Like the waning and waxing of the Moon there is a time to grow and burn bright and there is a time to slow down and take things a little more quietly. These are to be found in all parts of our cosmos. It is the way of Nature; the natural rhythm of life.
Is it not strange that we resist this?
Is it not somewhat bizarre that our lives are oriented towards acquiring things often with no more of an incentive than the need to own them?
Why is it that we feel the need to be continuously on full charge going forward except for whatever leave period we allow ourselves instead of running in rhythm with the natural world?
How come organisations are so good at starting new things but not very good at getting rid of old things?
Perhaps it is the fear of losing out? Or just plain old habit? We get so used to the way things are that we don’t even consider getting rid of stuff, or changing direction.
So we would like to look at the possibilities of cleaning out our cupboards literally and figuratively in a way that contributes to a more positive future, and in manner which fits with the natural rhythms of the world.
There are probably only two ways of tackling this:
Just start somewhere with anything and then keep going until you either feel exhausted or until you have exhausted all the immediately available options.
Or consider what the end result would look like and feel like in a perfect world.
You can make up your own mind which will be the most effective in the long run although both will probably work for in the short term.
It will be much more effective however and you will enjoy better long term benefits if you take the long view from the beginning and spend some time thinking about what end result you would most like to achieve.
When you build a home it is unlikely that you will start with the roof! You would usually conceptualise the whole structure within the environment and context in which it is to be located. In the process we would decide on what sort of roof we want; what design; and what it should be made of.
The best way to tackle your organisation, your own life and indeed the cupboards and garage and storage facility is to follow the same path to the end result. What is it that you want at the end? Or put alternatively: Why do you need to clean out the cupboard?
There can be a host of answers to this question!
Many, maybe even most, organisations undertake a regular strategic review of their business and products. This is good and well. Seldom is there a conscious cleaning out. Usually it is aimed at what we can do better, more efficiently, more productively…….what can we do more of at lower cost.
What would you do if you were to start the company now knowing what you know about it and the market place it serves? What would you do differently? What would you not do at all? How would the company be configured? These are the questions that are very difficult to confront but are all very necessary for the long term viability, vigour and sustainability of the organisation.
And if get into the habit of making these clean-outs to form part of the natural rhythm of the business, of your life, you will create space to grow and be innovative instead of being burdened by the baggage of the past!
Like the waning and waxing of the Moon there is a time to grow and burn bright and there is a time to slow down and take things a little more quietly. These are to be found in all parts of our cosmos. It is the way of Nature; the natural rhythm of life.
Years ago I had the pleasure and privilege of spending some time chatting with Professor Charles Handy one of the most prominent management and organisational philosophers of all time.
He is famous for many important ideas that now permeate the organisational dialogue as though it has always been there.
One that resonates particularly strongly at this time is his idea that “a company ought to be a community, a community that you belong to, like a village. Nobody owns a village. You are a member and you have rights.” This is a powerful idea and one buried deeply in the DNA of all of us. People have lived in villages for millennia while companies have only been around for a couple of centuries. Some villages have grown into cities while others have disappeared off the landscape. There are, of course, many contributing factors but the concept of the village and the villagers taking care of their own is a powerful one. One that many organisations today would do well to pay attention to.
One of the biggest dangers for people at all levels but particularly those at executive level is the trap of busy-ness. The intense focus on ‘working’ hours; the virtual requirement to work beyond normal working hours; the expectation that you should take calls and respond to emails at any hour of the day or week is just that – it is a trap. Expecting people to Work harder and harder is self-defeating. It forces people to abandon rational behaviour and put themselves, their colleagues and the company at risk. Exhausted, over-worked, burnt-out, busy people begin to make mistakes, to take short cuts and these are all the start of the steady downhill spiral.
Of course there are times when long hours and intense focus and concentration are required, but these should not be the norm because if it is then the organisation is increasingly deprived of its most powerful resource – the thinking power, innovativeness, and resourcefulness of its people. Tired people cannot perform at the top of their game for a sustained period. Just watch any sportsman or -woman and you will see this to be true.
