What keeps you awake at night?
If you’re an Australian business leader, it’s likely that you worry about how key technological, societal and cultural megatrends are altering the face of business in Australia.
Today I’ll provide you with a comprehensive summary which looks not only at how the world is changing, but what it means for you as a leader.
(Related Article: Unlock Your Leadership Potential With Transformational Leadership).
My aim is to flesh out and examine the key changes; unexamined, they occur as a threat to your business.
When placed under a microscope, they begin to occur as sources of competitive advantage. I think you’ll agree that more of the latter and less of the former leads to stronger business growth, better opportunities and less sleepless nights.
However, technology also has potential to create new jobs (and more interesting jobs).
While not many of us yet know (with certainty) how that cookie will crumble, one thing is becoming clear – we’re entering a period of rapid transition.
Steering companies through this transition will be one of the biggest challenges faced by leaders in the next 10 years.
While things are always changing, the current period of change is expected to be characterised by particularly strong upheaval – because it sits at the intersection of 4 forces:
- increased computing technology, connectivity, data volumes and artificial intelligence
- ascendancy of the peer-to-peer marketplace (Upwork, Freelancer, etc)
- ageing population, cultural diversification, retirement pressures and health issues
- post-mining boom era in Australia resulting in pressure to become a services and advanced knowledge economy
What does it mean for you as a leader?
How will your company, department or team be affected?
How do you lead them through this transition?
Which skills do you need to start cultivating now?
Let’s take a look.
1. HOW CAN I USE DATA TO MAKE BETTER DECISIONS?
Today, every business is a digital business. It means every business has the opportunity to collect – and leverage – data about its customers, employees and competitors.
To do so, companies must first be able to identify, combine, and manage multiple sources of data.
Second, they must develop necessary analytics models for predicting and optimising outcomes.
Third, and most important, business leaders must possess the muscle to transform the organisation – so that the data and models actually yield better decisions.
2. ENTREPRENEURS & STARTUPS: A THREAT OR A SOURCE OF COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE?
We’re entering the era of the entrepreneur. If your ideal job within a large organisation doesn’t exist (or will cease to exist in the near future), you maybe tempted to build an organisation of your own.
Digitally enabled models of lean innovation can threaten large businesses because they operate at low cost and are able to scale up rapidly.
In light of that, how should big businesses engage with small startups? Compete with them? Buy them for the people and technology? Partner and collaborate with them? Invest in them?
3. HOW TO HIRE TALENT WITH NON-TRADITIONAL WORK HISTORIES?
Recruitment practices were developed for the industrial world where round pegs fit in round holes.
Thus, recruiters still look for linear work history in similar roles and education from prestigious universities. Talent which companies need in age of innovation often exists outside those parameters.
4. HOW TO ATTRACT MILLENNIAL TALENT?
The most recent Deloitte Millennial survey found – once again – that Millennials are notorious for expressing very little loyalty to their current employers.
Their loyalty is with their quest for purpose, fulfilment and happiness, rather than a particular employer.
For Millennials money is important (and they enjoy making it), however they also long to be part of something bigger than themselves.
They want to know that their work matters – and need to see how their efforts fit in within the organisational puzzle.
Most importantly, they’re ideological – they want a career that fits in with their personal values. They seek a connection between what they do at work and what they care about in life. They’re not afraid to leave a company if it doesn’t match their values.
For leaders this set of requirements presents a challenge: how to ensure that values that the entire organisation lives by aren’t skin-deep?
How does one build a culture aligned around a shared sense of purpose which goes beyond the share price? How to make the organisation actually care vs pretend to care?
5. HOW REMOTE IS TOO REMOTE?
Can technology be leveraged to work from home? From co-working spaces?
Can technology reduce the cost and stress of overseas travel? Can employees be just as effective remotely? What about the intangibles – idea exchange, ad-hoc meetings, the Google Bump?
How do companies that have done it successfully (Automatikk) differ from companies that refuse to do it (Yahoo)?
6. HOW DO I REACH THE MILLENNIAL CONSUMER?
The Millennial desire to live a life of ideological congruence spills over into their purchasing behaviour.
According to the recent Accenture Millennial Survey, Millennials favour brands which they feel they can trust due to shared values and priorities.
During the 1980’s and 1990’s it was standard practice for brands to demonstrate support for causes through sponsorship and advertising.
Going forward we’ll see more organisations realising that there’s a difference between appearing to care and actually caring; the former requires surface-level marketing and PR efforts while the latter requires core-level organisational change that is felt, understood and embraced by every employee in an organisation.
There will be an increased demand for senior leaders who specialise in such core-level turnarounds.
7. HOW TO EMBRACE AND LEVERAGE DISSIMILARITIES?
Longer working lives and multiple careers lead to situations where a 25-year-old manager has to provide leadership to a 55-year-old team member.
An ex-entrepreneur who never had a “real” job in his life, but has successfully built and sold a company might apply for a job where he has to work alongside people who have “classic” careers.
These could be both a source of tension and opportunity.
