How can we prepare ourselves for the complex and unpredictable road ahead?
by Malcolm Anderson
“Control Your Own Destiny or Someone Else Will” These are the words of Jack Welch, legendary leader of the massive transformation of GE in the USA in 1980s. And never have they been truer than today and now here we are in the midst of the COVID pandemic affecting operations, markets, and supply chains, and with an increasingly difficult trading relationship with China that is providing opportunity and challenge.
Charles Darwin wrote that ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’ Here is our key: the firms that are better prepared for unpredictable changes are those that have thought through how they can be as ready as possible for that change.
They have taken a step back and identified their core capabilities, what they know and can do better than others in the market. They have identified their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and sought ways to address them or have eliminated their reliance on these weak links. And they have introduced means of constantly monitoring their operations, markets, and supply chains to recognise opportunities and threats and react quicker than the rest to exploit or defend.
Big ideas can reset the market – these are the disruptors, like Uber, Airbnb and Netflix, that are referred to as the ‘Unicorn firms,’ start-ups with billion-dollar market valuations in no time. Ideas that have their moment can also break massive new ground. Zoom was launched in 2019 with an initial public offering of USD36 per share. A share is now worth USD470 and users have grown during COVID from, 10 million a day to 300 million per day today. It was a good idea, but the unexpected pandemic made it great.
But what does that mean to the average firm? There is one simple lesson, we can’t predict what will happen next, so we must develop our adaptability, so we are constantly ready to meet new opportunities and needs. In Australia, some firms are now moving to provide for emerging needs – millions of holidays in Australia, not overseas, this Christmas. Others are recognising opportunities for smart manufacturers to step in with competitive offerings where supply chain reliability has been shaken by changes in trading relationships.
So, what is adaptability? What does it mean to be that Darwinian organisation – ‘most adaptable to change’? First it means thinking strategically. Being what you are and what you do and believing that you can keep doing that indefinitely might work, but it is a deeply flawed philosophy.
Most organisations know how to change incrementally. Practising the learning and continuous improvement of Lean is an excellent foundation as with this you recognise that nothing should ever be ‘set in stone.’ It also should ensure that you are watching and listening carefully to your customers and your suppliers. That is a key practice of all good businesses, and it is also a basis for building loyalty.
Loyalty is built on mutual trust and value. In uncertain times, people become increasingly influential on B2B and B2C relationships. They can become your octopus tentacles, sensing, and warning you of change out there. To keep your business relevant, you need to apply your continuous improvement disciplines externally in the conversations your team has with customers and suppliers. It also means monitoring what is happening in the broader market and thinking creatively about how you can adapt and develop new ideas for new products and services to support your customers and grow your market, and hence protect and defend your future.
Ultimately you need to be strategy driven. That means understanding what part you really play in the marketplace. That way you know how and when to adapt in a changing world. Be careful about being too simplistic about this. It is a much-repeated story because it is a very important lesson. In the 1980s Kodak thought they were very clear about their core business. People around the world wanted photographs and they were market leader in cameras and film. What could go wrong?
What they didn’t appreciate was that people wanted images and in the main they didn’t care about how they got them. And for 50 years consumers had been seeking greater convenience. And along came digital photos, Nokia and the iPhone and the rest is history.
Why do your customers really buy what they do from you? How do they use what you sell them?
How are their needs and wants changing? How do you think their needs will evolve after that?
What are the core outcomes your firm creates for your customers? What are your core capabilities/differentiators?
What technology is coming along that can/will change how they and you do what you do?
How can you take what you do to another level/market with new thinking about your core capabilities?
How can you encourage your own people to keep their ears to the ground, make suggestions, contribute new ideas, no matter how ‘off the wall’ they might at first appear?
To explore some of these ideas further to build your futureproofing, have a coffee with Richard Blow. Concrete solutions from thinking outside the box is what Performance Drivers does best.
A short bio: MALCOLM ANDERSON A respected member of the Performance Drivers Grey Haired Guru team, Malcolm has over thirty years of experience as a trusted executive adviser, he specialises in strategy and futureproofing, and the dynamics that drive organisational performance and resilience. Malcolm coaches leaders and entrepreneurs in architecting high performance, outcome-focused thinking and designing collaborative roadmaps to deliver new futures. To read Malcolm’s full bio, please CLICK HERE and scroll down to the 'Meet the Grey Haired Gurus' section.
To read more practical thinking about building the resilience and adaptability of your organisation, follow this link to Malcolm’s eBook series on Taming an Uncertain Future.
If you would be interested in attending a masterclass hosted by Malcolm on the change strategies covered in his series of books, please complete the Expression of Interest form and we will be in touch closer to the time with more information.