Tim Cohen wrote an article in Financial Mail March 9 2016. He was commenting on the demise of Anglo American and quoted an Anglo insider as saying: “It’s so odd, Trahar worked hugely hard, but didn’t take enough time to just think. Nicky Oppenheimer really didn’t expend much effort, but did find time to think. In the end, the difference was immense”.
In conversations that I had with Handy he made similar comments indicating that executives in whatever business who consciously did not put time aside for thinking inevitably would be left behind and their businesses, or parts of a business, would suffer.
As a consultant I see this often. There is such a focus on delivery now that sight is lost of the future coming at us like tsunamis and at an ever-increasing speed. Often it would be much wiser to stop the train, consider the future and context and to make long term decisions that have at least the possibility of avoiding the tsunami, and maybe even the chance of harnessing its energy. Just battening down the hatches and waiting for it to pass could well leave you worse off than before its arrival!
It is all very well to just think you may well say. Random thinking is also not going to be very productive. If you add to this mix that very few of us have actually been taught to think and to use tried and tested thinking skills it becomes a little like shutting the individual in a light-tight room and switching off the lights. You can see nothing and do not have any idea of which direction to walk in.
The starting point of thinking time is to focus on an issue and to imagine the perfect end result of whatever that issue is. Once you have that perfect and ideal picture in your mind work back from there imagining again all the steps that you would have to take to get back from the future to where you are now. Do that a few times and it is highly likely that new doors of opportunity will begin to open.
So thinking time is not just random thoughts floating in your head, it is the intense use of dedicated time to think about the future and how to get there.
You can do this with your team. It makes for a wonderful team-building experience.
Imagine your company as the world leader?! What does it look like? How do we get there if we plan back from the future?
It definitely cannot happen unless you make time to think.
As Einstein said: “The height of insanity is to expect anything to be different if you repeat the things you do today again tomorrow and the day after that again and again. If you want something to be different tomorrow you have to change what you are doing today”!
2017 will be interesting!
It is going to be a year of change, uncertainty, politicking, and opportunity.
It might be possible to say that about most years but let us consider just some of the activities that will affect us both at home and abroad.
Globally there will be change.
Trump will bring his own form of unpredictable dynamism to bear on World affairs; we have not seen even half of the impact that Brexit will have economically and politically, not only on Europe but also on our own country and its neighbours; we are in a year of elections and election fever both in our own country, on the continent and abroad.
Our economy teeters on a knife edge.
It has often been said that killing poverty will be done by the growth of small businesses and not by big corporates and certainly not by government. Indeed we have seen in our own country how government has done much to hamper and even smother business at all levels but especially small business.
But…..there are encouraging signs of positive growth. Commodity prices have been moving upwards – this is a sure sign that the big economies are starting to grow again; civil society is becoming more and more vocal and is not prepared to be quiet when politicians and others behave badly; our press remains vocal and alert; there is significant evidence to suggest that here and overseas more and more of the important work of growing the country is being devised and executed at local level while the politicians and bureaucrats in the centre fiddle. These are good signs and creative opportunities for communities and individuals to engage and grow.
So, here are some things we can do in 2017 to grow and develop ourselves, our society and our economy.
1. Fix your Mindset; Have a Clear Vision of the Future
There is little more demeaning and self-defeating than a victim mentality! When one listens to the public discourse it often seems that we South Africans are increasingly becoming whingers and the victims of politics, the economy, crime, others who do not like us (they and them), our neighbours, other countries, the police and on and on. How does this help?
If you fix your mindset and consider what you can do to change just the space around you positively, you will at the same time be helping your community, yourself and the country. You will be creating opportunities and this is what our country needs more than anything.
Have a sense of hope, spread this hope and be joyful about life. It really is worth living!
2. Be Courageous
Leadership can be lonely but does not have to be!
Courage is required to lead, certainly, but the rewards are worth the effort especially if you work hard at surrounding yourself with like-minded people who also want to make change happen in a positive way. The intrinsic essence of leadership is to take people on a journey that they would probably not have thought of themselves but become excited by the journey itself and the destination you have defined with them. It is important to constantly challenge yourself and your team to seek new, different and better outcomes that benefit most. It has often been said that the happiest people are not those who have the most money but those who focus on doing as much as they can for others.
In fact, what may be true about great wealth is that it enables one to be unhappy in comfort!
