Looking for strategies to future-proof your business? You’ve come to the right place!
8 strategies to future-proof your business
- Become customer-focused
- Empower your employees
- Ship early and iterate often
- Ask What if questions
- Be agile, avoid silos
- Always think long-term
- Hire for a diversity of backgrounds and education
- Always be looking for blue oceans
1. Become customer-focused
Many businesses say they are customer-focused, but they are really not. Being customer-focused means a lot more than having a sheet with your buyer persona; it means your business has processes in place to facilitate ongoing and active communication with your customer base.
Amazon is one of the best examples of customer-focused companies. In his now-famous letters to shareholders, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made it very clear that the business principle upon which he built his company was to focus on customers.
Once your company is focused on customers, you can take the next step: delight your customers.
In his 2016 letter, Jeff says “customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great”.
In his 2018 letter, he defines them as “divinely discontent”. Achieving the goal of delighting customers means developing a powerful system built on true customer obsession.
What benefits does your company have by going laser-focused on its customers? There are many.
Here is the Amazon customer-focused trifecta:
- Listen to your customers and use this data to offer them something they simply could not get any other way;
- Improving the shopping experience never ends so pursue it with tenacity and persistence;
- Invent on behalf of your customers. Your customers will always want something better and it’s up to you to figure out what exactly it is they expect because, and here’s your challenge, they don’t know what to ask for.
“We must invent on their behalf. We have to tap into our own inner imagination about what’s possible.” That’s how AWS, one of Amazon’s most successful services came to be. No customer specifically asked for it and yet that’s what they needed. AWS generated $10.2 billion in net sales, up 33% from last year.
2. Empower employees to contribute
Simon Sinek says that if the company takes care of its employees, they will take care of the company.
What does that mean? It means the employees are in the safety zone, the zone where the leader protects his team from threats coming from inside the organisation.
When there are no layoffs threats looming over them or workplace rivalries they need to fight and survive, employees are more prepared to protect the company from outside threats. The employees are willing to share information and cooperate naturally towards growing the business.
When the company doesn’t provide a safety zone for its people, various case studies of prominent companies showed that it gives rise to negative feelings like paranoia, cynicism, employees with personal agendas. In short: a dog-eat-dog kind of culture where arrogance, inflating egos and fear make the rules.
That was the case with Nokia. At one time, Nokia was the smartphone market leader. Three years after the launch of Apple’s iPhone, the market value of Nokia declined by about 90% and was acquired by Microsoft in 2013.
Why did Nokia fail? Organisational fear.
A very interesting report showed that the organisational fear was grounded in a culture of temperamental leaders and frightened middle managers.
In short, Nokia people weakened Nokia and thus made the company increasingly vulnerable to competitive forces. Read my analysis of Nokia’s organizational effectiveness (or lack of).
3. Ship early and iterate often
If you are a startup developing a new platform or an innovative product, you want your end product to be amazing. You want to awe your customers. You want your product to be perfect. It’s a very dangerous temptation and you must resist it! No product is perfect and if you wait too long, you might ship it too late.
Ship your product as MVP (minimum viable product) and iterate as often as you need. The advantage of shipping early is that you have an incredible opportunity to build a community around your product and even enlist their help in improving your product.
Invite your early adopters (who will become your first customers) to contribute to the development of your product. Ask them what new features they think would improve your product or how they would change it to serve their needs better. You might uncover solutions that your team didn’t think of. Or be inspired to set on a different path altogether effectively changing your future.
Keep your first customers close and turn them into ambassadors so they can attract new customers.
4. Ask What if questions
Asking What if questions is a great exercise every leader should do with their team at least once a year.
What if our main supplier goes bankrupt or cannot deliver for five months in a row?
What if a stronger competitor enters the market?
What if there’s a highly contagious virus outbreak that turns into a pandemic? Although I doubt anyone in the business world has ever asked this particular question, imagining a different present can protect your business’s future.
- Look closely at the technology trends in your market
- Notice the behaviour changes of your customers
- Dial up or dial down one area of your business and anticipate the consequences. Are you prepared to deal with these consequences? If you are, congratulations! If you’re not, start writing a new business strategy today.
