These trends hit home. Some of them are more specific and some are more strategic, but they all have the potential for a direct impact on your business in 2024. What are you doing about them? Have you included them in your playbook? They fall into two categories: People and Technology. These are issues that need to be part of your strategic playbook and these areas are growing in importance in strategic discussions. That doesn’t mean we aren’t focused on the customer, but rather focused on how we better serve them. We need the right people and value-adding technology to outperform others.
People: In an earlier blog titled The Secret of Life I shared with you that the biggest gamechanger this year will be people and a culture driven process that can help elevate individual and overall performance.
- What is the future of the hybrid worker? Will more people be coming back to work? According to the Kansas City Business Journal (January 5-11, 2024 issue) the answer is yes. About 34% of this year’s CEO respondents envision workers in hybrid positions, down from 45% last year. A KMPG survey reported that 62% of respondents think employees whose roles used to be based in the office will again be working in the office in the next three years—compared to only 34% who thought that in 2022. Further, the KMPG study stated that 90% are willing to provide incentives for that return. What is your current policy? Is it working well for you? Are you able to effectively evoke training, collaboration, and culture? If not, what might change and when?
- Which employees do we invest in? Coming off of the Great Resignation we often feel lucky snagging a new hire only to find out that they may not be as committed to the success of the company as much as just collecting a paycheck. According to a Gallup survey of workers aged 18 and older taken in June 2022, quiet quitters “make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce—probably more.” The percentage is particularly high among workers under age 35, Gallup reported. Working side by side with those who are underperformers is likely to demoralize high performers. Even more so when the company decides to invest extra money in training, morale boosting, and financial retention strategies for this group. Rather, resources will be more effective if allocated to top performers. Ask yourself this tough question. “How many A players do we have on board?” Most of my clients haven’t been impressed with their own stats. Even less so when considering they can probably accomplish as much or more with less people if those people are all “A’s”. While it may not be realistic to have only rockstar employees, how are you supporting them by creating a high-performance environment in which they will thrive? It may drive out lower-level performers while increasing your overall return, likely improving a key productivity and cash flow factor of Revenue $/FTE (Full-time equivalent). It is time to assess where your development and incentive dollars are going.
- How do we establish trust in a volatile society? This is going to be a highly charged political year in which people are likely to be fed up, or downright angry. While we don’t want to get distracted from our businesses, we do need to consider the impact this may have on them. The obvious one is how political platforms will impact our businesses opportunities and markets. More subtle but equally important is determining how it will impact the office, the employees and the general level of anxiety and angst. While many companies don’t want to take sides, it has been found that organizations that embrace progressive social trends to “fit in” rather than as a deep-seated reflection of cultural values find that it backfires. Studies show that employees would rather that their organization not take a stance they are not prepared to support with their actions, as long as there is communication and transparency around the issue. Being clear about core values creates trust. One of my favorite mantras is that communication is one of the most effective tools to align an organization anytime, but especially during difficult times—and it is free. What is your communication plan for this year? How do you anticipate the political climate impacting your employee base and how do you plan to manage it? Anticipation is vitally important in strategy and communication.
Technology: One thing we know for certain, it is a constantly moving target. Are you actively deploying it –large or small—to keep your organization ahead of the curve? One test for a good strategy is whether your firm is beating the market average for performance. If technology is not an active part of your strategy, it may be difficult to achieve that outcome.
- Artificial intelligence is here to stay. It is embedded in so many things we use today and it’s advancing every day. ChatGPT is something I have used to title a book, write a poem to accompany a gift, and plan an overseas trip. And I am not a high-tech person! What do you think is causing your Facebook or internet feed to be littered with ads for things you have mentioned in front of Alexa’s eavesdropping audio or googled on your laptop? We have a family charity, Alison’s Angels, and my son mentioned using AI to send us leads on people who might need our services based on publicly available information. Sophisticated companies are using predictive sales models, cobbling together insights from customers’ internet searches, industry statistics, and like-type behavior characteristics. And the list goes on! It can’t be clearer. It is not an option. It is when and how, not if. Investing in AI literacy and identifying ways to leverage it in your business is critical and even urgent. It is scary and there is danger in getting it wrong. So, start with learning how it works, then setting a strategy for how to deploy it the right way. Used correctly, it is a gamechanger. Those who don’t run a risk of quickly shedding sales to new or more enlightened entries in their market space. Check out this recent blog on AI.
- Speed matters. There may be instances where speed is not a competitive advantage, but I am hard pressed to think of one. And I wouldn’t have said that a decade ago. Speed is a relative term. What constitutes “speed” changes based on the environment in which we are surrounded. Today speed has evolved to mean “right now”. Customers want an immediate response to email. We want our ordered products to arrive tomorrow. We text almost continuously to communicate. We want a diet where we can lose a lot of weight fast! Conversely, we don’t want to sit on a service call and wait for an hour to talk to someone. We don’t want to be told an item is out of stock. We don’t like having to wait our turn for resources to be available for a project. In fact, the speedier the response the more likely you may be to win the deal or close the sale. The more systems that are automated, the better chance your organization has for speed. But wait…there is a downside. Automation can take out the human touch. If you thrive on customer service, there may be a need to balance the two. That is where discernment driven by knowledge of the market, the trends, the customer, come into play. Focus on the concept of insightful agility—the ability to do things quickly but that add value to the user whether that is an internal user or an external customer. Find a few things each year that you can speed up to add value to the game and you will reap the reward—in revenue, in customer retention and acquisition, and employee satisfaction.
As you evaluate the year ahead, you may add other key topics that are critical to address, like the economy and interest rates or perhaps industry or market specific challenges or opportunities. Good for you. That is effective leadership to anticipate those things that will have the most bearing on your business. It is imperative that your team has your list and handles it strategically. Anticipation and planning are the forerunners of doing. If you want to act, be sure to aim not just fire. Here are a couple of oversimple, but very effective, questions to ask your leader group about each trend identified.
- What is the “so”? What is the trend, the data points, and the rationale for strategic evaluation?
- What is the “so what”? This question captures the impact that the “so” is likely to have on your industry, your company, your stakeholders. Who will win and who will lose? How is it an opportunity or a challenge?
- What is the “now what”? Once you know the impact you are ready to determine what is your play. Is it an immediate action item and if so, where does your organization want to align? Is it something you can defer to a later time? Finally, what contingencies might you consider in case Plan A doesn’t work?
For a more specific list of potential disrupters and how they might impact your company, I would be happy to help you think it through so that you have a record 2024!