3. Make Creativity your Centrepoint
If ever there was time for innovativeness and creativity it is now and it is especially necessary in the South Africa of today.
We CANNOT leave the future to the politicians. We know they are incapable and probably also unwilling to really work hard at creating a better future for all. This has become increasingly the domain of the private sector and civil society. Even the government when it is in real trouble calls on the private sector and civil society for help. This does not mean that we should exclude the government. No, indeed the opposite is true. We must take the lead and include, engage and involve government in building a better society for all.
Just to be clear – society starts with you. You are the centrepoint of all of society that is relevant to you so do not start your journey looking to others to provide direction for the things that are important to you. Start with yourself and engage those that want to travel the journey with you and as the journey progresses involve all the relevant stakeholders in your journey to make it a success. We need successes to share!
There is no way you would be able to summit Mount Everest unless you are prepared to persevere, hang in there, keep going. Especially when the going gets rough and tough!
It is in conditions like this that leadership really counts. Leadership is about leading. It is what leaders are called to do.
As a leader your job is to make things happen.
As a leader the most important resource you have is your team and in tough times one of your most critical jobs is inculcate this attitude of persevering against all odds. This they will do more successfully and with more determination if you continually fill them with the lightness of hope.
It is the hope of reaching the summit that has kept mountaineers going when the odds seem to be totally stacked against them.
5. Spread the Love
There is too much animosity in the world. We are all too angry about too much. Some of us are angry but we are not sure what we are angry with, or at, or about.
We really need to change this mindset. Anger is a useless emotion which usually leads nowhere, other than to some negative end. Why continue with something that offers no benefit in modern society?
We all, and especially leaders need to find ways to love and to spread this sense of love and caring as widely and as vigorously as possible. We need to build a society that looks for opportunities to be of service to others. We need an attitude of abundance as this will lead to a greater propensity to share generously, of our time, expertise and resources.
6. Live and Work IN the World
The world is truly a village. But it is a village of increasing complexity which simultaneously becomes more accessible and more opaque; bigger and smaller; faster and slower; closer and further.
Without education it must feel like a world of chaos. Even with education it is often extremely difficult to understand. And yet it is our world. It is critical that we are part of it; just as it is part of us. We cannot escape from this globalised world. It is all encompassing. We can benefit and find opportunities by working hard at looking at what the world wants and needs; and avoid looking only at the needs and wants of our village, or our country.
Be sure to be a world citizen.
7. Make sure you Stand for Something
Far too many of us concentrate on being busy. It is almost as though we believe that busyness will bring its own rewards. This may be so on occasions, or for periods of time. But busyness on its own will inevitably lead to disaster. At the end of one’s life no-one will ever ask what we were busy at; instead they will talk about what we represented; what we stood for. Make sure that you are standing for important principles; important values; important ends. These are the things that make for positive change in society. Think of global icons – Mandela, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu. All of these individuals are known way beyond their singular area of activity or interest because of what they stood for. What do you stand for?
2017 lies ahead. It will be full of twists and turns, ups and downs. It is within your power to make it a great year of change and renewal for yourself; just as the world itself will be doing this anyway!
There is no business school or philosophy programme that offers a course in wisdom. In fact defining wisdom is something of a challenge.
Sometimes you will hear adults describing a child as having wisdom beyond his years without really being able to define what it is that makes them say that.
Wisdom is a little like riding a bicycle. You can spend days in lectures about the mechanics of the bicycle, its aerodynamics, the physiology of cycle exercise, the psychology of cycling, the biomechanics of the sport, handling a bicycle, and so on. The reality though is that none of this will actually give you the ability to ride the bicycle.
In order to be able to ride one has to hoist one’s bottom onto the saddle, put your feet on the pedals, hold the handle grips and launch forth, often to fall off almost immediately. This will continue until one has mastered the art and wisdom of balance. This is something that no-one can teach one. It comes from studying at the University of Falling Off a Bicycle until you learn not to.
If you ask someone to describe balance they find it almost impossible to do so. They find it even more difficult to teach one how to balance.
Wisdom is the same. You cannot categorise, nor codify wisdom. It comes with experience, from exposing oneself to life’s trials, tribulations, challenges, joys, upsets, elations, sadnesses and successes.
