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A decade of disruption how wrong I was, but will still be right in the long term

I hope that the contradictory title drew you in. I wrote the article below on Linked In before the full lockdown and affects of the Coronavirus pandemic were fully known. So whilst I still stand behind the long term predictions n the article below the Coronavirus has brought about a seismic once in an epoch change.

There’s a meme floating round the internet at the moment that says something along the lines of “On reflection, anyone who was asked in 2015 where they saw themselves in five years’ time, got it completely wrong”.

Hard to disagree with! And just like Monty Python’s famous Spanish Inquisition sketch (nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition) – nobody expected a global pandemic to erupt. As a consequence, the flood of articles in December 2019/January 2020 predicting the trends for the decade ahead are all looking very naïve now! Indications are that the economic disruption that has fallen like a stack of dominoes around the world will be felt for at least the next 5-10 years.Which means that businesses are going to have to look even harder for ways to innovate and trade their way through the crash that’s already beginning to ripple through the global economy.

Smart companies that were able to adapt their working practices like lightning in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, will continue to think on their feet to take advantage of growth opportunities that will surely head their way. Businesses that operate from the “we’ve always done it this way” way of thinking will fall by the wayside rapidly over the next 12-18 months, giving their competitors a larger slice of the pie. The real winners however, will be the businesses that take the time to work out HOW they were able to adapt so quickly – and use that same type of thinking to look at all other aspects of their business.

Imagine being able to do these types of things in just 2-3 weeks

·        develop a new product or service

·        create a personalised customer service experience

·        put a seamless financial system in place

·        automate repetitive tasks

·        redesign the layout of your workplace to increase efficiency

·        digitise your business processes

·        find new customers and markets for existing products

·        win back former customers by offering them enhanced services

·        offer multiple payment options that suit different customers

Meeting your customers where they are and providing a service at the exact moment they need it, will be one of the key markers of a flexible business – aka 24/7 customer service. With advancements in machine learning and AI for example, chatbots can be employed on your website to answer website visitors’ questions quickly and easily.

Questions such as

·        How many X have you got in stock?

·        Have you got product Y in colour Z?

·        What’s the current lead time on [product/service]?

·        Are there any vacancies?

·        How can I contact person/department?

·        What’s your post code?

·        What are your opening hours?

Questions that don’t have to wait until “office hours” to be answered!

Another key area that will become vital to the success of your business is moving away from the 9-5 mentality. Freelancing and solopreneurship has been on the rise for several years - the so called “gig economy”. With many people looking for careers that will not only enable them to work when it suits them, but also in a location that suits them, being inflexible will work against many companies. Becoming location independent isn’t just something that Generation Z aspires to – it’s something they expect to happen. And as more and more young people make their way in the world of employment, they will bring those expectations with them!

Many businesses have already observed the increase in productivity that happened during the coronavirus situation. Employees switched from time based working (I must sit at my desk from 9am to 5pm) to task/project based working (I need to achieve these results by this time). Communication improved dramatically as projects were tracked via cloud based systems and people could mark their progress so that other team members could see – without the endless email tennis! Many digital companies even abandoned the idea of having “core working hours”, acknowledging that for some people the early morning was their most productive time while others worked late into the night – and still the job got done!

Another key way for small businesses to make the most of their agility is to start working with flatter organisational structures. So instead of having people report to one particular person, they move across different teams depending on the projects being worked on. There will still be people who stay in a core competency role, but others will come and go within that team based purely on the projects flowing through from customers. This will help to create higher levels of customisation and personalisation for your business’s customers, as expertise will be drafted in to work with your customers to create a solution that is based on their needs, and not what you want to sell them! This collaborative approach will make the relationship between customer and supplier much more innovative, as the development of products and services will truly be customer driven.

While nobody can truly guess what will happen over the next 10 years - just as we couldn’t foresee the rise of the tech giants over the past 10 years – what we can say with certainty is that adaptability is key for businesses of the 21st century.

What changes have you noticed over the past 10 years? What changes do you plan to implement in the coming years?

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