If there is one thing we’ve learned this past year is that change is far more rapid and inevitable than ever before.
With the recent COVID-19 pandemic proving to many that change can have overnight impact on business and the economy at large, “future-proofing” your business has never been more relevant or more critical for survival and long-term success.
By future-proofing, we mean designing your business model in such a way that it remains agile so as to diminish the potential negative consequences of change on your activity. A great example of this is making sure your business remains on top of new technology that affects your industry.
But how do you keep up?
This 10-step guide, divided into 3 sections, will break down the biggest factors that are changing how the world works and what to do about them.
Rising up to the challenge
1. Get smart, get digital
Digital disruption is one phenomenon that reflects just this.
Keeping up with digital disruption requires your literacy and proficiency with technology to be not only extensive, but also dynamic.
Everything from artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and big data to additive manufacturing, advanced robotics, and synthetic DNA is evolving as we speak.
Blockchain, for example, is an open, tamper-proof system that is transforming everything from simple banking, to procurement, to legal management. This will further popularise cryptocurrency, increase security and transform the way we handle finances. Meanwhile, in the e-commerce and retail sector, Afterpay is making waves by allowing consumers to make purchases large or small with ease and peace of mind.
But digital savviness is also of great importance when it comes to optimising collaboration across teams, departments, and offices, even more so now that most companies have adopted flexible working arrangements.
Remote working, for example, has revolutionised the way many of us work and pushed us to embrace new tools and processes that we too often ignored. As a result, many employees have found new and better ways of working, making them more productive and efficient than before!
Naturally, when industries and structures evolve, the market has to adapt which naturally creates the opportunity for new trends to emerge.
2. Respond to trends ASAP
“The best time to invest was yesterday.”
Speaking of trends, this logic refers to the importance of acting quickly in business and striking while the iron is hot.
It’s essential to be quick on your feet and have your finger on the pulse of both markets and consumers.
Consumers are more empowered than ever, with instant access to information and discussion platforms. When consumers voice their opinions and expectations, businesses should listen and adapt accordingly.
Currently, a whopping 55% of millennials would pay more for goods and services from socially and environmentally responsible companies, and yet only 23% of Australian businesses consider corporate social responsibility a top priority in their business strategy.
As we can see, empowered and outspoken consumers will put pressure on your company. But their opinion is a highly valuable resource, as it reflects broader shifts and trends to point your business and marketing initiatives in the right direction for the future.
3. Embrace globalisation
From here to Timbuktu (yes, that’s a real place!), globalisation is quite literally sweeping the globe.
As a result, it’s now almost become a prerequisite to have a global perspective and cater to global markets, even if your company isn’t yet servicing the world.
This also presents a great opportunity to explore new trade scenarios and compare your business strategies and tactics in other countries.
Additionally, navigating different cultures and customs will encourage you to practise effective and mindful intercultural communication.
However, it’s important to note that even the nature of globalisation is changing. The last wave of globalisation concentrated largely on access to foreign markets and cost-effective global supply chains. However, with the COVID-19 crisis restricting global travel, we’re now experiencing a shift towards virtual globalisation.
According to CEO of GE Jeff Immelt, we can expect:
“Globalisation that is less centralised, more geographically differentiated, more digitally interconnected, more cognisant of social impact, and focused on building local capabilities rather than exploiting labour cost differentials.”
As mentioned before, technologies will play an integral role in this process. Advanced manufacturing continues to transform the supply chain roadmap and enabling flexibility in production. Similarly, software, sensors, and analytics are reshaping value creation between products and services.
Understanding the market
4. Learn from the underdogs
In a market saturated with multinational corporations and conglomerates like Coca-Cola Amatil, P&G, LVMH, and Toyota, it’s easy to focus on the big fish in the game with household names and ironclad trade positions.
But why, then, is “entrepreneur” fast becoming the word of the decade?