What we can do though is to speed up the process of acquiring wisdom. The best way to do this is to provide the young with mentors. One of the biggest, most important, negative consequences of the dissolution of the extended family is the fact that the very young at best only have intermittent access to grandparents, aunts and uncles who, in the past would have given them the mentoring that is so valuable in the maturation process.
Today the young pretty much have to find their own way in life. A life that is hugely complex and one which abounds with many very visible poor role models.
This is where those that have lived life and are in the sunset period can play a massively important role in our society. They can take on the role of mentoring young people. They can provide a safe environment in which young people can explore their ideas and receive guidance on some of the most important and challenging issues they are confronted with every day.
We can bring the sunshine they so need in their lives. We can give them hope. We can build positive attitudes. We can help them acquire the most important skills they need to find their way on their journey through the valley of life. We can show them how the right values are much more important than great wealth, or fancy clothes and cars. We can show them how to really love life.
In short we have it in us to build a nation!
It is quite surprising that there are still some who don’t believe in the inherent good for business, that is part and parcel of doing good as a business; or, if you prefer, from being a good corporate citizen.
Indeed there is much evidence that supports this notion both here and abroad.
Investors are increasingly finding that investing in businesses that adopt ethical and contributory business practices are a better long term, less risky and more sustainable investments than those which don’t.
Ask those businesses that arguably produce products like tobacco or arms, how complicated their lives have become in recent years because of the pressure and publicity associated with the harmful results of their products. Every element of their existence is under constant scrutiny.
At the other end of the scale since Unilever decided to pursue the fully sustainable and ethical route revenues have increased since 2008 from Euro40 billion to Euro48 billion in 2014 while in the process reducing water consumption by 32% in the same period. There are real and measurable benefits of going the ethical way! And organisations are increasingly finding that this way is the lowest cost of doing business in the long run.
So what do companies have to do to demonstrate their commitment to helping to create a healthier society and a more sustainable planet?
The very first thing that is required is for organisations to have really good hard introspective look at themselves and question hard what contribution they are making to the well-being of the community of which they are part and to the growth and development of the nation.
This is much more than the self-satisfying notion that we make profits, turn out well-educated students, or pay at least our fair share of taxes.
These are at the very lowest level of socially acceptable compliance and may just, only just, serve to ensure a continued licence to operate.
However world-class organisations do way more than this. They do not have a compliance culture which unfortunately is the reality for many organisations today, i.e. we do what the law requires of us, no more no less. This is a defeatist, minimalist approach and you will not find organisations that operate at the pinnacle of success with a culture like this.
The very best organisations set the standards, and automatically comply with the law as a by-product of doing so. Here the culture is one which asks how we can exercise leadership in every element of our business for the greater good of all.
This can be a very tough transition.
And one that Volkswagen is beginning to pay a very heavy price for not adhering to.
This type of culture will require the organisation to constantly challenge existing norms and standards.
It goes to the essence of the way we do and conduct our businesses, and involves the type of relationships we build with the society of which we are part and to which we should be contributing positively.
This should be done as part of our organisational mission and not as
begrudged add-on. Organisations have a massive impact on society. After all people spend 60% of their waking and conscious hours at work. The organisations for which we work cannot help but have an impact on the way we think and behave.
We must be deeply engaged in the national debate because for our organisations to be able to grow and contribute we need a nurturing environment within which to operate. The conversation has become far too adversarial and businesses do not seem to be visibly engaged in the process of building a new inclusive and vibrant country.
The mechanical implementation of illogical and unjust laws simply because they are laws is certainly not a solution even if it does more or less keep you one step ahead of the law.
In the bad old days there were many companies who did the right thing, broke the law if you like, as contribution to creating a more just society. Those companies who were part of the Sullivan Code are an example of this, but they were not the only ones.
When we do the self-examination these are the questions we should be asking of ourselves:
How do we use and develop all our employees to the limit of their talent;
How do we create a vibrant and healthy workplace;
How do we actively and constructively engage with communities around us;
How do we constructively challenge patently illogical or unjust laws
What can we do to build a better nation?
We should be reflecting on what the right thing is to do, and not only making certain that we do things right.
