain vital, vibrant and relevant. By continuously innovating products and services, organizations can adapt to market changes, meet evolving customer needs and stay ahead of competitors. Noting the value of innovating products and services, Chad Brooks, Business Strategy Insider Managing Editor, emphasized the universal importance of innovation when he wrote in a November 2023 post, “One of the keys to business success is coming up with new ideas to keep operations, products, and services fresh. Innovation is the process of bringing those ideas to fruition.”  

Moreover, in a May 2024 article, Georgina Guthrie highlighted the need for organizations to continuously innovate, noting, “Product innovation helps companies stay relevant in their market and continue growing and improving over time. A company’s ability to innovate is considered essential for its long-term viability.” In a February 2024 blog post, the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) observed, “In an era characterized by rapid technological advancements and a constantly shifting economic landscape, business innovation is more than just a buzzword—it’s a critical path to success.” With an eye toward innovating products and services to remain vital, vibrant and relevant in today’s VUCA world, organizations can turn their attention to the fourth strategic imperative of educating customers and stakeholders. 

Educating Customers and Stakeholders 

The fourth and final strategic imperative for an organization to implement is educating customers and stakeholders, including its own leadership and workforce. This step is crucial to ensure all parties involved understand the value and use of new products and services, fostering trust and loyalty, and ultimately driving the organization’s long-term success. When customers, stakeholders and the organization’s workforce are well informed of why they should use a product and how to use it effectively, they are more likely to see its value and continue using it. As noted in a November 2022 blog post on Userpilot, “Customer education strategy shows customers what your software offers and how they can maximize their value. It helps people instantly see the benefits of a product and streamlines product adoption. Without it, customers may wrongly underestimate the true value of your product and churn.”  In a hypercompetitive world, an organization can ill afford to have a customer misunderstand its product or service.  

Moreover, Northpass noted, “From a fundamental level, customer education aims to increase product adoption, engagement, and retention by decreasing time-to-value and empowering customers to learn whenever and wherever they want.” Customer education also benefits internal teams by improving alignment across different functional areas like marketing and sales. Implementing this fourth strategic imperative of educating customers and stakeholders is dependent upon an organization activating the human capital, cultivating a caring culture and innovating products and services. In other words, the sustainability of an organization’s business model depends upon the successful development, implementation and assessment of all four strategic imperatives.  


The four strategic imperatives for creating a sustainable business model are activating human capital, cultivating a caring culture, innovating products and services, and educating customers and stakeholders. In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) marketplace, these steps are essential for financial sustainability and organizational relevance. Activating human capital involves engaging, empowering, and continuously developing employees to harness their potential. Cultivating a caring culture ensures employees feel valued and supported, enhancing performance and loyalty. Innovating products and services keep an organization relevant and competitive by adapting to market changes and meeting customer needs. Lastly, educating customers and stakeholders about new products and services fosters trust, loyalty and product adoption, ensuring the organization’s long-term success.