The past five years have been an interesting time. There have been some mega trends in the business world that have had such a profound effect on how we work and live. Technologies are transforming industries, the surge of the startup community is building a new kind of business ecosystem, there is an increased focus on diversity in the workplace and there continues to be blurred lines between our personal and business lives. As a business, it’s hard to proactively lead the market in the face of such rapid and widespread change. Some of the questions that we must ask ourselves are; which trends are going to have continuous impact? Which of these trends requires an immediate response? What adaptations should we be prepared to make in the future? What opportunities do these adaptations present?
Here are my top predictions and thoughts for businesses and the new world of work in 2017
1. The world will look to companies to solve world problems. Companies are struggling to maintain and sustain their relevance in this new global economy. For companies to survive in the years to come, they need to align themselves to a social, political or economic problem and how they can solve these problems; this will define one’s purpose in very unique ways. Companies that can connect their businesses to societal problems will be seen as leaders. Every year, the top business leaders meet in Davos at the World Economic Forum to do just this; talk about world issues and how each industry has a role to play. Topics such as the future of Energy, Education, Gender, Work are on the table. This will become more of a theme with greater focus.
2. Leaders who are reachable and responsive at a conversational level will be the ones that will be admired. Social media has connected the world like never before. People who are using it in the right way are reaping the benefits. If you look at celebrities for example, they use it to connect with their fans. They use it as a communication vehicle to share tour dates, new albums, movies or products that they are creating. Similarly, world leaders in the business and political space should be doing the same. We are seeing this in the political space, but rarely in the business world with leaders. What you tend to see is a one-dimensional communication function, but no real engagement with business leaders. We are in a time where people want to see a human sides, vulnerabilities and have interactive conversations.
3. The issues around parity in the workplace amongst men and women will get worse before they get better. As much as there has been and is great focus around diversity issues in the workplace, I don’t see it get any better. Why? Because I believe that what organisations are doing are just band aid fixes and are not getting to the root of the problem. In a recent article written by Bloomberg, it stated that MSFT Corporation is now tying executive compensation to their diversity targets; “the company has seen a second consecutive year of declines in the percentage of women employees”. My immediate thoughts around this is – what kind of behaviour will this encourage for your leaders? If financial reward is the incentive to hire women or diverse people, of course women will be hired or put into roles; but the real question to ask is – is it for the right reason and why are these numbers declining, what is the cause? If I were to ask any woman, the last thing that they would want is to land a role just because they are female. They would want the job because they are the best person for it. We need to get deeper on what the core problems are and why companies are bleeding women and why there is a lack of them in leadership roles.
4. Decisions companies make should be balanced by data driven insights and intuitive bets. We have all heard the term that data is the value currency. The idea here is that companies should be taking information and turn it into something meaningful or actionable that will help drive something of meaning for them – whether it is insight on customers buying behaviour, preferences, looking at trends in the market etc. Intuition on the other hand is completely opposite of this. It is one’s ability to have a grasp or understanding of a situation without any information and data; some people refer to it as your gut or inner voice. Steve Jobs and Richard Branson have used it throughout their careers and in the respective companies. At times situations are not just black or white, in order to be disruptive or challenge the status quo, your data could present a very strong perspective but as leaders your gut is what sets you apart or in a different direction that could be meaningful. Intuition is like an unflexed muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.
5. Companies and leaders will need to be bolder in how and when the communicate with the world. In my role as a communications executive, many times that there were crisis’s or issues where statements were requested, the direction that I was provided was that the answer is “no comment”. Many of the times, I did not agree with it. If you are being asked to comment, why don’t you? Make it meaningful and thoughtful. In todays world, it is a given that people want to know your positioning things, what is your point of view? It is better to acknowledge rather than hide from it. People are not perfect, we make mistakes and so do companies. We saw an example of this type of communication recently in the US election. Tim Cook, CEO of apple issued an internal memo to his people. It is delicate…it is touchy. Why did he do this? Because he knew that it was on their minds and it needed to be addressed. He handled it with care and grace. We will see more of this, calling out the elephant, taking a stand, being bold.
6. The Gig economy will continue to gain momentum which will translate to people having created career portfolios. There have been many points of view on whether or not the gig economy will stay or go. I believe that it will just get stronger. “Over the past 20 years, the number of gig economy workers, those who operate as independent contractors, often through apps has increased by about 27 percent more than payroll employees”, according to an article written by CNBC. Uber, Airbnb and Lyft are changing the landscape of employment and are examples of this. If you speak to millennials, they rarely are doing just one thing, their lives are a reflection of doing multiple things; they are artists, writers, musicians, DJ’s, fitness instructors, or they may have a start up on the side…career portfolio.