Many think that giving money and providing resources is what this is about. To do so is an important component but on its own giving money and resources is not good enough and is really only public relations.
Real corporate social investment is much more than that!
When an organisation really decides to go the Corporate Social Investment route it means immersion in every element of society to ensure that we are contributing to a better world than the one we found.
It starts with serious and deep self-examination and the creation of a culture of commitment, courage and contribution!
It is entirely in our organisations’ best self-interest that we should engage in, contribute to and influence society. All organisations, other than those engaged in criminal activity of one sort or another, thrive best in a well-organised, ethically governed, vibrant and thriving environment. Organisations including public, private, commercial, non-governmental, indeed all of civil
society should be engaged with the singular objective of creating this type of society.
This is only possible with deep, persistent and focussed engagement.
An excellent opportunity presents itself now with elections for local government in South Africa on the horizon. We should all be engaging in this process because it is at local government level that we are all most directly affected and therefore have the most direct interest in the outcome.
And we need to engage with all parts of our existence – environment, economics and society!
This is a marvellous opportunity to demonstrate real corporate investment for a real and with a serious outcome.
The process should start with engagement with all the key stakeholders and the community of the organisation to work on creating a common view of the type of future we will all strive for. This is not a party political imperative it is a growth and ‘thrival’ imperative.
Difficult, challenging? For sure.
Important, worthwhile?! Definitely! !
2016 is going to be a challenging year.
But isn’t every year challenging?
Of course this is true but the challenges vary in type and intensity.
Here are some ideas which may help you to build your business in 2016, help it to thrive and not merely survive.
1. Create a clear Vision of the Future
Nothing truly worthwhile has ever come from dreaming small dreams. Dream big dreams, deep into the future and then share your vision with everyone as often as you can. Invite people to join you, to improve the vision. Make this picture of the future a compelling, exciting and worthwhile dream to realise! This is a critical key to success. An unshared vision is as useful as a balloon in a furnace.
2. Focus, Focus, Focus
The vision becomes real when execution and implementation starts. This is when people begin to believe,when they actually start to see action that points towards the end picture. Execution will only occur if there is clear and visible focus by the leadership. Leadership that is distracted or has multiple interests may serve to confuse rather than enlighten. The clearer the focus, the more certainty there will be about the journey and destination. People who have a clear sense of direction are for more likely to join the journey especially if the vision is compelling and excites interest.
3. Be Courageous
Leadership is not for sissies! It is often lonely and leaders are known to feel alone and exposed. Sometimesthey are both of these. Therefore an important ingredient of great leadership is the capacity for courage.
Courage is required to lead, but it is equally important for the energy required to be creative. Leaders are responsible for innovation. Innovation means taking risks. Taking risks means exposure and sometimes failure. But without these there is no growth and development. Leaders are not maintenance mechanics. Their job is to make change happen. Creativity, risk, change, exposure, courage are all parts of the fruit salad of leadership
4. Encourage Creativity
A critical leadership task, and a thoroughly challenging one, is the pressure for positive change.
This only happens in an environment which encourages and rewards creativity. The more the leader builds an environment of trust where everyone is encouraged to challenge and recommend, the greater will be the creativity in the business. Reward the curious abundantly, watch them carefully, question them, encourage
them. They are a fount of new ideas and outrageous dreams!
Leadership is about leading. It is why one is called a Leader. If you don’t provide active visible leadership then you are not a leader, but something else.
As a leader your job is to make things happen.
As a leader the most important resource you have is your team. In tough times it is super critical to surround yourself with a small talented team that tells you what you need to hear, not only what you want to hear. Choose
the very best, most talented, vitally diverse team you can find and then lead them to be the very best that they can be. The obvious things like race, gender, religion and so on are important politically but they don’t
count for a row of beans when it comes to creating the best team you can assemble. What counts most in this scenario is diversity of thought and perspective and a passion to succeed together.
6. Culture is Critical
Create a culture of ownership. Equity, psychological and sociological ownership. When the team feel a sense of ownership they are likely to be more motivated to participate in achieving the vision and the objectives that
flow from it. The aim should be to have everyone in the business owning a piece of it. And everyone should aspire to be an owner and work on increasing the size of their shareholding. Make ownership easy. For everyone!