The answer is fresh eyes and fresh outlooks. These young creators know their target audience and aren’t afraid to experiment with their marketing and business development strategies.
Entrepreneurs and their start-ups are shaking up the business world. They’re creative yet practical, jumping on pain points in each industry and devising a solution that keeps everyone happy.
Many start-ups which aim to bring power to the people have been especially successful. Ride-sharing platform Uber, for example, recognised a gap in the market and wasted no time in addressing it.
5. Don’t just compete, stand out
If you study start-ups and emerging small businesses, you may notice that those paving the way forward are the ones doing things differently.
Creativity isn’t just for those who work in the creative industry. You shouldn’t be afraid to innovate and experiment.
If you really want to shake things up, the “move fast and break things” mantra touted by HP’s BusinessNow series may just be the inspiration you need.
Within the confines of a traditional corporate structure, it’s easy to play it safe and think inside the box. The entrepreneurial world is a little different: risk is inevitable, failure is admirable, and innovation is indispensable.
So, sometimes it’s okay to break the rules. Remember ‘80s hair? Yes, that was once contemporary and in fashion. The way things are done today may not be the same tomorrow.
6. Set clear development goals
By definition, future-proofing or building your business for the future requires planning ahead. This means sitting down and setting clear goals and objectives for you, your business, and your team.
Forecasting risks, envisioning changes and devising plans to execute these could make all the difference.
In doing so, also aim to be transparent with your plans by sharing OKRs, KPIs, and overall ambitions with your company. This is key as it not only actively involves your team but also demonstrates clear vision. It is a powerful gesture to invest in human capital.
As such, investing in the HR component of your business will give it the tools to continue to develop and stay up-to-date.
Many leaders today are realising that great business development can take just as much modesty as it does confidence. Being modest and self-reflexive about areas for improvement is a sign of flexible, and therefore future-proof, thinking.
In this sense, it may also be wise to outsource certain aspects of your business operations to professionals in the field. This can boost productivity, reduce risk, ensure compliance, and ultimately leave you with the time and energy to focus on what you do best.
7. Utilise data for better operations and client service
With all the data analysis software available today (from CRM to social media), there’s no excuse for not collecting relevant data and using it to optimise your business.
Wherever possible, be thorough with data collection and use tools to turn your conclusions into active plans for improvement.
You could harness this information to improve everything from internal communications and productivity, to client service, to audience targeting and marketing strategy.
Cultivating a Timeless Workplace
8. Reinforce company values
Stay true to your company values and mission. Remember to make these clear to your staff to ensure that you are building your company ethos and actively inviting your employees to be proud ambassadors of your brand.
To set your business apart in future, employer branding here is key. Show why great talent should choose your business over another.
9. Redefine leadership and management
Today’s great leaders take a different approach to leadership. The traditional ‘lead by command’ technique is no more.
In fact, some managers are redefining themselves as leaders and coaches, taking the extra step to engage with their teams and learn where their strengths lie.
Constantly learning not only from those on their level, but also from the people that they are responsible for.
10. Motivate & empower your employees
As our workforce continues to transition to more remote working, building workplace trust is fundamental for creating a collaborative, productive and happy work environment.
The modern workplace advocates for diversity and offers flexibility. Cultivating diversity in the workplace is exemplary of dynamic, future-proof businesses.
The way we work is also changing, meaning flexibility is now almost a given for employees. Consider promoting work-life balance, team building activities, giving back initiatives, remote working, job sharing, and alternative work conditions.
Unlike what the majority of the media has been communicating during the COVID-19 pandemic, change shouldn’t be feared, but rather, be embraced.
Whilst this may be true, preparing for the worst and ensuring there is a plan in place for when things get tough is essential. Because although change can create new opportunities, the transition phase is almost never smooth sailing. Ultimately rising up to continuous challenges whilst upholding your core principles and values will definitely play in your favour!.
So what steps will you take to make your business stronger tomorrow? How about throughout the next decade?