- Turn the threats into opportunities. Develop various scenarios of how the future might unfold and challenge current assumptions and known truths.
Asking “what if” questions is essential to identify possible implications if scenarios come to life:
What are the threats and opportunities in this scenario?
What actions shall we take to reduce vulnerabilities?
What actions shall we take to build on the opportunities?
What elements/data do we need to watch out, so we know when to take action?
Learn more about scenario planning and foresight under uncertainty.
5. Be agile, avoid silos
Times are changing quickly and the business environment must adapt and keep up without delay. To achieve this goal, stop looking at your organisation as a machine. Start looking at it as a living organism.
Much like a living organism, your business must find solutions to challenges and redirect resources wherever they are needed.
Organisational agility gives your business the competitive edge it needs in a digital world.
Agile companies are better equipped to deal with disruptions. They achieve greater customer centricity than their competitors. They are faster to market, with higher revenue growth at lower costs.
Agile organisations have a more engaged workforce and better alignment between product management and R&D. Agility enables companies to innovate faster with less risk and meet actual business requirements. Organisations with agile teams can rapidly and easily incorporate new technologies.
6. Always think long-term
In 2016, Bain & Company, a renowned management consulting firm published its research that tackled the subject of business crises. The findings are detailed in How to overcome the predictable crises of growth: The Founder’s Mentality authored by Bain strategists, Chris Zook and James Allen.
The Founder’s Mentality Study drew upon a wide range of sources from large, quantitative surveys, large analyses using Bain & Company databases, and an extensive number of discussions, interviews and case studies.
The researchers analyzed these companies and observed a series of traits related to their ability to sustain long-term growth.
They call them Founder’s Mentality.
Here are the main traits of the Founder’s Mentality as depicted by the study:
- a sense of insurgent mission, characterized by a sense of higher purpose, a long-term horizon, and a few spikes in capabilities and assets that make a company special and are the centrepiece of its business model;
- an obsession with the front line, characterized by an intellectual curiosity about every detail of the customer experience and of how everything in the business works. Executives use instincts formed at the ground level to make every decision; frontline employees are empowered and are the heroes of the business, and the customer’s voice is central to all decisions;
- an owner’s mindset, characterized by a powerful sense of responsibility for employees, customers, products and decisions; an antipathy to bureaucracy; and a bias toward speed in decisions and actions.
Companies that exhibit these traits have sustained long-term growth because:
- They move and adapt faster;
- They are more open-minded;
- They anticipate and adapt to the future.
7. Hire for a diversity of backgrounds and education
A LinkedIn study on global recruiting trends identified diversity as the first trend to influence talent acquisition.
Diversity used to be a box that companies checked. But today, diversity is directly tied to company culture and financial performance.
LinkedIn data shows that 78% of companies prioritize diversity to improve culture and 62% do so to boost financial performance.
Companies that don’t adapt to changing demographics realised that their talent pools are shrinking. Evidence has shown the benefits of diverse teams: increased levels of productivity, innovation and engagement.
Top reasons companies focus on diversity:
- 78% to improve culture;
- 62% to improve company performance;
- 49% to better represent customers.
8. Always be looking for blue oceans
The Blue Ocean Strategy was created by INSEAD Professors of Strategy Reneé Mauborgne and Chan Kim and detailed in their bestseller by the same name.
Blue Ocean Strategy has sold over 4 million copies and is recognized as one of the most iconic and impactful strategy books ever written. The book shows the results of a study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than 100 years across 30 industries.
The authors’ conclusion is that lasting success comes not from battling competitors but from creating blue oceans – untapped new market spaces ripe for growth.
What is the blue ocean strategy?
The Blue ocean is the metaphor for the unknown market space and all the industries that are not in existence today. It’s the unchartered land that courageous explorers venture in to discover unimaginable riches and opportunities.
The blue ocean concept is the result of thirty-year research conducted by Renée and Chan in which they studied organizations large and small, for-profit and non-profit and even governments.
What they looked at was how these organizations moved beyond competing in existing crowded markets—what we think of as red oceans—to new heights of confidence, market creation and growth.
In the blue ocean strategy, the organizations focus on creating new demand, turning non-customers into customers and unlocking unrealized talent and energy within themselves fast and at low cost.