8. HOW DO YOU HELP EMPLOYEES DISCONNECT?
The flipside of enhanced connectivity is the damage done by the expectation to be “always on”. Workers are less productive, healthy and happy when are constantly in their heads.
9. HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR COMPANY MORE ATTRACTIVE TO FREELANCERS?
While some Australians are dabbling in peer-to-peer (and freelancer) economy, it’s still in infancy. Expect a huge rise in next 5 years.
Expect the mould for what it means to be a freelancer – i.e., creative or low-skilled worker – to be broken. We’ll see a rise in freelance C-level jobs – e.g., freelance CEO/CFO/CMO/CTO/CHRO.
Mixed engagement models will rise in popularity.
For example, a 20-person startup might hire a CFO in a casual advisory capacity as a freelancer.
As the startup grows that might grow into a semi-permanent agreement, then a profit-sharing or equity-owning full time one.
Overall, this might lead to opportunities for companies to restructure and become more efficient Also, to be able to tap into knowledge and experience of individuals they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.
It will also create problems – accountability, productivity, difficulty with producing meaningful results in short period of time, etc. Question is – for which types of jobs, tasks and industries does freelancer model work well? And where does it not?
10. HOW MUCH OFFICE SPACE DO I NEED?
This brings about questions around demands for office space – will traditional centralised offices give way to alternative arrangements which can be quickly scaled up and down?
In a bigger context, it becomes a question of urban design.
When you don’t have masses of people moving in and out of the city at 9 and 5 how does the need for public transport and road infrastructure change?
11. WHAT NEW SOFTWARE CAN HELP ME IMPROVE MY BUSINESS?
In the past you knew that you had to provide teams with Word, PowerPoint, etc. Now software can augment every part of your business.
How to decide what to pay attention to? Almost every day you learn about another enterprise-level software package – for sales, marketing, onboarding, training, communication, etc.
How to decide which one(s) add value? How to balance adoption of this new technology against costs?
12. WELFARE AND HEALTH OF WORKERS: TO WHAT EXTENT IS IT MY RESPONSIBILITY?
Two-thirds of Australian employees are overweight or obese. Can this be due to poor work/life balance?
13. HOW DO I ENSURE THAT ENTRY-LEVEL PEOPLE ARE ADEQUATELY TRAINED?
Increased use of automated systems is raising the complexity of tasks and requiring higher skill levels for entry-level positions.
This, in turn, will mean that companies will have to bridge the training gaps in-house; this will require people with higher levels of emotional intelligence, social interaction.
14. HOW DO WE WEAN OFF OUR DEPENDENCY ON MINING & RESOURCES?
As Australia enters post-mining boom era, how can companies which have traditionally depended on resources diversify into services, knowledge and innovation imports? How can we reinvent?
15. HOW DO WE PROTECT OURSELVES FROM BIG DISRUPTORS?
One of my favourite cafes in Newtown is Brewtown Newtown. It used to be a Dymocks.
While I love the cafe, I often think about whether Dymocks executives could foresee what Apple, Kindle and Amazon would do to their industry. What will the next Uber and Apple do to yours?
16. HOW TO BUILD INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the early stages of growth. In 2006 there were two billion smart connected devices, in 2015 there were 15 billion devices.
Although expectation wary, Intel predicts that by 2020 there will be about 200 billion devices.
Apple’s iPhone and iPad were not only successful products – they spawned entire new categories of products – music, productivity, photography – even the damn selfie stick.
We’ll see this kind of domino effect happening on an exponential level.
17. HOW DO I CREATE A WORKFORCE WHICH IS COMPLEMENTARY TO ADVANCED ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (INSTEAD OF ONE WHICH COMPETES WITH IT)?
Robots are coming. But that doesn’t mean that you have to lay off 50% of your staff.
Job tasks which are routine, repetitive, structured and rule-based are likely to be automated over coming decades.
Leaders will be responsible for ensuring that their human workforce is hired for creativity, problem-solving, advanced reasoning, complex judgement, social interaction and emotional intelligence.
18. HOW TO PROTECT VULNERABLE DEMOGRAPHICS?
Of course it’s also essential to ensure that training programs are created to equip people whose jobs have been automated with in-demand skills.
The danger of “let’s have robots do all menial jobs” is the potential for elitist hiring practices.
The reality is that not all people will be able – or willing – to transition and upskill.
While it’s important to allow technology to unlock new levels of productivity and value, leaders will be required to provide appropriate safety nets and reasonable protections for people who are not able – or not willing – to fully participate.
19. HOW TO CREATE JOBS WHICH SUIT TAPERED RETIREMENT MODELS?
In a tapered retirement model an employee gradually scales back and changes their duties rather than ceasing work altogether.
How to create a system which enables highly experienced employees to taper off their commitment to a company?
20. HOW TO MARKET IN WAYS THAT REMOVE BARRIERS, RATHER THAN ADDS NOISE?
This statistic, although, impressive, obscures the fact that majority of content marketing efforts produce little ROI.
How, then, to create a sophisticated content marketing strategy which builds real trust between brands and consumers?