7. Really Love what you do, and those around you
This may sound soft and fluffy. Those things that are difficult to define often leave this impression. However this is actually the most difficult and the hardest stuff for leaders. It does not mean anything soft at all. Love
is tough. Tough love is even tougher. Real leaders are good at making their people feel that they and their opinions are valued just as they are good at demanding a lot from those that they lead.
8. Engage strongly, continuously
Crucial to good leadership, but particularly in 2016, is the absolute necessity of engaging actively, vigorously, regularly. It will be even more necessary to talk about the vision and why it is so important and how important it is for everyone to strive to be the very best that they can be! Note this is not about urging people to work harder but rather a strategy to inspire everyone, and teams to work smarter, more collaboratively and as innovatively as possible.
The winning organisations this year will be those that find new ways of doing old things.
9. Explore the world
The imperative to build a culture that encourages a desire to
explore is always important, in tough times it is crucial. Explore everything. What can we do better? What can we do differently? What should we stop doing? Who is doing interesting stuff? How can we be more adventurous? What can we learn from very young kids about the way they explore their world? How do we set about learning from them, emulating them in our world?
10. Show Abundant Enthusiasm
Nothing really worthwhile happens unless there is enthusiasm; or passion if you like. The world’s best at anything, including leadership, are passionate about what they do, how they do it and who they do it with!
Encourage this, reward the enthusiastic and passionate. Do so often.
11. Generosity is priceless
Do not under any circumstances steal the successes of others. Never. The most important generosity has little,if anything, to do with material things; mostly it has to do with generosity of the spirit and of the heart! Great leaders give a lot of themselves. Especially, they share their sense of hope and enthusiasm and excitement and belief in the future. And they sacrifice of themselves willingly to do this.
Of course, generosity also means sharing the abundance that the organisation creates, with joy and the thrill of sharing.
There is no point in achieving great ‘success’ and wealth if it is at the expense of others. It also has no meaning if the gains are ill-gotten. Good ethics will always win out in the end.
The people in the organisation will always find it easier to strive for something with a higher meaning and something that contributes to the well-being of society, than one that doesn’t.
13. Think Globally
The world grows larger and smaller every day; more accessible and less accessible. Information technology has much to do with this. Social media has given unprecedented access into every aspect of our lives. No-one and
nothing is immune. Any event, any issue, any new idea is immediately accessible to pretty much everyone, everywhere, 24/7. Because of this there is really no such thing anymore of only operating locally. If you are in business of whatever sort, no matter the size, you are in a global business. You must make sure as far as possible that this permeates all the thinking in your business.
14. Act Locally
Thinking globally does not mean you should ignore local realities. What will give your business its market differentiation will be the way it lives out its mission in all of its markets. The more your customers feel that your product or service suits their particular and parochial needs and that you are a ‘local’, the more they will see your relevance and importance to their community.
15. Do Good, it’s good business.
Doing good is good business, and good for business. The more your customers feel and see that you and your company care about them as people that count, the more likely it is that they will continue to positively endorse your licence to operate. This means encouraging everyone to be involved in and
contribute to the community of which the business is an integral and important part. The more local people you employ the more important this becomes.
16. Build Trust
At the heart of the world’s most successful teams and organisations is a deep implicit trust. This is not something that can happens by accident. It requires perseverance, passion, and patience. It needs you to listen, really listen to those around you and to show that you have. Trust is something truly sacred. It is difficult to build and earn and can be lost in eyewink. It is a massive responsibility but one that leaders should embrace with joy. It will be what makes the difference between you and the rest.
The year lies ahead. Make it your most memorable, most adventurous year ever!
The landscape of industry in general is changing dramatically. The largest ‘taxi’ company globally, Uber, owns no taxis. One of the largest accommodation companies in the world, Airbnb, owns no property and the largest information company, Google, owns no books……
I recently attended a conference where one of the speakers used a great analogy to highlight the impact of technology on our lives. He made the point that most people in the audience could pinpoint exact times where technology has had an influence on their lives, namely the introduction of iPad, Wi-Fi, skype, fibre and so much more. In contrast, children of today will not know what the term “technology” means when they grow up. This is because it has always been a part of their lives. Children are learning to play with iPad from the age of two and interact with various forms of technology on a daily basis. The other day I spotted my three year old trying to navigate the TV screen in the same way that she controls an iPad, which was rather entertaining, however it was a great example of the new generation’s ability to embrace technology.
