The adage ‘change is the only constant’ is especially true in business today. With technology disrupting entire industries overnight, businesses have their sights set on doing what it takes to stay current and relevant. The question on everyone’s mind is, “how do I keep my business safe from becoming obsolete?”. As a leader, you need to keep your sights on the horizon – anticipating the unexpected and preparing for it.
There are many ways and forms in which uncertainty will come at you. Technological updates affect product’s viability and impact business models. Do you still wear a watch to check the time? Do you still use an actual calculator? Are you going to personally deliver every purchase to make up for personality while your competition is out there using drones to deliver the new iPhones to its customers?
There are also different scales of uncertainty. Changes in the global business environment – recessions, expansions, change in governance, for instance – could impact the way your company does business. On a smaller scale, uncertainty could even arise from within your company. When your company’s finances are mismanaged, the technology being used is outdated, management is inefficient, or you lose skilled employees, you might find yourself in the deep end of uncertainty.
But while nobody can see the future, there is still some method to the madness that is change. Here are some ways to prepare yourself for uncertainty on the large and small scale.
One way to prepare for the unexpected is to keep a watch on how your industry is performing, both locally and globally. In what direction is the industry heading? Look out for emerging technology that could impact the way things are done. If possible, have a dedicated Research and Development team that can keep tabs on the latest industry developments and trends across the world. When you receive data from this team, don’t simply read it at face value. Really dive deep into the metrics. You should be analysing trends, finding out what caused them, and using this derived data to see how your company measures up. With this analytical approach, you’re in a better position to evaluate your company’s positioning strategy in relation to larger industry trends.
Governments can also be a source of uncertainty. Scan the news for changes in government agenda, and any gaps in legislation. Keep your finger on the present, but an eye on the future. When business laws change, businesses are directly impacted. On the bright side, changes to laws don’t happen overnight. When you know a change in the law is in the pipeline, use that time to run an impact analysis on possible outcomes. This way, you will have mitigation measures in place so that your business won’t suffer as a result.
A strong network could go a long way in keeping you informed of upcoming changes to the law. Scan through your network. Find and reach out to people in various spheres of influence who could keep you updated on potential changes to the status quo.
Now that you’ve addressed sources of large-scale uncertainty, it’s time to zoom in on your own company.
Competitors will come and go, but a business with staying power is one that has strong internal systems. Check in regularly to make sure your operations are smooth, financial management is sound, HR is committed, and your leadership is on the front lines.
The next step is to look at your internal teams. You might find that someone with relevant experience is better suited to a different team. I would also look at re-energising your teams with new challenges. Are there industry competitions you could send your teams to? When your teams win awards, your company is not only making its mark in the industry, but also putting its employees in the practice of embracing – and conquering – challenges.
This goes right down to hiring. Look out for people who are eager to learn and improve existing processes. A culture of learning and growth is one that will see you sailing smoothly through challenging times. To stay relevant, your company needs to be driven by people who are passionate about constantly improving.
And don’t just talk about it, measure it. When you train your staff, make sure you have clear paradigms to measure how effective your training has been. Don’t take this too far, though. Remember to keep your expectations reasonable so that you won’t lower morale or add to your employees’ stress.
Now, let’s zoom out slightly and look at internal processes on a whole. Zoning in on how you’re using your resources is a good place to start. Are they being efficiently and relevantly utilised? Look for ways to simplify your processes, and put systems in place that allow you to monitor and measure them. In terms of operations, get creative. Get your best minds to crack the perennial question of how to get more done at lower costs. Operational excellence is your secret weapon to staying afloat in the face of disruption, or any changes to the law.
For example, do not borrow more than you can return. Always try to under-promise and over-deliver, and only take on as many projects as is reasonable to your company. Throw the idea of a Plan B down the drain, and instead think of multiple scenarios to every situation. Take a very realistic view of what is feasible for you. Think of it this way: your company is a vessel, and the business environment is the sea. Only when you fully understand your vessel and what it is capable of can you smoothly navigate stormy waters.
Even so, change can take various shapes, and can happen at any time. So, what happens when you’re hit with the unexpected?
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Venugopala Rao Naredla
Senior Advisor | Former CEO
Greenko Group | Reliance Power Limited