The workplace as we know it is constantly evolving. The pace of change in business has continued to speed up over the past few decades, and suddenly the amount of new information, operational aids and marketing trends to keep track of is absolutely enormous.
To be successful in this ever-shifting, consumer-centric, globally competitive marketplace, companies themselves need to adapt or face extinction. This is true for many reasons, first among which are customers.
Customers expect the latest technology and performance as standard as soon as they become widely available, and the scope for them to take their custom elsewhere has never been so huge.
Second, businesses which don’t continuously evolve are not able to attract and retain sufficient talent to work with them – which in itself can stall further progress. Companies can quickly find themselves outmoded and sidelined if they aren’t responsive enough to these factors.
The great thing about it is, the particular factors which drive this quest for the new are also enabling small and medium enterprise to gain a level ground with, or even outdo, the large corporations. With less of a hierarchy to reach a consensus, effecting change can be much easier and quicker, and so offering the tailored service that customers prefer is relatively easier to achieve. It’s a real advantage for a smaller outfit to be able to respond to macro and micro trends efficiently.
So what other qualities does a modern business need, in order to not just survive, but thrive?
The Ability To Work Flexibly
No organisation can have a viable future without the right people at the helm, and the right people aren’t going to want to work for a company which still can’t offer a truly flexible approach to working arrangements. The new generation have very different ideas on what constitutes reward and success in the workplace. The idea that a yearly salary hike and a corner office are all that can be offered in terms of benefits is extremely outmoded. The concept of work life balance has conversely become more prized as the global culture accelerates towards always-on, 24-hour availability. Most employees will now prize experience as much as, if not more than, material possessions, and that simply won’t be fulfilled by the rigid presenteeism culture which many businesses still espouse. Truly flexible working is not just a bonus, it’s an expectation of most employees. Enabling this is all about putting the correct tools in place to support anytime-anyplace work. This can include moving systems and documents to cloud storage, which offers security benefits along with being accessible remotely. Tools such as Trello or Slack can facilitate project management and collaboration at a distance. Yearly objectives for staff can be focused away from hours logged to project-based objectives that drive better and smarter performance. A Virtual Phone System allows professional call management from a mobile device at any location. Investing into the software needed to support this way of working will usually result in enhance productivity – as soon as you change the focus to output. People simply don’t need to log hours and hours at their desk, where they frequently aren’t productive anyway. Trust staff to work smarter and in accordance with their own natural rhythm and the results are usually far better. Flexible working becomes a way that the best candidates judge if they even want to work for a company as they attempt to balance their careers with family commitments, other responsibilities and passion projects. It can feel like a big transition for companies more used to the old style of working, but it’s an inevitable change which is rapidly becoming a hygiene factor.
SMEs Lead The Way
No matter the size of your company, survival these days means thinking like an SME. It’s quite a reversal from the days when every small business was trying to disguise its size and imitate a faceless corporate, but the tide has well and truly turned. The same is true again for attracting talent. A blue-chip company used to mean job security and better prospects, but that is definitely not the case anymore. Watching huge firms being forced to make sweeping redundancies in the wake of the global financial crisis shattered that illusion, and the allure of lean startups coming along and disrupting the business ecosystem has seen the best candidates gravitate more towards smaller, more adaptive businesses where they can have a bigger impact. Large organisations now find themselves looking to the small fry for tips on how to operate – moving quicker, constantly trialling new ideas and methods on a smaller scale, changing management styles, flattening traditional hierarchies and become less risk-averse in their approaches. The world will not sit still to wait years for a new strategy development or product launch – refinement is now a continuous process and an ethos that comes from the top.
Power To The People
Social media and connectivity now amplifies ordinary voices. For once, our customers and our employees have as large a say as the upper management or the board of directors. Both can share and become a recognised voice both inside the walls of the business and out of it. The ability to share ideas, frustrations, feedback and concerns is now universal. Companies are finding it much harder to silence persistent internal criticisms or get away with being less than honest about their intentions and operations. Transparency and integrity are the most prized values in this brave new world, and employees and customers are increasingly unafraid to call businesses out on greenwashing or other nefarious practises. Today’s business has evolved into a fully formed organism where management must listen to and act on the concerns of employees and customers rather than attempting to silence them or fob them off.
Make Work Meaningful
Obviously, companies exist to make a profit. But on it’s own, this is no longer enough of a driver to create that essential buy-in which retains the top talent and turns customers into advocates. Any successful business must now have a vision and values which guide their strategy and actions. There needs to be an extra layer of motivation above and beyond drawing a monthly salary. This can take many forms, but being part of a community is a large part of making work satisfying. A modern business fully recognises its role and responsibilities within society and does not expect to exist as an island. Functioning responsibly in the modern business world requires understanding how to be a part of the world around you, and contribute to that world.
Solve One Problem Well
Thinking about what customer needs you can solve is the route to success – and the bigger the problem you solve, the greater your reward. Success can even be found by those companies who take an existing solution and adapt it faster than the current operators – think Uber or Airbnb. Working out how you can solve things for people can be profitable – as long as you don’t completely imagine a problem! Be sure that there is very much a market before trying to come up with a solution. Adequate and continuous market research including focus groups, polls and social listening is the only way to make sure your products or services evolve in the right way and continue to be profitable.
Ask The Right Questions
Any modern business needs to make it an ongoing concern to be sure they are always asking questions – and asking the right questions at that. There is a famous Einstein quote which goes: ‘If I had 60 minutes to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes determining the right question to ask’. Keep this principle at the heart of your business operations in order to stay relevant. The quality of your solution is dependent on the quality of the questions you ask – and if you ask the wrong ones, you are almost certain to get the wrong result. Being prepared in this way also helps you to have a plan B, C and even D – because you simply never know what curveball is lying in wait.
Break Down Those Silos
The other part of having the flexible environment you need to prosper is not standing for territorial or siloed behaviour. This approach is letting internal structures dictate, when actually, every action should ultimately be driven by your customer and what they want. Don’t be afraid to restructure to achieve a cross working organisational chart comprised of small teams empowered to make fast decisions. This allows your business to be resourceful to get things done through ruthless prioritisation, creativity, focus and determination rather than being constrained by artificial divisions in job title and budgets. As a leader you must be driven by an overarching objective and not the short-term goals which some companies seem to delight in. Remember that nobody wins unless everybody wins, and you must strive to define what is preventing you from reaching this goal at every turn. As a leader you must embody the change that you seek in your own organisation.
With your vision, determination and persistence, these changes can become a reality and keep your business on top of it’s game.