It’s hard to believe that cell phones were only introduced to the SA market in the mid 90’s and the iPad only hit our slightly apprehensive South African market five years ago. Needless to say, the iPad captivated the market and these days one would be hard pressed to find a boardroom without at least half of the participants in the meeting taking notes on their iPad or tablets. The rate of change in the technological space has been astounding over the past ten years and is developing at an ever increasing rate.
From a marketing perspective, there have been a great deal of changes to the industry. Consumers no longer want to be bombarded by hundreds of meaningless smses a day. They are opting for a more personalized, contextualized approach to their needs. This form of marketing provides endless opportunities for retailers. An example of this is that customers can be updated of specials in real time via their cell phones as they are walking through shopping centres or driving past specific stores. It also allows the consumer to decide on how much communication they want to receive and the information is specific to them based on their purchasing habits. This information can also be fed back to the retailer so that they receive valuable information regarding their customers spending habits.
So what does this really mean in our everyday lives? Technology has been developed to such an extent that people’s lives are made simpler, their needs are met immediately and the “I want it now” generation has been born. In my business, our online ordering has grown from an inconsequential figure to a quarter of our turnover within a matter of months. A couple of months ago, I was approached by a QR code payment company which we adopted and this has also taken off at a rate of knots. People want convenience and the ability to interact with our business on their terms. This has assisted us in reducing costs as our drivers no longer all need to carry speedpoints. Customer’s cell phones have become our new speedpoint machines.
The other impact of technology is that it simplifies the purchase of a commoditized product.
What do I mean by this?
Well, when was the last time that you called a travel agent to book your flight to Cape Town? If you were booking an anniversary then a travel agent would definitely be the person to call as no technology can replace the human touch of arranging someone to meet you at the airport in a foreign country and making sure that the diving operator, hot air balloon operator, cycling guide etc. and the hotel all meet your requirements to make your special occasion a memorable one.
Technology is great in getting the transactional aspects of your business out of the way so that you can focus on the really important value that you offer to your clients.
The downside of technology is that everyone is now a journalist. Social media means that a small bad experience can be broadcast in seconds. Twitter and Facebook can be both your best friend and enemy. It is more likely that you’ll hear about complaints on social media than someone picking up the phone to let you know that they were disappointed. It’s important to know which sites to keep an eye on so that you keep up to date with the feedback on your business. Responding to a tweet that happened 9 months ago, might not work in your favour, but responding to someone immediately and getting their issue resolved, could convert them to a customer for life, or lose them for life!.
Technology also has a few more practical implications. We’ve had to adapt our businesses to load shedding and implement contingency measures such as generators, UPS, inverters etc.
The landscape in which we work and operate our businesses is changing on a daily basis with new technology being developed, power restraints, legislation changes as well as many other influences.
It is important to have a solid, yet fluid strategy in place to enable your business to deal with all of the changes that are taking place, or may take place.
A strategy should not just be a document which sits in the drawer, it should be a living, breathing part of your business.
It needs to be based on a sound business framework, yet be adaptable in order to change with the times. Doing small things such as updating your marketing strategy to include a more interactive approach might be just what you need to connect with your customers in a more meaningful way. If your business has predominantly grown organically, then perhaps you need to adjust your strategy to include an online presence and make use of the current technology available. The e-commerce industry has gained significant traction in the SA market and may be appropriate for your business to adopt in order to take you to the next level of expansion.
Stress test your strategy on an annual basis by doing scenario planning based on the current opportunities and threats facing your business. Work out a plan of action should the worst case scenario happen and look for opportunities within this space. Identify ways of harnessing opportunities should the best case scenario come to light and adapt your strategy accordingly.
The most important thing to remember is that your strategy needs to be able to change with, or even better, ahead of the times, without losing sight of the core values of your business. It’s important to be very clear, irrespective of technological changes, what the value is that you offer your clients. Technology should simply be there to support this strategy, not replace it.
Strategist and Business Owner